Books for the News, History, Literature

Bridge on the River Drina

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In the twenty-first century, Ivo Andrić’s profile has remained surprisingly low for a Nobel Prize winner (his 1961 citation for the Prize in Literature commends “the epic force with which he has traced themes and depicted human destinies drawn from the history of his country”). That is, until now.
The Guardian recently reported on a collaboration between filmmaker (and two-time Cannes Palme d’or winner) Emir Kusturica and the Republika Srpska’s government to build a new town inspired by Andrić’s writings: Andrićgrad. Work on the 17,000 square meter town is “due to start this week and to be completed by 2014.”
In his own day, Andrić (1892-1975) was a poet, novelist, civic servant, diplomat, deputy foreign minister, and parliamentarian. Born and raised in Bosnia (his writing is claimed by Serbs and Croats alike), Andrić was perhaps best known for his “Bosnian trilogy,” three works that drew upon the history, culture, and folk wisdom of his native country. The first of these works, The Bridge on the Drina, spans nearly four centuries of Muslim and Orthodox Christian life in Bosnia and Herzegovina, through the prism of a town and its bridge across the river.
“Here, where the Drina flows with the whole force of its green and foaming waters from the apparently closed mass of the dark steep mountains, stands a great clean-cut stone bridge with eleven wide sweeping arches,” Andrić wrote in The Bridge on the Drina. “From this bridge spreads fanlike the whole rolling valley with the little oriental town of Visegrad and all its surroundings, with hamlets nestling in the folds of the hills, covered with meadows, pastures and plum-orchards, and criss-crossed with walls and fences and dotted with shaws and occasional clumps of evergreens. Looked at from a distance through the broad arches of the white bridge it seems as if one can see not only the green Drina, but all that fertile and cultivated countryside and the southern sky above.”
For Kusturica, Andrićgrad will not only serve as the setting for his forthcoming film adaptation of The Bridge on the Drina, but will also further his interest in envisioning and constructing villages, which began with Kustendorf, a settlement he built in western Serbia, and for which he feels an affinity of place not dissimilar to Andrić:

“This is my Utopia. I lost my city (Sarajevo) during the war, now this is my home. I am finished with cities. I spent four years in New York, ten in Paris, and I was in Belgrade for a while. To me now they are just airports. Cities are humiliating places to live, particularly in this part of the world. Everything I earn now goes into this.”