Ivo Andri is considered to be the best Serbian writer of the twentieth century and not necessarily because he won a Nobel Prize. His books of prose poems, Ex Ponto and Nemiri, were not particularly impressive and he later refused to republish them. It was in the short story, however, that he excelled in his early career, becoming a leading short-story writer between the two world wars. In his stories he employed several themes that would reverberate throughout his writing career. Among them are characters who dwell on the distant past; characters displaying acute loneliness, who have difficulties reaching an understanding with others; the world as a reflection of the tragic elements in human existence; an immense capacity for suffering; the limited opportunities provided by his characters’ surroundings, as in “Put Alije Djerzeleza” (“The Journey of Alija Djerzelez”); fear of life, as in “Prozor” (“The Window”); feelings of guilt, as in “Mila i Prelac” (“Mila and Prelac”), “Anikinavremena”(“Anika’s Times”), and “Smrt u Sinanovoj tekiji” (“Death in Sinan Tekke”); the divergence of two worlds in an individual, as in “orkan i vabica”(“orkan and a German Woman”); and hatred, sometimes reaching pathological proportions, as in “Mustafa Madjar” (“Mustapha Magyar”) and “Pismo iz 1920” (“A Letter from 1920”).
Andri is not negating life, despite its shortcomings. For him, there is still hope in the struggle against evil and in life, and this is stronger than the forces that threaten to destroy life. One of the recurring metaphors Andri uses to express this hope and optimism is a bridge connecting two opposites, as in the story “Most na epi” (“The Bridge on the epa”) and especially in his novel Na Drini uprija (1945; The Bridge on the Drina, 1959). Thus, his short stories can be considered a preparation for his later, longer works, although his stories have their own intrinsic values, especially in their artistic qualities, such as the concision of style and purity of language.
The enforced quiet life during the German occupation, albeit stressful and dangerous, allowed Andri to write his three novels, The Bridge on the Drina, Travnika hronika (Bosnian Story, 1958; better known as Bosnian Chronicle), and Gospodjica (The Woman from Sarajevo, 1965), all published in 1945. Although his short stories had touched upon many aspects of life in Bosnia, it was in The Bridge on the Drina that he gave them a full force. This novel established Andri as a master of historical and semihistorical writing. The beautiful bridge over the Drina in Andri’s hometown, Viegrad, became one of the greatest symbols in all of Balkan literature.
The Bridge on the Drina covers life in Viegrad and its surroundings from the sixteenth century to World War I. It deals with various customs, most important of which is the “blood tribute,” by which young Serbian children were taken to Turkey and raised as janissaries, or Turkish soldiers. One of these is Mehmed-Pasha Sokolovi, a vizier, or Turkish consul, who built the bridge in Viegrad as a tribute to his home country. From then on, the life of the people of Viegrad and other Bosnians centered around the bridge. The slave-labor peasants who were conscripted in the nearby villages resented the Turkish might represented by the bridge and were punished by the impaling of a peasant accused of sabotaging the bridge’s construction. Andri, however, saw the beautiful bridge as representing several symbols, the main one being a means of connecting separate halves, not only in a physical sense but also as linking various races, nationalities, and cultures. Everything that happened to the people of Viegrad had an echo on the bridge, where the people converged and commented on happenings around them.
Decades passed and things changed, at times drastically. Christians, Muslims, and Jews mingled more with one another. When the Turks gradually withdrew, the Austrians took over. Amid all the changes one thing remained constant—the bridge, which survived even the bombing in World War I. The new generation of Bosnians continued the tradition of gathering on the bridge, this time discussing the more important changes, such as the rise of Serbia to the east and the awakening of the young Bosnians facing the approaching conflagration. Yet, throughout these discussions, the bridge continued to stand in all its glory, reminding the inhabitants of the need for peace and togetherness. Thus the bridge, through its long life and seeming indestructibility, symbolizes the permanence of all life. The additional symbolism of the bridge can be seen its spanning of the two shores and as a thing of beauty humankind always strives to achieve. The Bridge on the Drina is a semihistorical novel written in a highly artistic manner and is a good source of general information about Bosnia, although not a substitute for a scholarly history.
Bosnian Chronicle is also a semihistorical novel, but it deals only with a short period of the Bosnian past,...
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