Study Guide

The Bridge on the Drina

by Ivo Andrić

The Bridge on the Drina Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The “blood tribute” is a most cruel practice of the Turkish rulers during the several hundred years of their occupation of the Balkans. It means taking young boys away from their parents and rearing them as the sultan’s obedient servants, called janissaries. One of the boys, taken from a Serbian village called Sokolovici in Bosnia in 1516 when he is only ten years old, will later become Mehmed Pasha Sokolli and rise to the office of the grand vizier, the highest position a non-Turk can reach in the Ottoman Empire. In memory of his childhood, he decides to build a bridge across the Drina River by the town of Viegrad, the last place where he saw his mother when he was taken away and where he feels a sharp pain in his breast as the last memory of his home.

The building of the bridge begins in 1566. The first builder, Abidaga, is famous for his efficiency and the strict, at times cruel, methods of accomplishing his tasks. The bridge is built by slave labor conscripted from the nearby Serbian villages. The peasants resent having to work as slaves, and they see in the building of the bridge a sinister symbol of Turkish might. For that reason, they sabotage the bridge’s progress, often destroying at night what is built during the day. To frighten the distrusting and rebellious populace into submission and obedience, Abidaga catches one of them, Radisav, and has him impaled on the site of the bridge. The excruciatingly painful process of his death lasts several days.

The bridge is finally completed in 1571, a beautiful structure of eleven arches rising above the turbulent Drina, with the kapia, an elevated fixture in the middle of the bridge where people can sit, as a focal point. A caravansary is also built next to the bridge for tired travelers. Thus begins the bridge’s long influence on every aspect of life for the people on the shores as they finally resign themselves to the bridge, learning to like it because of its usefulness and its uncommon beauty. Mehmed Pasha is stabbed to death by a deranged dervish only a few years after the construction, without having seen the object of his dreams fully completed. As he is dying, he feels again a sharp pain in his breast. Although he accomplishes many other things as a vezir, his name in Bosnia will forever be remembered by this bridge.

Years and decades pass, life keeps...

(The entire section is 965 words.)