The Three-Arched Bridge by Ismail Kadare

Reviewed by Dedi Felman

Image of The Three-Arched Bridge by Ismail Kadare

Two books could not differ more in their approach to the barbarities visited upon the Balkans than S. and The Three-Arched Bridge. While Drakulić is at heart a reporter laying bare sickening truths, Kadare, exiled to France from his native Albania and a longtime subject of the repressive Hoxha regime, instinctively reaches for the cover of parable and satire. Turning to ancient rhythms and myths, he recounts a tale of a rent and volatile land in which nothing is what it seems. It is 1377 and an Albanian monk bears witness to the Turkish commination against Europe. Bearing witness in this tale, however, is no straightforward task. In this recording of the "lie we saw and the truth we did not see," a bridge is built between cultures, but no links are forged. What starts out as project that looks like the beginnings of ordinary capitalist competition--a bridge company hoping to steal the ferryman's business outdoes the "Boats and Rafts" company with a high-tech, intricately designed structure meant to bring together that which is apart--ends with medieval conquest and death. What are the intentions of the bridge builders? And who is behind them? No one is quite certain, but the deceptions and self-deceptions, and with them the quarrels, multiply. The bridge is subjected to sabotage and the suspect is immured within. Is this a sacrifice or merely an ordinary crime? Is the bridge meant to breach? Or to confine? For every wall that is broken down, another, stony and silent, rises in its place. In the end, delirium, superstition and madness mostly reign. The bridge may be the sign of progress, but the "wicked waters" it spans seem to have won out after all. This is a darkly enigmatic work that provokes as much as it delights. Kadare creates a thicket of language through which no readers can tear their way and remain unbloodied. Yet his touch is so light that the full irony of his beloved monk's final statement that he is writing because of the "evil whyche is upon us, and for the love of owre worlde" takes a while to hit home, as the reader ponders the love of barbarism in this ancient land.