Literature / The Bridge on the Drina
"So people learned from the angels of God how to build bridges, and therefore, after fountains, the greatest blessing is to build a bridge and the greatest sin to interfere with one, for every bridge, from a tree trunk crossing a mountain stream to this great bridge of Mehmed Pasha, has its guardian angel who cares for it and maintains it as long as God has ordained that it should stand."

The Bridge On the Drina (original title: Na Drini Ćuprija) is a 1945 novel by the Yugoslav writer Ivo Andrić, which won him the 1961 Nobel Prize in Literature.

In November 1516, an Ottoman expedition was passing through the backwater Bosnian town of Višegrad, collecting, to the horror of the local Serbian families, the feared Devshirme, or "Tribute in Blood". Exceptionally able and intelligent Christian prepubescent boys were taken away to Istanbul in order to be trained as Janissaries, the elite corps of the Ottoman army, dedicated to serve the Sultan until death. One of those boys, the ten year old Bajo, quickly managed to rise through the ranks of the Ottoman Empire, ultimately becoming the famed Grand Vizier Mehmed Pasha Sokolović, the most powerful man in the Empire after the Sultan himself. Unlike most other Janissaries, the Training from Hell didn’t manage to erase the memories of his childhood home and, in order to repay his roots, he orders a bridge to be built over the wild river of Drina, connecting Bosnia to Serbia and the rest of Ottoman territories, that would be the envy of the whole empire.

Thus begins this novel, considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of Balkan literature, written as a chronicle of the town of Višegrad, spanning across several centuries, from the beginning of the bridge’s construction in 1571, to the start of the First World War in 1914. It is notable for containing countless Story Arcs, written from the perspectives of its huge cast of vibrant characters, of different ethnicities, beliefs and personalities, with the bridge itself being what bridges all of the characters and subplots together.

An implicit critic of Balkan nationalism, this novel is considered a must-read for anyone who wishes to truly understand the conflicts still going on in this troubled region.

Provides Examples Of:

