I just finished reading “The Bridge on the Drina” by Bosnian writer, and former long-time Belgrade resident, Ivo Andrić. He won the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Andrić lived a full life and he is a great example of the idea of Yugoslavia. His parents were Croats from Sarajevo, Bosnia. He spent his childhood in Višegrad, a small town on the border of Serbia and Bosnia. He studied in Sarajevo and Zagreb, Croatia. He was imprisoned during WWI by the Austro-Hungarians as a revolutionary. After the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes gained independence Andrić began a career as a diplomat for the new government. He held posts in Hungary, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and finally, in his peak position on the eve of WW II, to Berlin, Germany. All during this time, Andrić was writing and publishing poems, essays, and short stories. When Hitler occupied Poland, he tried to resign, but the Yugoslav government rejected it. When Germany bombed Belgrade in 1941, he retired from the foreign service and lived the rest of his life in Belgrade. During the war, he wrote three novels that would earn him the Nobel Prize. He donated the prize money to build libraries in Bosnia. You can read more about him at Ivo Andric Foundation web site.
I highly recommend the book, “The Bridge on the Drina.” The Drina is a river that separates Bosnia and Serbia. The bridge he refers to in located in the town of Višegrad, Bosnia. The novel is an epic historical fiction beginning in the 1500′s with the construction of the bridge by the Ottoman Turks and ending with its destruction during World War I. I love history and as all good historical fiction does, it brings alive the facts of history. It got me to think more about the legacy of the Ottomans. They had a large empire for many years, but are not that well known or studied in the US. Andrić tells of the Ottoman’s blood sacrifice, in which the Turks would raid Serbian villages and kidnap young Serbian boys to raise them as Turks in Istanbul. He also describes the public “staking” of a man caught vandalizing the bridge during its construction. The Turks were here in Serbia for a long time. As the novel progresses through time, it is good to have a bit of background of Balkan history. Besides the historical stuff, he tells good stories of people and families. My only criticism is he slides into a bit too much of “magic realism” and I got burned out on that by reading Garcia Marquez and other Latino writers.
The picture above is of the Hotel Moscow which I took in August of last year. Ollie is pictured in front of the fountain. A friend tells me it was one of Andric’s favorite hangouts here in Belgrade. I will go visit his museum soon. The apartment where he lived is now a museum and it will give me a better idea of the man and his works, and I will do another post on the visit. I will also most likely read some more by him. I am especially interested in reading his essay on Simon Bolivar. If any of my blog readers have a copy of that, preferably in English (I am now at the stage in my Serbian language development which I call “early caveman” – for example, Danas lepo toplo i kizovo (today very cold and slippery).