The Bridge on the Drina

by Ivo Andrić

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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