  • All Jews Are Cheapskates: Subverted with Lotte the hotel manager. She is really stingy and careful with the money, but it is revealed that she actually uses it to help her relatives all around Europe.
  • Arc Symbol: The bridge.
  • Arc Welding: Most character subplots, as part of a larger Story Arc, eventually weld together.
  • Bad Boss: Abidaga, the overseer of the bridge construction, is extremely cruel and ruthless to the locals mobilized into slave labor, in order for the construction schedule to be fulfilled. The icing on the cake is that he embezzles the money Mehmed Pasha meant to be used for paying the laborers.
  • Benevolent Boss: Arif Beg, Abidaga's eventual replacement.
  • Big Fancy House: Several rich Muslim families have these.
  • Butt-Monkey: Pretty much everybody.
  • Cool Old Guy: Priest Nikola in his later days.
  • Creature of Habit: The old Shemsibeg Branković has trouble adapting to the changes caused by the Austrian occupation, and ends up locking himself in his home, never leaving it again.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Radisav the saboteur is publicly staked as a warning to other workers.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Alihodja and Fata.
  • Downer Ending: The Austrian army, while retreating from Višegrad in front of the incoming Serbian army, shells the bridge. Alihodja, after seeing the bridge, which was the central point of every townsman's life and much more than that, broken and damaged, dies of heartstroke.
  • The Dragon: Plevljak to Abidaga.
  • Driven to Suicide: Fata, for being forced to marry the man she didn't want, and Fedun, after realizing his mistake.
  • The Empire: The Ottoman Empire in the first half of the book. Austria-Hungary in the second.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: Abidaga, probably the only truly evil character in the book, has one built for him.
  • Fatal Flaw: Fata's is Pride. She is extremely beautiful and smart, which leads to men flocking around her, and she definitely knows it. This makes her much more independent and self-minded than was the norm for young Muslim girls of the time. It eventually leads to her demise, since she cannot reconcile her desire for independence with what society asks of her.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The megalomaniacal Abidaga considers his exile to a backwater province in Asia Minor, after his embezzlement of the money meant for paying the bridge workers had been discovered, to be this.
  • First World War: The book ends with its opening days.
  • The Fool: Ćorkan.
  • Freak Out!: Poor Lotte suffers this when her hotel is destroyed in the end of the book.
  • The Gambling Addict: Milan Glasinčanin.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Even though the ethnicities consisting the population of Višegrad are usually segregated and generally avoid each other, yearly floods bring them all together to cooperate. Surprisingly, they are really friendly with each other, though everything returns to the status quo once the floods are over.
  • The Good Chancellor: Mehmed Pasha.
  • Good Old Ways: Alihodja, and especially Shemsibeg.
  • Gorn: The extremely detailed, terrifying depiction of Radisav's staking.
  • Grumpy Bear: Alihodja.
  • Hometown Nickname: Plevljak (A man from Plevlja).
  • Ice Queen: Lotte, though it only contributes to her popularity with the patrons.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Radisav.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Alihodja.
  • La Résistance: Appears in every Story Arc, in a different form and with different motivations.
  • Laughing Mad: Poor Plevljak, scared to death of Abidaga's threats of execution if he doesn't manage to catch whoever is sabotaging the construction, undergoes such a drastic Mood Whiplash after succeeding in his mission that he literally goes insane from the shock. This trope ensues.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Given the length of the book, that's expected.
  • Local Hangout: The kapija. Later in the book, Lotte's inn.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Poor Fedun.
  • Middle-Management Mook: Plevljak.
  • Mook Lieutenant: Plevljak
  • Never Recycle a Building: After its abandonment, The Stony Han is left decaying for centuries. Subverted, as the Austrians eventually tear it down and use the building material for building a barracks.
  • New Era Speech: The proclamation of the Austrian occupation of Bosnia functions as this.
  • No Antagonist: The closest thing the book has to a villain is Abidaga, which is there only in a few opening chapters.
  • Opposites Attract Revenge: Two young men studying at the Vienna university and coming back to Višegrad for summer vacation, although fierce opponents in political debates (one is a nationalist and the other a socialist), are still best friends. Soon, their complexes and the desire to prove each other wrong turn into petty vendetta, and one of them steals the other's girl. This leads them to passionately hate each other.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The executioner whose job is decapitating and staking the heads of Serbian rebels during the First Serbian Uprising is actually quite a pleasant and respected fellow, who views his job as a craft and tries to make the execution as painless as possible for his victims.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The book thrives on it, though the symbolism is much subtler than most other examples.
  • Scenery Porn: The opening chapter is dedicated to this.
  • Shrouded in Myth: It turns out that all local legend have a source in much more trivial historical happenings.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The book is cynical.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: A young and educated teacher of Islam, one of the most respected townspeople, is trying to write a chronicle of the town during his lifetime, but dismisses most events since he thinks that they are unworthy of him and his book. He dies of old age, with the chronicle being less than five pages long.
  • Smoky Gentlemen's Club: The upper-class section of Lotte's inn.
  • Take It to the Bridge: Duh.
  • The Ferry Man: Jamak.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Alihodja gives one to an Islamistic, would-be revolutionary.
    • The normally quiet and reserved Nikola Glasičanin gives a long one to Janko Stikovič for his vanity and ego-centrism.
  • The Silent Bob: Jamak the ferryman.
  • Time Skip: Happens several times.
  • Token Minority: The architect's apprentice is black. Otherwise averted, since the characters faithfully represent the region's ethnic diversity.
  • Tyke-Bomb: The children collected as part of the "Tribute In Blood" are trained to become Janissaries.
  • Sycophantic Servant: Plevljak to Abidaga.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: The kapija, the expansion in the center of the bridge, is the regular gathering place for the town population.