I read this book because it had been recommended to me by my former boss a couple of years ago when I was doing some travelling in the Balkans, and first off in French translation because a friend was passing on some books and this was one. It was written originally in Serbo-Croat, and is the 300-year history of a bridge over a river in Bosnia. Unlikely. And my first reading, being in French, and seeing that the book is dense with language and description,. did not give me a number of political nuances that I saw later. But it did give me the story. And what a story it is. The Turks in Ottoman times used to take Bosnian boys between the ages of ten and fifteen as tribute - they were circumcised and became Turkish and Muslim and served as janissaries in the Christian army all over the empire. So the Turks did not send their own young men to serve. One of the stonemasons brought in to built the bridge was Antonije, a Christian from Ulcinj. (Where I went on holiday last year, in present-day Montenegro, in the south near the Albanian border, and very Albanian and quite Muslim).
This book was first published in the late 1940s. Bosnia was and is a country they tried to kill, a country which barely exists. The book was written in, and by a native of, a country (Yugoslavia) which existed when the book was written, but no longer does.
This is a dense and intricate story, which is puzzling at times, and scary at others, and is a tale of identity and migration. It is like nothing else I have ever read, and should not work, whether in the original or in translation, but it does. I read it more recently in English translation, and thenI got the inferences of occupation and oppression, and the descriptions of wartime and the inhabitants of Visegrad, the town in which the bridge is situated. dashing across the bridge and dodging bullets, was eerily prescient of what actually happened in Bosnia in the 1990s. The longest siege in European history, anyone remember that?
Read this book in whatever language you can - and it has been translated into several languages, and, officially at least, Serbo-Croat, the language in which its was first published, no longer exists.
It is not really about the bridge, or about Bosnia - it took me the second reading in English translation to understand that. It is about who we are and where we live, and as such it is essential reading. It is also amazingly readable.