The Bridge Over the Drina, by Ivo Andric

If I needed a reminder of why I started this 'Great Books' project, here it is. I never would have come across Andric 'The Bridge Over the Drina' on my own. It's out of print, it was originally written in another language, it's obscure. But it's wonderful and was so very worth my time.

Andric has created a portrait of a Bosnian town and its people over several centuries, from the building of a graceful stone bridge in the 1500s to its destruction in war. The bridge is a silent witness to the personal travails of individuals and the rising and falling fortunes of the different classes and religions in Visegrad. This is Serbia, after all - so there is a curiously galvanized mixture of Turkish Muslims, Serbian Christians, and Jews, all of whom take their turns sitting on the wide expanse of the bridge, talking, smoking, relaxing, and living.

It begins with a train of children, the annual tribute of youths from Serbia's Christian population to the Turkish Empire. One of these children grows up to be a powerful Vizir and gives the bridge as a monument to his homeland. It ends with a war - the Austro-Hungarian Empire takes away more of their young men, to serve in their army, and in the end the region literally explodes into conflict.

A Problem From Hell, with its overview of the disastrous conflicts in the region, provided a poignant background to these charming stories of Visegrad's inhabitants. I wish I had read the Bridge first, or had it available when I was trying to study the history of the Balkans in school, because it is an excellent portrait of the tensions and history of the region.

I am glad to see that the bridge has been restored, but apparently it is once again in danger from erosion produced by a nearby electric plant.

Highly recommended. Truly, it's enchanting.

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