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 The Literature Thread 
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Rock wrote:
Yeah, first time, and it's pretty damn good so far. I might check out Red Dragon next, although I have a pretty big stockpile of books to get through already.
For some reason, I never read Red Dragon, but, despite the mixed responses I heard about it, I also happened to enjoy Hannibal a lot as well. Never saw the movie, but it sounds completely batshit, from everything I've heard about it; maybe I'll check it out someday when I'm bored, or something.

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Thu Dec 28, 2017 3:11 pm
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The Bridge on the Drina | Ivo Andrić | 1945 | 314 pages

This is a book of staggering scope, spanning four hundred years of history in Eastern Bosnia, from the building of the titular bridge in the 16th century to the outbreak of World War I. It chronicles the rhythms and changes that take place in the city of Višegrad and charts the lives of its successive generations and the precarious coexistence of their ethnically diverse community, all while the immutable bridge stands firmly at its center.

To do this, Andrić interweaves intricate strains of myth, history, folklore, geography, sociology, politics, and circumstance, treating every force with equal earnest and investigating how each shapes the fate of the town. He also corrals a vast sweep of events: on the one hand, he evokes a strong sense of daily life and devotes time to individual characters and the minutiae of their lives, while on the other, he is always acutely aware of the momentous forces at work in the world, beyond the reach or understanding of Višegrad and its inhabitants yet exerting a profound influence on the politics, laws, borders, religious attitudes, economic trends, and national sentiments that determine the course of their existence. Even as Andrić focuses on one lazy afternoon on the bridge, he never loses sight of the impact of these inexorable forces -- often originating in distant lands and taking place over the course of decades, if not centuries. This ongoing dichotomy -- between grand and modest, fleeting and eternal -- makes up the warp and weft of the story's fabric. One critic described it as "a dialectic of the enduring and the transient." Nearly every chapter ends by drawing attention to the bridge's solidity and permanence (and the real bridge is still there, a UNESCO heritage site: the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge).

This deft blend is reflected in his prose style, which pairs historically objective narration with poetic insights and intimate biographical details, a tactic that brings to mind A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Danilo Kiš, another great Yugoslavian book (which I reviewed earlier in this thread). It also bears some resemblance to Gabriel Garcia Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, which it must have influenced, although The Bridge on the Drina is more grounded, even broader in scope, and makes poetry out of pragmatism instead of resorting to magic. (Joe Sacco's Safe Area Goražde also owes a debt to the book. See below.)

The sheer scope of The Bridge on the Drina requires a huge cast of characters and lends itself to an episodic structure, perhaps influenced by Andrić's experiences writing short stories. "If we wish for simplicity," wrote one critic, "we can call The Bridge on the Drina a novel to distinguish it from Andrić's collections of short stories. But if we wish for precision, The Bridge on the Drina can best be classified as a collection of short stories of peasant life held together by a bridge." Except I would argue that this too fails to really describe the unique structure and accomplishment of the book, because there are entire chapters dedicated to tracking broader and slower changes, shifts in attitudes and policies, the falling away and rising up of empires; the short stories, while an enriching presence, are only one instrument in an orchestra of storytelling. Much of the book's power derives from its ability to reconcile passing incidents with the unalterable flow of time, making them one consummate, continuous experience, and the book ends with a prophetic resonance that presages the region's future troubles. However, a few individual stories really stand out, particularly an early scene about a gut-wrenching execution during the bridge's construction, and a sublime interlude about a drunkard named Ćorkan, who is the butt of everyone's jokes yet burns with an inner light, a searing sincerity that wants to burst free of his pitiful body.

I've gone on at length already, but it's hard to emphasize just how much the book impressed me: the unfaltering prowess of Andrić's prose, its distinctive ambitions, how even during what some might call the lulls in the story (when Andrić describes the tectonic social changes) the book is never short of fascinating. It's perhaps the best book I've read this year, easily on par with The Sound and the Fury which I read (and adored) about a month ago.

To finish, I'll share a quick excerpt from early in the book.

Ivo Andrić wrote:
While the feast lasted, and in general all those early days, the people crossed the bridge countless times from one bank to the other. The children rushed across while their elders walked slowly, deep in conversation or watching from every point the new views open to them from the bridge. The helpless, the lame and the sick were brought on litters, for no one wanted to be left out or renounce their share in this wonder. Even the least of the townsmen felt as if his powers were suddenly multiplied, as if some wonderful, superhuman exploit was brought within the measure of his powers and within the limits of everyday life, as if besides the well-known elements of earth, water and sky, one more were open to him, as if by some beneficent effort each one of them could suddenly realize one of his dearest desires, that ancient dream of man -- to go over the water and to be master of space.


Safe Area Goražde | Joe Sacco | 2000 | 227 pages

Just before reading The Bridge on the Drina, I read Safe Area Goražde, Joe Sacco's journalistic comic book documenting his time in Goražde, another city on the Drina, downriver from Višegrad, and a UN-designated safe area during the Bosnian Conflict in the 90s. It is a stellar book in its own way, pairing meticulously researched historical context, on the ground reporting of life in Goražde and the normalization of siege conditions, firsthand accounts by Bosnian Muslims about the atrocities they witnessed, Sacco's detailed art, and his striking but remarkably empathetic use of caricature. Both books have been on my shelf for a while, but reading the comic prompted me to start this one (Sacco mentions the book in passing; the comic's most harrowing scene is set on the very same bridge). They make a good pair, since Andrić's story traces the roots of the conflict depicted in Sacco's comic.

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Thu Dec 28, 2017 6:21 pm
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Also, this isn't from The Bridge on the Drina, but I came across it while reading about the book, and found one passage really striking. It's from a letter Andrić wrote in 1920 to a friend, explaining while he was leaving Bosnia (he worked as a diplomat in Berlin for many years). The letter explains that, while he loves Bosnia's landscapes and culture and people, underneath all of that is a deep and enduring hatred, and he cannot stand to live in the midst of all that unspoken antagonism. His explanation is harsh but insightful, and this passage, which discerns in an unassuming detail the subtle but unmistakable cultural divisions that pervade the nation, is as eloquent and stirring as anything in his book:

Ivo Andrić wrote:
Whoever lies awake at night in Sarajevo hears the voices of the Sarajevo night. The clock on the Catholic cathedral strikes the hour with weighty confidence: 2 AM. More than a minute passes (to be exact, seventy-five seconds - I counted) and only then with a rather weaker, but piercing sound does the Orthodox church announce the hour, and chime its own 2 AM. A moment after it the tower clock on the Beys' mosque strikes the hour in a hoarse, faraway voice, and that strikes 11, the ghostly Turkish hour, by the strange calculation of distant and alien parts of the world. The Jews have no clock to sound their hour, so God alone knows what time it is for them by the Sephardic reckoning or the Ashkenazy.

Thus at night, while everyone is sleeping, division keeps vigil in the counting of the late, small hours, and separates these sleeping people who, awake, rejoice and mourn, feast and fast by four different and antagonistic calendars, and send all their prayers and wishes to one heaven in four different ecclesiastical languages.

(Source)

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Thu Dec 28, 2017 6:52 pm
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Joss Whedon is developing a series of books based in the Firefly 'Verse

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Sat Feb 10, 2018 11:12 am
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All The Pieces Matter delivers a fascinating oral history of The Wire

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Tue Feb 13, 2018 4:14 am
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