The Bridge on the Drina

Review

a Na Drini cuprija Velika 1The novel is written quickly, between July 1942 and December 1943. An outline of some fifty pages has been preserved, as well as jotting treating various aspects of the subject matter. For instance, “The Bridge on the Žepa” forms part of this preliminary process.

“The Bridge on the Drina” is the cronicle of a small town, and in particular of the focal point of that town: the bridge over the river Drina. The town is Višegrad on the eastern edge of Bosnia, near the border of Serbia. The chronicle traces its history from the sixteenth century to the First World War, and uses the bridge to bind the individual chapters and stories together. The emphasis is on the evolution of a common mentality in the town, deriving from common experience and a common heritage of legend and anecdote. The population of the town is mixed, but Andrić chooses in this case to stress the coherence of the whole. This is achieved partly by the time-scale, but also by Andrić's basic intention in the work. This is to contrast the transience and insignificance of individual human life with the broader perspective of life as itself enduring, a constant ebThe first page of the novel The Bridge on the Drinab and flow. On this level the bridge provides not only a structural but also a symbolic link.

Each chapter or anecdote is in some way connected with the bridge. It is the focal point of the town, and most important events occur on or near it. a Prva str Most na drini 1Such an apparently simple structural function contributes also to the main direction of the work, which depicts the growth, from a series of disparate events, of a common heritage.

Na Drini cuprijaThe movement of the cronicle through the four centuries it describes is not steady. The first event of major importance to the people of Višegrad, the building of the bridge in the mid-sixteenth century, is described in detail over three chapters; the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when no important historical events affected the town, pass by in a single chapter; the nineteenth century covers ten chapters, and the years from 1900 to 1914, the remainder of the work, further nine chapters. Such a scheme allows the author to describe the main events affecting the life of the town in detail and also suggest an awareness of history as never uniformly well-konown or related. The static nature of the centuries of Ottoman rule is then highlighted by the changes which take place during the nineteenth century and increase in speed and scope with Austrian annexation of Bosnia and Hercegovina at the end of that century. The clearest implication of the broad time-scale is the predictable one in Andrić’s work: that, for all these events and changes, nothing of significance alters.

“The Bridge on the Drina” can be seen as a portrait of history itself. History is made as much by individual personalities as by mass movements and the upheavals created by the rise and fall of empires.

Bosnian Chronicle

Review

a Travnicka hronika VelikaA timeless saga of intrigue and conquest in the heart of Bosnia presents the struggle for supremacy in a region that stubbornly refuses to submit to any outsider. Andric's sweeping novel spans the seven years 1807-1814, when French and Austrian consul served alongside the Turkish Viziers in the remote Bosnian town of Travnik, distant outpost of the Ottoman Empire. Divided as the community is, Muslims, Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Jews and Gypsies all unite in a common contempt for their visitors. Isolated in a claustrophobic atmosphere of suspicion and mutual distrust, the consuls and Viziers vie with each other, following the fluctuations of their respective foreign policies. When international politics permit however, they console each other as best they can in this harsh and hostile land.

The time is Napoleonic and the novel, both in its historical scope and psychological subtlety, is Tolstoyan. In its portrayal of conflict and fierce ethnic Bosnian chronicleloyalties, the story is inevitably eerily relevant to readers today. Ottoman viziers, French consuls, and Austrian plenipotentiaries are consumed by a ceaseless game of diplomacy and double-dealing: expansive and courtly face-to-face, brooding and scheming behind closed doors. As they have for centuries, the Bosnians themselves observe and endure the machinations of greater powers that vie, futilely, to absorb them. Ivo Andric posses the rare gift in a historical novelist of creating a period-piece, full of local colour, and at the same time characters who might have been living today. His masterwork is imbued with the richness and complexity of a region that has brought much tragedy to our century and known so little peace.

The writer uses his native Bosnia as a microcosm of human society, stressing its potential for national, cultural and religious misunderstanding and conflict, and identifying the barriers of all kinds that hinder communication between individuals. Written against the background of violence released in these mixed communities during the Second World War, the novel now has renewed and poignant relevance.

The Woman from Sarajevo

Review

a Gospodjica VelikaThis novel by Andrić was originally published in Serbian in 1945 and is one of the treee novels that make up the "Bosnian Trilogy". The other two are "Bosnian Chronicle" and "The Bridge on the Drina".

