08 October 2012

Monday Book Review!

IT'S BACK.  I have yet to review a book that made me go, "Eh."  Srebrenica wasn't exactly gripping writing, but it had a pretty awful true life story to make up for that.  So here I go again...I loved this book.  I read The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić at the suggestion of yet another friend, but this one was not European.  This won the Nobel prize in 1961 (well, technically speaking, all of his work did).  Guys, I helplessly wept at the end of this book.  I was standing there, waiting for the bus to get to work, and tears kept streaming down my face as I thought about the book.  I couldn't quell the welling emotions and plip plop went my hot tears.

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
Andrić masterfully put the bridge at the center of a story that spanned several centuries.  Such a symbol of connectivity and longevity needed to be contrasted against the turmoil of many, many years for any type of character to develop in the bridge or for the reader to feel an emotional investment in it.  The execution of the writing and concept is so genius that I'm writing a review about how moving a stone bridge is in a novel.  Not seeing it in person, but reading almost 200 pages about it.  This is not something that happens every time you read a book.  I was not moved by the stone walls of the Albanian city in The Siege in the slightest, but this stone bridge had me helplessly weeping on public transit during my morning commute.  That's something to behold.

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.