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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 418

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The Bridge on the Drina is, at its most surface level also on a much more profound one, just what the title says it is: a story about a bridge. This historical novel gives readers the history of the Mehmed Paša Sokolovic Bridge built in the 16th century in Višegrad, Bosnia. This bridge initially unified nations and became a symbol of the state of affairs in Yugoslavian society before ultimately being destroyed during World War I.

The story begins with the idea of a "blood tax," in which the Ottomans took a young Christian boy from his mother to serve their own empire. The boy in question in this novel is converted to Islam and is renamed Mehmed. The last time he sees his mother is when she is crying for him as he is taken away on a ferry on the Drina River.

As Mehmed grows up, he rises up through the ranks of the army to become the Grand Vizier. Once he is appointed to this position, he demands that a bridge be built across the Drina River, because it reminds him of his mother. This bridge was meant to improve travel and to replace the ferry system.

The bridge takes a long time to build due to workers striking and protesting, but once it is built, it turns out to be a great unifying force in many ways. For one, it connects Bosnia with the rest of the Ottoman Empire. For another, it brings individual people from both sides together. Since the middle of the bridge was wider, people often stopped to chat and socialize there, which strengthened many relationships among people from different cultures.

People begin to rely more and more on this bridge, and it soon becomes essential to both trade and daily life. It opens up the world for the people of Višegrad, and it remains important for several centuries.

However, in the early 1900s, the annexing of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary causes tension in the areas surrounding the bridge. The people on either side of the bridge no longer want to be united, and each group begins to hate the other.

When World War I begins, though, the bridge is again used when soldiers find that their railway system is not enough to transport weapons and other goods. Although this leads to the bridge being used again, it ultimately leads to it being destroyed by the Austro-Hungarian army in an attempt to stop the Serbian army from reaching them.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 965

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 changing, the floods come, and the Muslims, the Christians, and the Jews mingle, but the bridge survives everything, shining “clean, young and unalterable, strong and lovely in its perfection, stronger than all that time might bring and men imagine to do.” As Serbia begins to rise against the Turks at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the bridge witnesses the beheading of two Serbs, Jelisije and Mile, at the kapia as a warning to the rebels—the first of many acts of intimidation and revenge. However, the bridge remains unchanged and unchangeable. The Turks withdraw gradually from Serbia between 1825 and 1850, cholera and plague visit the inhabitants on the shores, and the unquiet waters keep passing beneath the bridge’s smooth and perfect arches, but nothing changes the bridge itself. It becomes a focal point of life in the town and surrounding villages. A beautiful young girl named Fata jumps from the kapia to her death during her wedding procession because her father is about to force her to marry a man whom she does not love. When Bosnia is placed under the Austrian protectorate, Alihodja Muteveli, a shopkeeper, is nailed by his ear at the kapia by his town rival because he does not believe that the Austrians would come or that the people of Viegrad should resist them if they did.

The Austrian presence brings important changes in Viegrad and to the bridge as the new begins to replace the old. Trees are cut down and new ones planted, streets are repaired, drainage canals are dug, public buildings are constructed, permanent lighting is installed, and a railway is built. The caravansary is rebuilt into an army barracks, and the bridge itself seems to be forgotten. The kapia, however, continues to witness interesting events. For the first time, women are allowed to sit on it. Milan Glasicanin, an inveterate gambler, is cured of his vice by being challenged to gamble for his life by a mysterious gambling partner. Gregor Fedun, a young sentry from Galicia, commits suicide after having been tricked by two Serbian rebels, one of them a beautiful girl, into allowing them to cross the bridge. Salko Corkan, a powerful young Roma, dances precariously on the bridge railing and almost falls to his death after a drinking bout and the unsuccessful wooing of a girl. Lotte, a Galician Ashkenazi, builds a hotel next to the bridge, bringing a new aspect to life around the bridge.

The Austrian annexation of Bosnia in 1908 ushers in yet another new age and more changes. The bridge is mined in case a war with neighboring Serbia begins. The Serbian triumphs in the Balkan Wars bring new hopes for the Serbian population and fears for the Muslims. Most important, the new generation of young people gathers regularly around the kapia and holds endless discussions about the current events, reflecting a sharp rise in nationalistic feelings, as they defend their nationalist points of view. As Lotte’s fortunes decline and the young Serbian teachers Zorka and Glasicanin dream of emigrating to America, the first bombs of World War I fall on the bridge. However, the bridge still stands between the two warring sides. When it is finally destroyed, it takes along Alihodja as a witness of the centuries-old history of the town, the people, and the bridge itself.

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