The novel is set in the cities of Sarajevo and Belgrade dyring the first three decades of this century. The places and time are not incidentally chosen. Ivo Andrić is from Bosnia and knows the people and their problems in this unique area. The theme and composition suggest a work of modern classicism. It is the tragic life of a woman disappointed in people and in the world she lives in. She is completely enslaved by money, in which she hopes to find security and revenge in a hateful and insecure world. At the same time she is literally and feverishly following her bankrupt father’s last plea, as she becomes not only thrifty but a real miser in a classical Gogolian style.a Prva strana Gospodjice

This novel is dominated by a single character, a spinster named Miss Raika Radaković who is dominated by a single passion, stinginess. The development of this passion is traced through the first third of this century, from the time Miss Raika’s dying father, a ruined merchant, solemnly enjoins his school-girl-daughter to guard with her life the little property he can leave herThe first page of the novel The Woman from Sarajevo, until some thirty-five years later when she herself dies, a scrawny old woman, unloved and unlovable, but faithful to her trust. As a moneylender she parlays small insurance legacy after her father into a small fortune. But whatever her wealth at any time, she will spend none of it on herself. For this single-minded greed for money she puts everything else out of her life – love, friendship, concern for other people.

Raika also speculates in currencies during the tumultuous years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the uncertain emergence of the new Yugoslav state. A good deal of the power of Andrić’s tale comes through the depiction of this seething historical background, in whose torrent the wretched Raika’s life is washed along like a piece of flotsam.

GospodjicaThe novel is carefully thought out and fully imagined, with solid passages of description in the nineteenth-century manner and scrupulous attentions to the job of relating the individual life to the broader pattern of social and economical change With brilliant economy Andrić sketches the stages through which Miss Raika hoards and increases her inheritance: Sarajevo in the era of provincial usury, the economic upheavals and disintegration of the First World War, staid Belgrade headily embarking on the jazz age when the war is over, the pinched depression years during which Miss Raika dies. The requisite drama – the testing of the ruling passion – is present in the form of a young man whose physical resemblance to a beloved uncle long dead touches Miss Raika’s heart enough to make her swerve, though only momentarily, from her objective of never parting with her money.

The chronicle is Andrić’s favorite form, and this novel is no exception, a highly poetic form depicting the past and the present in a meticulous artistic and philosophical manner. Detailed historical analysis serves as a “chain” and always gives a basis for philosophical interpretation.

The Damned Yard

Review

a Prokleta avlija VelikaThe novel is written in 1954. Ćamil, a wealthy young man of Smyrna living in the last years of the Ottoman Empire, is fascinated by the story of Džem, ill-fated brother of the Sultan Bajazet, who ruled Turkey in the fifteenth century. Ćamil, in his isolation, comes to believe that he is Džem, and that he shares his evil destiny: he is born to be a victim of the State. Because of his stories about Džem’s ambitions to overthrow his brother, Ćamil is arrested under suspicion of plotting against the Sultan. He is taken to a prison in Istanbul, where he tells his story, to Petar, a monk.

Out of these exotic materials, Andrić has constructed a book of great clarity, brevity and interest. No doubt it will be read by some as a political parable about the tyranny of the State, but also as a quite simply story about ill-fortune and human misunderstanding, fear and ignorance. Džem and Ćamil are doomed – and the certainty of their persecution is sometimes relieved, sometimes intensified by the stupidity and fright of the people who cross their ill-starred lives.

Construction takes up most of the book’s space: the central story of Džem as related by Ćamil lasts only a chapter or two. For the rest of the time the reader strips layer off layer, as one narrator passes him on the next. There is an interesting passage that helps to explain this method, at the moment when Ćamil starts narrating Džem’s story in the first person. “I” is a word, we are told, which fixes the position of the speaker in such a way that the exercise of will is no longer possible, and the speaker strength is exceeded – strength, presumably, to break out of the identification that all his past actions and thoughts force upon him when he uses the word. “I” is both a confession and an imprisonment. The fact that the novel passes the reader on from one narrator to the next rather suggests that the author is taking constant evasive action, lest he betray himself or his reader into the kind of “personal confession” which seals the fate of Ćamil. What exactly this game of form flirting with meaning signifies, must be left to the individual reader.

