Kazakh Edition of “The Bridge on the Drina” Forges Cultural Connections

ASTANA – Steppe&World, the Kazakh publishing house, hosted a presentation of “The Bridge on the Drina,” a book by the world-renowned Serbian writer Ivo Andrić, translated into Kazakh, on April 20 as part of the Astana Eurasian Book Fair 2024. The novel was translated from Russian by Talasbek Asemkulov, a Kazakh writer, with editing by Yrysbek Dabei, the chief editor of the publishing house, poet and writer.

“The Bridge on the Drina,” a book by the world-renowned Serbian writer Ivo Andrić, was presented in Kazakh language on April 20. Photo credit: The Astana Times

Vladimir Jovičić, the Ambassador of Serbia to Kazakhstan, who attended the presentation, highlighted the event’s significance in bridging cultures.

“I just came to Kazakhstan three months ago. Every diplomat is faced with the task of strengthening and developing bilateral relations, including fostering cultural exchange. I was delighted when I received an invitation to this event. Incredibly, the publishing house undertook this project independently, without the embassy’s cooperation. It was their idea to translate this meaningful publication,” he said.

Jovičić emphasized the book’s importance, noting its significance to Serbian culture.

“The translation of this book is crucial. If you ask any Serbian which book they want to be translated, they would say ‘The Bridge on the Drina,’” he said.

Vladimir Jovičić, the Ambassador of Serbia to Kazakhstan emphasized the book’s importance, noting its significance to Serbian culture. Photo credit: The Astana Times

Jovičić discussed Andrić’s life, highlighting his unique position as the only Yugoslavian writer awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“His life was no less interesting than his creations. His family is Serbo-Croatian, but he first felt like a Yugoslav Serb. After the First World War, he began his diplomatic career, and his last and most difficult business trip was to Berlin. Nevertheless, during the Second World War he wrote his best works,” he said.

Fascinating life story

Andrić was born in 1892 in modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. He enrolled at the gymnasium in Sarajevo in 1902 and studied there until 1912. As a high school student, Andrić supported the liberation of South Slavic peoples from Austro-Hungarian rule and was a member of the nationalist youth movement Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), whose activities contributed to the outbreak of the First World War.

During the war, he was imprisoned in various parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After his release in 1917, he resumed his studies at the university in Zagreb. Beginning his diplomatic career in 1920, he served in several countries including the Vatican, Romania, Italy, Austria, France, and Spain. Andrić adeptly balanced his diplomatic duties with literary pursuits, contributing numerous stories, short stories, poems, essays, and sketches to periodicals. His final diplomatic assignment was as Ambassador of Yugoslavia in Berlin before the onset of the Second World War. During the war, he returned to Belgrade, where he penned works that would earn him worldwide acclaim.

Andrić became most renowned for his novels “Travnik Chronicle” and “The Bridge on the Drina,” both dedicated to Bosnia’s historical past. While many of Andrić’s works are set in Bosnia during Ottoman rule, he also wrote about contemporary Yugoslavia. He produced lyrical and philosophical essays such as “Bridges,”  “Paths,” and “Limits” which bear compositional and stylistic resemblance to prose poems. His works are published in over 30 languages.

He continued writing until 1974 and passed away at the age of 82 at the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade.  

Symbol of Serbia

Jovičić noted Andrić’s significant impact on Serbia’s history and public engagement.

“In Serbia, we have the Andrić Foundation and an award given in his name for the best Serbian stories,” he said.

Discussing the book’s plot, Jovičić highlighted its focus on the bridge and its portrayal of real and imaginary characters against the backdrop of historical events.

“The novel vividly describes not only real events in the region’s history but also the life and customs of the multinational community that emerged in Visegrad and throughout the Balkan Peninsula. Andrić skillfully intertwines myth and reality in his narrative,” he said.

From left to right: Yrysbek Dabei, Zira Nauryzbai and Vladimir Jovičić. Photo credit: The Astana Times

“The Bridge on the Drina” was written during the Second World War and published in 1945. It chronicles a small town, primarily focusing on the bridge over the Drina River. The narrative uses the bridge as a unifying element across individual chapters and stories. The emphasis lies in depicting the evolution of a collective mentality in the town, shaped by shared experiences and a common heritage of legend. While the town’s population is diverse, Andrić highlights its cohesion. 

For this work, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for the power of his epic talent, which fully revealed human destinies and problems associated with the history of his country.”

According to Yrysbek Dabei, the book serves as a chronicle spanning the 16th and 20th centuries, with the bridge symbolizing the connection between cultures and civilizations.

“During the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet Pasha, a Serbian, enlisted in the Turkish army and later became a vizier. Remembering his roots, he undertook the construction of a stone bridge to his birthplace, the Drina River in Visegrad,” he said.

Dabei emphasized that the bridge itself served as a central symbol, representing continuity and change, as well as the connections and divisions among the communities.

He highlighted the book’s complex plot and outstanding language, noting its profound impact.

Zira Nauryzbai, a Kazakh mythology researcher, and writer, echoed Dabei’s view.

“My husband, Talasbek Asemkulov, who translated this book into Kazakh, confessed that he felt significant personal growth during the process. It deeply impacted him,” she said. “Observing his subsequent works, I noticed a marked change in his writing style and a profound influence from the experience of translating this book.”

Get The Astana Times stories sent directly to you! Sign up via the website or subscribe to our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, YouTube and Tiktok!