Monday, 3 August 2009

The Bridge Over The Drina by Ivo Andrić

In some ways the genesis of this blog was several years ago when I read Andrić’s magical novel, The Bridge Over The Drina, set in his native Bosnia. I was so impressed by the passage on the perils of addiction to plum brandy, also known as slivovitz, that I copied it out and sent it to a friend.

I became acquainted with slivovitz during my time at the School of Slavonic & East European Studies and can vouch for the fact that it needs to be treated with some caution. The best stuff is home made and usually makes its way over to this country in recycled lemonade bottles...

The book itself covers five hundred years of history in the town of Višegrad and is centred around the great Ottoman bridge over the river, a silent, central character in the novel. A worthy insight into the bloody tangle of Balkan history, its author won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. The story takes the form of various episodes around the town and the bridge; in this one, someone appears at the caravanserai with the expressed intent of drowning his sorrows:

Withdrawn into the farthest corners the notorious addicts of plum brandy sat silent. They were lovers of shadow and silence, sitting over their plum brandy as if it were something sacred, hating movement and commotion. With burnt-out stomachs, inflamed livers and disordered nerves, unshaven and uncared for, indifferent to everything else in the world and a burden even to themselves, they sat there and drank, and while drinking, waited until that magical light which shines for those completely given over to drink should at last burst upon them, that joy for which it is sweet to suffer, to decay and finally to die, but which unfortunately appears more and more rarely and shines more and more weakly.

A description of hell, it’s nonetheless sheer poetry.

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