The movement is centripetal, towards Džem’s story, and then disperses. Details within the story are made to mimic this form. Thus when Peter receives the message telling him of his impending release:

“Two younger prisoners...were chasing around using him as the centrepoint of ever narrowing circles. Annoyed, he tried to break away from these exuberant youths when one of them brushed against him and he felt a folded scrap of paper thrust into his hand. The youths continued their chase but now in widening circles...”La Corte del diavolo

The reader is led on just such a chase in the course of the novel. The effect of this is to make the plot seem more like a poetic image than an ordinary plot: capable, therefore, of as many meanings as are the images of an allusive poem. Yet the language is simple and direct, not at all “poetic”. The characters are remarkable alive, even in conversation. Karađoz, the governor of the goal, is a spidery authoritarian, who loves to torment the charges he loves. The prisoners “complained about the way one complains about one’s life and curses one’s destiny...it would have been hard for them to imagine life without him”.

“The Devil’s Yard” is justified, as all symbolic and figurative novels must be, by the extent to which it touches the emotions. It is extremely moving. Fear, horror, despair, amusement at times – all these indicate that the threat of the meaning has been recognized.

 

Omer Pasha Latas

Review

a Omerpasa Latas VelikaImmediately after his death in 1975, Andrić’s literary executors published, as his fourth novel, a chronicle of Sarajevo called “Omer pasha Latas”, which was seemingly intended by the author to complete his chronicles of Travnik and Višegrad and to render to all three of his childhood cities the homage he felt was their due.

This posthumously published Andrić’s work is the biography of a historical personality, Omer pasha Latas, Christian Serbe, who deserted from the Austrian army to the Ottoman Empire, converted to Islam and became a celebrated Ottoman warrior and statesman in the nineteenth century. The reformist Sulatan Abdul Mejid/1839-1961/ sent Omer pasha to Bosnia to suppress the conservative and reactionary feudatories who opposed imperial reforms/ Tansimat/. Andrić however, is less interested in the historical aspects of Omer pasha’s activity than in the human drama.Omer Pasha

For Omer pasha himself the inhospitable land is similarly oppressive, although his initial journey into Bosnia from his native Croatia was itself an escape. He is cut off from that distant former life, however, and his freedom of movcement and action is thus felt to be severely circumscribed. Hisd situation is similar to that of the two Viziers–Mehmed and Jusuf-–who built the bridges over the Drina and the Žepa, because of a similar feeling of disquit: a sense of the complete gulf between the two parts of their lives.

The closing chapters of the novel are written from the point of view of the Austrian consul at the time. The undrlying theme of the letter – that the town of Travnik and the whole of Bosnia resemble a prison- is taken from an authentic  letter from the Austrian consul to Prince Schwarzenberg, dated 5 th June 1851.

On the Sunny Side

Fragment

The Sun

(…)

They stopped before cell number 38. The guard opened it, carefully inspected the little barred window up high, the pitcher and the empty shelf, then without a word slammed the door behind the young man who stood for a while in the middle of the cell, still holding his things.

It was a small cell, but it had two beds with barely enough room to pass between them and two chairs made of unpainted fir.

The time passed rather quickly until lunchtime. He measured the length and width of the cell, examined the meager items in it and the small piece of gray wall that could be seen through the high window. Then he sat and thought about who would be put with him in the other bed. These thoughts were filled with fear and hope, but they all ended with fear. Prison hopes are quickly kindled, but quickly die out.

When lunch was over and the dishes had been removed, his first afternoon in solitary confinement began. After his attention had rapidly and greedily picked up and consumed everything this shabby cell had to offer, he began to examine and consume his own self.

He listened to the humming in his ears for a long time. This buzzing seemed to get louder, grow, and at times he had the impression it would turn into a specific sound, maybe a human word. He concentrated his attention more and more, his expectations grew brighter and just when it seemed the crucial point had been reached and the word would appear, the humming suddenly dropped back to a monotonous, hopeless buzzing that said nothing. This painful rise and fall of his titillated hearing repeated every once in a while. But the miracle did not happen.

