The weirdest part of this experience was that it wasn't just one thing that made me weep. Something about the final chapter just summarized the whole tragedy of that story. The sweeping changes in history, particularly as the industrial age was ushered in, changed everything and it was so unbelievably moving to see this steadfast bridge change in the face of history even though it physically stayed unchanged. Andrić made me realize that a potentially boring character (read: the bridge) could be the most moving part of such a sweeping story. In some ways the tragedy is much like that of Fiddler on the Roof: tradition is going to the wayside and all the orientation with it. The bridge loses its importance as technology changes travel and suddenly all the history and culture that drove the creation of the bridge have been outgrown, much like the bridge's usefulness was outgrown.
|Andrić and the bridge; source|
The pace of the book picks up with the appropriate pace of the time its set in (i.e. as the concept of time changed for industrial purposes). It ebbs and flows with the setting in a way that is so seamless and natural you hardly notice it until you realize 50 years were captured in fewer chapters than before. And yet for all the speed it picks up, it doesn't feel like it's barreling to a conclusion. It feels like it's about to get lost in the mist and you don't know where it's going to end up. The timeline given here helps you understand the historical context of the novel, though it is made obliquely, if not explicitly, known in the actual story. It may not be obvious if you don't already know Austro-Hungarian history (why don't you? huh?). The story really envelops you in that history and suddenly you feel like it's a part of you. Somehow you are a Bosnian during the Turkish occupation that is omnisciently watching all the action. I was fully engrossed in it and it was hard to stop reading when my bus ride ended.
I don't know if my tears have sold you on this book, but they should. I was moved and I think you will be too. But when you open this book, you will sit on the bridge and let the swift Drina float by you, ebbing and flowing with the seasons, telling you all the secrets of time gone by.