Ivo Andrić: The Bridge on the Drina
The committee that awarded the Nobel prize for literature to Ivo Andrić in 1961 cited the epic force of The Bridge on the Drina, first published in Serbo-Croat in 1945, as justification for its award. The award was indeed justified if, as I believe, The Bridge on the Drina is one of the most perceptive, resonant, and well-wrought works of fiction written in the twentieth century.
No better introduction to the study of Balkan and Ottoman history exists, nor do I know of any work of fiction that more persuasively introduces the reader to a civilization other than our own. It is an intellectual and emotional adventure to encounter the Ottoman world through Andrić’s pages in its grandoise beginning and at its tottering finale. Every episode rings true, from the role of terror in fastening the Turkish power firmly on the land to the role of an Austrian army whorehouse in corrupting the old ways. No anthropologist has ever reported the processes of cultural change so sensitively; no historian has entered so effectively into the minds of the persons with whom he sought to deal. It is, in short, a marvelous work, a masterpiece, and very much sui generis.