A spare and haunting story of how a bridge becomes both a unifying and divisive force, by the great Albanian author (The Pyramid, p. 332; The Concert, 1994, etc.) who has been frequently nominated for the Nobel Prize. Originally written in 197678, and published in French in 1993, this is the first-person narrative of Gjon, a monk who serves a small Balkan village during the later years of the 14th century (in a country then known as Arberia). When a madman's prophecy encourages the building of a stone bridge across the nearby river, conservative voices lament the passing of old ways, local boat- and raft-men scheme to subvert the project, and furtive damage to the structure's foundation provokes the following sentiment: ``The bridge was built during the day and destroyed at night by the spirits of the water. It demanded a sacrifice.'' A villager suspected of sabotaging the bridge becomes that sacrifice and is walled up inside one of its arches--in a sequence recounted by Kadare with virtually Homeric restraint and power. The bridge is completed, and the resulting ``miracle in stone'' becomes, as Gjon reluctantly understands, his countrymen's ``bridge'' to forced assimilation with the encroaching Ottoman Empire, whose soldiers are among the first who dare cross it. This gripping parable closely resembles the indigenous legends and ballads that its narrator repeatedly invokes (including the story of a girl returned to her village by her dead brother that Kadare retold in his novel Doruntine (1988) and resembles also, by design, Bosnian author Ivo Andric's great novel The Bridge on the Drina (1977). In fact, Kadare's story stands to Andric's approximately as William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness does to The Sound and the Fury, or Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits to One Hundred Years of Solitude: both homage and partial imitation. Shakespeare and Chaucer would have understood. Imitation or not, this is a masterpiece. The Nobel can't come a moment too soon.