Average customer rating 5 3 comments. This book is incredible. It's one of those books that, as you read it, you keep reminding yourself that you will read it again. If you buy this book, buy an edition with illustrations.
The Judgment of Rebecca West - Los Angeles Review of Books
Because you will read it again. And again. I can't believe I let this book sit on my shelf unread for so many years.
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Ok, maybe its length is intimidating. And to be honest, I am only halfway through.
But what a great read on so many levels: journalism, history, and literature. I am marking passages worth coming back to, and am finding them throughout. Black lamb and grey falcon: a journey through Yugoslavia , Penguin in English. Black lamb and grey falcon: a journey through Yugoslavia , Papermac in English - Rev. Black lamb and grey falcon: a journey through Yugoslavia , Macmillan in English. Black lamb and grey falcon: a journey through Yugoslavia , Macmillan in English - Rev. Publish date unknown, Macmillan in English.
October 5, Edited by Clean Up Bot. July 22, Edited by Mek. November 28, Edited by AnandBot. November 23, Edited by December 11, What is tiresome in this book is that West loves to go rambling on what seems at first a philosophical discourse but after a while, turns into some mystical reflections. I find this surprising she appears to be very rational and intellectual in her initial approach to exploring the story and the mindset of these peoples, but in trying to understand them, she somehow imbues mystical qualities to events and characters. In any case, she can go on and on, and it is nothing but mind-numbing.
She also becomes quite redundant and predictable in her reactions and insights, and at times, quite narrow-minded the meaning and her interpretation of the symbolism of the book's title, for one. What I also find lacking here, is her lack of interaction with the locals. She had a very knowledgeable guide, and got to meet important political and religious personages, but all the views she got were from the elite. Would it have mattered if she had had a serious conversation with one of those "noble savages" that she idealizes?
I guess so West wrote this book for 5 years, in the period when the rumbling of the imminent war was getting louder and closer. She provides in the Epilogue what i consider in the book to be her most incisive analysis, this time of the events that were sweeping Europe, and how again Yugoslavia would be drawn into the maelstrom. In any case, this book is an experience to read. There is much to digest here, so it's best to be read in an unhurried way. Be prepared to be delighted, to be disturbed, to be surprised, to be entertained, to be informed, and also to question, to wonder, to understand a book which does this and more deserves to be read at least once.
LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn.
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- A Journey Through Yugoslavia.
West used the journey as a framework upon which she hung her penetrating, salient observations about the culture and society. Furthermore, West offered huge chunks of history and socio-economic-religious insights all related with unwavering perception. Nor did her departures from the strict narration of the travel experience leave the reader wondering or confused. Her flights into ancient Roman history, medieval dynastic intrigues, year old battle formations, or twentieth century political juntas always related to and supported her immediate point.
West arranged her material geographically and delivered her servings of history as they related to her travels; chronology took the hind post. West skillfully constructed brilliant sentences and wove them into practically perfect paragraphs.
Her polished prose initially charmed; however, after many hundreds of pages, the incessant similes, metaphors and imagery became overwhelming and cloying. Yet, by the end, the sheer power of her ability to make intelligent observations and phrase them well outweighs all reservations. There was never a sense that she was not fully in control and keenly conscious of both style and content. Recurring themes emerged as West unfolded her experiences.
One theme was that external forces have repeatedly influenced the Balkan peoples. Aside from the many centuries of explicit control by Romans, Byzantines, Turks, Austrians or Hungarians, West found even more insidious the pressure and influence exerted on the Balkans by Germany, Great Britain and Russia. While Byzantines, Turks and even Austrians at least enjoyed the flimsy excuse of geo-graphical proximity, shared borders, and the need for common defense, Britain, France, Russia and Germany had no legitimate business there and were clearly meddling. West showed that the lure of Balkan lands as buffer zones or coun-ter-balances to other territories repeatedly proved irresistible to the larger powers.
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West suggested that the interference of external powers have seldom been motivated by or the cause of lasting benefit for the Balkan people. Another theme West built upon was the concept of sacrifice, particularly self-sacrifice. West came to see this theme pervading the main Balkan experience.
She found the ritual barbaric and brutal; the cruelty and ignorance she observed somewhat tarnished her high opinion of the Slavs. Subsequently, while touring Kossovo, West heard a poem dear to the hearts of Serbians about the grey falcon, representing Elijah, who offered spiritual salvation at the price of worldly destruction. The poem triggered an epiphany in West whereby she came to view the story as a symbol of Yugoslavia, the Balkans and much of Western liberalism as well.
The poem related how a Serbian prince chose moral salvation over yielding to the expedient yet immoral act. This notion dis-turbed West almost as much as the savage slaughter of the lambs. Eventually West achieved some synthesis of these troubling themes. She noted that Yugoslavia had just stood up to the Nazi army; although it was overpowered, the action did not smack of submission and sacrifice, rather of gallantry, bravery and resistance.
This book is a long, complex, deeply ambiguous, genre-straddling magnum opus that is, at least to my mind, highly resistant to easy classification. Because of that, I almost don't know how to begin reviewing it.
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On one hand, the author's vivid and excellent writing combined with her tendency to go off on long, involved tangents related to history, art history, religious history, etc. On the other hand, it can't be denied that the book is not exactly objective. I think the thing that needs to be kept in mind with this book is that it is not objective history.
It's what might be a called a historical travelogue - while this book is in some ways about the history of the former Yugoslavia, this book is more profoundly about what it is that Rebecca West found in pre-WW2 Yugoslavia. A large part of what called to her in Yugoslavia, what made her fall in love with Yugoslavia, was the history - or at least her interpretation thereof. I think "interpretation" is really the key word here - this book is a deeply personal interpretation of the history of the West Balkans that reflects both a great degree of historical knowledge and a lack of desire to be a historian.
I think this book is wonderful and unique -- but anyone who confuses this book with an objective historical resource is grievously wrong. The compelling nature of Rebecca West's writing naturally gets readers interested in the region - but the necessary next step is to channel that interest into more serious readings about the history of the former Yugoslavia. This was Robert Kaplan's mistake, to be sure, and he should have known better. The closest analogy I can think of is perhaps taking Tocqueville for a textbook of American history. Tocqueville, though, was more actively objective in his approach to America than West was towards the former Yugoslavia.
Ultimately though, I think the lack of objectivity doesn't make the book any less worthwhile - it just means that readers need to be aware of what this book is and what it isn't. A … more.