Monday, July 14, 2008

View from the Bridge

It's not an unknown device to tell a history or story around an object, whether it be a chair, an old chipped pot that once held melted cheese, or the wall of a school (if you can get all those references, you must live inside my head). But Nobel laureate Ivo Andric's book Bridge on the Drina (1945) is probably the longest and most complex of them all. This beautifully built bridge is ostensibly the legacy of a Bosnian boy taken to become a janissary who became a vizier and ordered the bridge built to erase the memory of his kidnapping. Generations thrive on its sturdy platforms, and it acts as the stage for many a small drama during all the changes of regime that wash over the region from the 1500s to the 1900s. It's not exactly a novel, more like a series of short stories or vignettes (Andric liked to call these chronicles). If you manage to read this very long book, you will learn a lot about the history of this conflicted region and also gain an appreciation for the everyday small-town culture that Andric lovingly describes.

If you don't quite have the stamina for this one, try his novella The Vizier's Elephant, which is excellent.

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