His other senses started to enter the game. His eyes in particular. They dropped to his hands resting on his knees. He observed the blood vessels, nails, wrinkles, particularly those going around the wrist like double, tightly knit little chains. The emptiness started the same game with his eyesight that the silence had with his hearing. Staring at those hands resting on his knees, he began to think that they belonged to someone else and hoped they would become detached and fill the space in front of his eyes with new, extraordinary, delightful movements, thus dispelling the loneliness and tedium. He looked at them in fascination, they seemed to move slowly, detaching themselves. His hopes rose wildly. There, now the hands of another human being were going to move of their own accord! But just when his imagination was about to make it happen, his captivated gaze returned to reality: all that lay before him were his familiar hands, attached to him and imprisoned with him. He moved his fingers weakly, like half dead insects. The very next moment his eyes stared fixedly and fogged over, and once again the brief illusion would begin, condemned in advance to hopeless failure.

The prisoner first caught sight of the sun on these motionless hands. Not the sun itself, since it never reached his cell, but its rosy, distant, indirect reflection. The great African sun rising above the Mediterranean Sea, which he had watched as a free man three months ago, was nothing compared to this barely perceptible glow. He spread his fingers a little. He raised his face towards the window, as though that window were the invisible sun.

“There is only one sun. It is the same everywhere.”

He said it to himself, enthralled, and his words immediately turned into song, his face transforming into the delighted, smiling grimace of a man inundated and blinded by bright, unbearable sunlight, leaning on the railing of a ship, singing.

He could not see the sea and towns, the mountains and fields. But this was not necessary. He had everything, everything was close, familiar and feasible, because he had glimpsed the sun. This sun was no longer the large, bright disc that had accompanied him through the city streets to the prison door. No, what he knew to be the sun now and called the sun was this invisible and quotidian, restless and trembling flow that filled and set in motion each little part of his body and everything around him, even lifeless things. The sun – liquid and sound and breath all at the same time, tasting like wine and fruit, constantly in movement with the heat of fire and the freshness of water, and most important of all, inexhaustible and bountiful – the sun.

“Only the sun exists,” he said to himself as though drunk, thinking these words could be sung like a song.

Yes, indeed, only the sun exists, and everything that lives, breathes, crawls, flies, glows or blossoms is only a reflection of that sun, only one of the forms of its existence. All beings and all things exist only to the extent to which their cells carry a reserve of the sun’s breath. The sun is shape and equilibrium; it is consciousness and thought, voice, movement, name.

He knew this clearly and without any doubt now, better than anything he had known before in his life. That is what he found at the bottom of the dark and humid cell in which he was imprisoned, even though innocent. And this made him quiver like a string and feel the need to sing always the same thought and the same melody, but he didn’t know whether out loud or inaudibly.

Oh, universe, what is found in your lofty heights, unknown, free and spacious beyond that heavenly blue membrane, when such a treasure of knowledge is hidden in a wretched human prison! And what do the celestial nebulae and comets that cross the sky hold inside, when this wretched, starving human body in dank shadows, beaten and afraid, can develop such passion and ecstatic joy!

The greatest wonder, indeed, was that this body, burdened by great illusions and tremendous passion, remained fairly balanced and was able to overcome the irresistible need to fly and  scream; instead of screaming, by means of some strange and also sunny counterbalance, it kept itself from dispersing in a soundless explosion like the sunny gold dust that disappears in the sunlight.

From time to time he felt the entire sun burning and shining in his bowels and his diaphragm rising and undulating like a flame, this internal radiance streaming out of his eyes, his nostrils, all his pores. Then he had painful and wonderful moments of great irrepressible, flowing laughter that bubbled out of him like molten gold, so powerful that he opened his mouth wide like a singer, lest he suffocate or burst. And the sun continued to shine inside him, almighty and unparalleled, inexhaustible, bountiful.

He was roused from this rapturous state by rattling keys and the click of the lock. Water was being distributed to the cells. It was time to sleep. He had not even noticed that his cell was already dark. Just then, high above him on the ceiling, the light bulb in its wire netting suddenly turned on as though all by itself. He quickly undressed and lay down in the left bed. Everything looked gentle and good. He slept soundly, dreaming endlessly of the shining sun and some powerful, strangely dressed people bowing to the sun. Around them was a vast herd and heavy loaded wagons, sagging and creaking under the weight of the rich harvest.

The next day at dawn, the cold and gloomy dawn, when he was wakened by the sharp, cold sound of the prison bells, he wondered without pain and bitterness why the night was full of the sun and opulence and the morning was gray, poor, without sunrays and daylight.