But Visegrad is still home to the Ivo Andric library, the finest collection of his books in the world. The librarian, Stojka Mijatovic, offered us a volume, a gift. “We have taken so many books from Muslim houses we hardly know what to do with them,” she said.
The Bridge on the Drina, the famous book by Ivo Andric was recently translated into portuguese. There was an older translation, but it had been sold out long ago, so it was possible to get it only in libraries, and even so, in the Lisbon public library the book was in such a shape that it readers were not allowed to take it home.
This translation has the merit of having been made directly to portuguese, unlike what usually happens with most books written in foreign languages spoken not widely known in Portugal.
Despite the merit of the publishing house in promoting universal literature by providing their readers with good quality direct translations, there is something wrong about this portuguese edition. On its cover, one
can see a photo of an old bridge, and those acquainted with ottoman architecture will recognize its style. However, this bridge is not THE bridge on the Drina, and it is unlikely that the small river that passes beneath it is the Drina. This reveals the lack of zeal with which the publishing house produces its covers, but it also has a reflex on the perception that the reader will have on the content of the book itself, as it is probable that most of its readers never heard about the Drinabefore, and it is highly probable that even if they did, they don’t have a mental image of it, and even less of the bridge itself (here is a picture of the real bridge)
Much more disturbing was the description I was given of the book’s launching event, held last year at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Lisbon, not long before Christmas.
I didn’t go, so I am relying on the description given to me by a girl who was there. It may not be wise to talk about events that we didn’t witness ourselves, but there are ways to valuate the credibility of our sources. In this case, her description was made in the presence of other participants in the event. who did not denie her version. On the contrary, their uneasy silence was a very clear, albeit tacit, confirmation of the version that I will now reproduce.
The event was a success. Lots of people attended it, and the book got a reasonable media attention. The translator, a serb living in Portugal, was very proud of his deed, because it seems that translating Ivo Andric is a very hard task and the portuguese language is not an easy language either. Two more persons spoke at the event: the serbian ambassador in Lisbon, and a portuguese Professor of Literature.
The serbian ambassador spoke of Andric as if he had been a serbian citizen, thus ‘nationalizing’ Yugoslavia only Nobel Prize.
Nobody mentioned that Visegrad, the town where the bridge stands, was ‘ethnically cleansed’ in 1992 and is now a ethnically pure serbian town. This ‘small’ detail was unworthy mentioning in such a pleasant event about a book that describes inter-ethnic relations in Bosnia under ottoman and austrian rule. Nowadays there are no inter-ethnic relations to describe in Visegrad anymore and the bridge itself, damaged during the war is on UNESCO’s black list of endangered world heritage cultural monuments.
The brige was also nationalised, that is serbianized, as the Grand Vizir who ordered its construction was an orthodox christian taken by force by the ottomans to join the janissaries. Thus it became a serbian bridge, not an ottoman bridge, despite the fact that its architectonic style and construction technique leave no room for doubth.
The girl was shocked. When the event occurred, she had recently returned from Mostar, where she had been working as a volunteer (I didn’t ask what she was doing, I never ask anything, I just listen). She wanted to lean more about BiH, and that was the reason she decided to attend the book’s launching event. But Bosnia itself was hardly mentioned. As she told me, she felt she was too isolated there to say anything, and anyway she wouldn’t know what to say in such a surrealist environment where, apparently, only herself seemed to be shocked.
It was denial in its purest form.
Here is a description of what happened in Visegrad in 1992. Sensible souls should take a deep breath before reading it, but still read it. If you get easily impressed, don’t read it all, this small excerpt will probably be enough:
“””(…) But the bloodiest arena was the bridge itself. The structure is visible from almost every balcony and window in Visegrad, which climbs both sides of the valley. Its cobblestones are a stage at the foot of an amphitheatre; the executions were intended to be as public as possible. (…) At the end of June a Visegrad police inspector, Milan Josipovic, received a macabre complaint from downriver, from the management of Bajina Basta hydro-electric plant across the Serbian border. The plant director said could whoever was responsible please slow the flow of corpses down the Drina? They were clogging up the culverts in his dam at such a rate that he could not assemble sufficient staff to remove them. (…)”””
(Blood Trail of Butchery at the Bridge, by Ed Vulliani, published originally in the Gardian in March 11, 1996).
Photo: The Drina in a rainy day. My picture, taken in October 2007.