11 July 2012

The Three-Arched Bridge, by Ismail Kadare

As I was reading this, it reminded me so strongly of Ivo Andric's writing (and especially his novel Bridge on the Drina, and/or his short story "The Bridge on the Zepa;" I read both 8 years ago and they've somewhat run together in my mind) that I actually wondered if there was some plagiarism going on. Maybe I've just read this book before. Or maybe the theme of bridges just runs rampant in Balkan literature, and has an attendant set of tropes with which one describes it, such as the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire, the whiteness of stone, and the structure's out-of-place appearance in the landscape. I don't know. But I was so distracted by this sense of deja vu while reading that I didn't really pay as much attention to the book as I should have. But it's an interesting and well written story.

The novel, which progresses in brief chapters that are like short bursts of feeling, describes the construction of a bridge (duh). It's written from the perspective of a monk who is horrified by the looming presence of the Turks and the threat their culture represents. The clash of traditional and modern and Balkan and Turkish cultures is curiously allegorized in some shady back-room dealings, where each side weaves a series of tales, exploiting local legend to accomplish its goals. It's a well written book, and an absorbing one, but several days after reading it, I'm having a hard time remembering much about it. Not exactly a glowing recommendation, but it really is a pretty good book.

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