Read Black Lamb And Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West Geoff Dyer Online


A NEW EDITION OF A TRAVEL LITERATURE CLASSIC INTRODUCED BY GEOFF DYERFirst published in 1942, Rebecca West's epic masterpiece is widely regarded as the most illuminating book to have been written on the former state of Yugoslavia. It is a work of enduring value that remains essential for anyone attempting to understand the enigmatic history of the Balkan states, and the coA NEW EDITION OF A TRAVEL LITERATURE CLASSIC INTRODUCED BY GEOFF DYERFirst published in 1942, Rebecca West's epic masterpiece is widely regarded as the most illuminating book to have been written on the former state of Yugoslavia. It is a work of enduring value that remains essential for anyone attempting to understand the enigmatic history of the Balkan states, and the continuing friction in this fractured area of Europe....

Title : Black Lamb And Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia
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ISBN : 9781841957876
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 1210 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Black Lamb And Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia Reviews

  • Warwick
    2019-06-02 02:18

    Writing a five-star review full of superlatives is always difficult: for people who haven’t read it yet, there’s no way any book can live up to the kind of praise that someone who loves it wants to give out. And so I really need to marshal my thoughts here, because I genuinely believe that Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is one of the three or four greatest books published in the twentieth century, and I want to make sure I present my case as well as I can. (I say ‘three or four’ just to cover myself – in the privacy of a personal conversation I’d have to admit that personally there’s nothing I’d rate over this.) This is going to be a long review, because I want to quote her in detail.First of all, let’s acknowledge what a daunting prospect it is. Let’s be honest, eleven hundred pages about the Balkans sounds unpromising, and personally I doubt I would ever have read it unless I’d been travelling to Serbia and Monetenegro myself. Recommending it to people isn’t always easy, because it is certainly big, and it does contain some longueurs – but somehow they become part of its genius. There are some masterpieces which appear to be flawless, the writing of which I cannot even understand – Nabokov’s Pale Fire is one. But then there are other great works whose imperfections seem to be an intrinsic part of what makes them great, and Black Lamb is of that kind. I can understand how it was written, but the sheer depth of thinking involved staggers me.It’s important to say what it’s not. People who criticise this book sometimes say that its politics are biased, or that recent historiography renders West’s theories about the Byzantine Empire obsolete. This is at best beside the point. The book is not a history, or a political tract: it’s a travel journal, which just happens to involve some deep thinking in several important areas. (Claims that she is ‘anti-German’ are particularly absurd – West and her husband were huge lovers of German culture. What they disliked was Germany’s political environment in the 1930s, which anyone would have to admit is fair enough.)On the sentence-by-sentence level, her writing is exceptional in its clarity and its striking imagery, by turns witty and beautiful. ‘She was one of those widows whose majesty makes their husbands seem specially dead’, she says of one woman; and of another, ‘It is true that she was plump as an elephant, but she was so beautiful that the resemblance only served to explain what it is that male elephants feel about female elephants.’ On another occasion, after a long description of Orthodox priests chanting hymns, she concludes with extraordinary sensitivity:If there be a God who is fount of all goodness, this is the tribute that should logically be paid to Him; if there be only goodness, it is still a logical tribute.I melt over her description of the Islamic call to prayer:It is a cry that holds an ultimate sadness, like the hooting of owls and the barking of foxes in night-time. The muezzins are making that plain statement of their cosmogony, and the owls and foxes are obeying the simplest need for expression; yet their cries, which they intended to mean so little, prove more conclusively than any argument that life is an occasion which justifies the hugest expenditure of pity. What is most striking for a modern reader is how blindingly direct Rebecca is. Nowadays it’s customary for a lot of writers to distance themselves from controversial views by using disingenuous constructions like ‘Some people might say that…’ or ‘it could be argued that…’ or ‘one might suggest that…’. There is none of that here: she decides what she thinks about an issue, and says it in the most forceful way she can. Some people have taken this to mean that she has a black-and-white view of the world, but to my mind that is a disastrous misreading. Rebecca West’s understanding is very subtle, she just believes that the best way to advance an argument is to state it in its strongest form. For example, she doesn’t agree with the Islamic practice of veiling women – but she says it like this:The veil perpetuates and renews a moment when man, being in league with death, like all creatures that must die, hated his kind for living and transmitting life, and hated woman more than himself, because she is the instrument of birth, and put his hand to the floor to find filth and plastered it on her face, to affront the breath of life in his nostrils.It’s extremely refreshing and challenging to read arguments presented in this way. You won’t always agree with her – often you’ll disagree strongly – but you are always engaged with the prose, a two-way conversation, either yelling out in agreement or leaping out of your chair with objections. She is a visceral writer. But at this point, let me digress slightly intoA PERSONAL INTERLUDEIn the mid-2000s, I found myself lodging with a gay sexagenarian Baron who worked at a Tunbridge Wells bookshop. His baronial title had been inherited from Belgian relatives, he drank a lot of blended scotch, and he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. His entire house was full of books: they went from floor to ceiling in every room of the house, including the kitchen and the stairwells. A man after my own heart.One day as we sat sipping whisky, I told him that I’d just started reading the most incredible book: ‘Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, I don’t know if you know of it….’ Nick jolted up in his chair. ‘What was that? What did you say? You’re reading Rebecca West? Well that’s – gosh. I knew her, you know….’It turned out that she had officially opened the secondhand bookshop he used to own, and they had corresponded for a while; he’d even gone up to London with his boyfriend to have dinner with her a few times. ‘I only wish someone had Boswellized her,’ he said to me on several occasions: she was, apparently, even more brilliant and acerbic in real life than she was on paper. One of the things he pointed out to me was how extremely rare it was for a publisher to agree to bring out such a huge book on such an obscure topic in the middle of the war, during paper rationing: ‘In the end they just thought it was of such extraordinary quality that they made an exception.’So delighted was my landlord to find that someone thirty years younger than him was enjoying this book, that when I left he pulled a 1942 first edition of it, in two volumes, from his shelves, and gave it to me as a parting gift. I kept it open on my desk as I read, and used the Canongate version for scribbling in.THE REVIEW, CONCLUDEDIt is rare to find a travel book that builds a cumulative argument, let alone an argument that can be sustained over more than a thousand pages. Ultimately what makes Black Lamb so astonishing for me is that Rebecca West uses the gifts I outlined above to probe the depths of the human condition in a very clear-sighted way. To end this review I want to look at these arguments a bit more closely – if you want to discover them for yourself, you could consider what follows to be spoilers. As West travels, Europe is on the edge of war: as she publishes, the killing is well underway. What makes humans behave like this?It’s the sort of grandiose question that usually gets grandiose, evasive answers. But not here. West thinks long and hard about it and she is characteristically blunt in her conclusions. For her there is a systemic problem with the Christianity that underpins western culture, simply because it’s built on the idea of a human sacrifice, and that leaves us fundamentally unsure about right and wrong.We are continually told to range ourselves with the crucified and the crucifiers, with innocence and guilt, with kind love and cruel hate. Our breasts echo for ever with the cries ‘In murdering goodness we sinned’ and ‘By murdering goodness we were saved.’ ‘The lamb is innocent and must not be killed,’ ‘The dead lamb brings us salvation,’ so we live in chaos.She goes further than this, though. (She always goes further.) When, in Macedonia, West witnesses a lamb being sacrificed in real life, she grasps that this internal chaos mentioned above has very dark consequences for human society and conflict; indeed, for civilised nations this is a paradox that can make us want to be defeated, even when – especially when – fighting for a good cause.We believed in our heart of hearts that life was simply this and nothing more, a man cutting the throat of a lamb on a rock to please God and obtain happiness; and when our intelligence told us that the man was performing a disgusting and meaningless act, our response was not to dismiss the idea as a nightmare, but to say, ‘Since it is wrong to be the priest and sacrifice the lamb, I will be the lamb and be sacrificed by the priest.’ We thereby set up a principle that doom was honourable for innocent things, and conceded that if we spoke of kindliness and recommended peace it was fitting that afterwards the knife should be passed across our throats. Therefore it happened again and again that when we fought well for a reasonable cause and were in sight of victory, we were filled with a sense that we were not acting in accordance with divine protocol, and turned away and sought defeat, thus betraying those who had trusted us to win them kindliness and peace.The implications of this extraordinary passage, when it comes to war, are fully explored. West hates war, but she also hates ‘the fatuousness of such pacifism as points out the unpleasantness of war as if people had never noticed it before’.That non-resistance paralyses the aggressor is a lie: otherwise the Jews of Germany would all be very well today.Some causes are worth fighting for, even though doing so feels abhorrent. As far as I’m concerned, this insight has never been better expressed:I had to be willing to fight for it even though my own cause could not fail to be repulsive to me, since the essence of civilization was disinclination to violence, and when I defended it habit would make me fear that I was betraying it.This is the meaning of the book’s title, drawn from a Serbian fable about religious sacrifice. In the global conflict erupting around her, Rebecca West could see emerging the same impulses and psychological currents that she had been studying and thinking about for years, ebbing and flowing throughout history and crystallised in the story of Yugoslavia: because human beings are a species that have evolved just enough intelligence to know that what we do is terrible, but not enough to go beyond it; and that leaves us unable to fight for our better nature with conviction.For we have developed enough sensibility to know that to be cruel is vile, and therefore we would not wish to be the priest whose knife made the blood spurt from the black lamb’s throat; and since we still believed the blood sacrifice to be necessary we were left with no choice, if we desired a part in the service of the good, but to be the black lamb.I know of no other book that thinks this hard or this deeply, and where depth of thought is combined with such felicity of expression – and that’s without even considering the fact that it was written from within the heart of the maelstrom itself. Following West’s train of thought through this doorstop-sized essay is one of the biggest intellectual trips you can get from picking up a book, and everyone who can cope with the experience deserves to have it. To my mind, Black Lamb is simply unique – a thing of joy and beauty, a peerless example of applied brilliance, a dazzling masterpiece.

  • Hadrian
    2019-06-04 04:04

    On June 15, 1389, the armies of the Serbs and the Ottoman Turks were to meet on the fields of Kosovo. A battle that decisive and so far removed from our present would naturally have legends swirling around it, and West carves out two of them in the title. The black lamb is a symbol of sacrifice, designed to be as primeval and threatening to us as the idea of Moloch and The Wicker Man.The other story is of the grey falcon, a sort of Christian Faust story, where the Prophet Elijah came down in that guise to the King of the Serbs and promised him heavenly glory in exchange for an honorable defeat. Whether he achieved the former, I don't know, as I've never been there. But both King Lazar and his enemy, Sultan Bayezid, expired on the shepherds' fields, as well as most of their gathered host, but the invaders had reserves in the east, and thus had the power to hold dominion over the region for five centuries. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is one of those books which does not fit so neatly into the stereotypes of its genre. It is too full of intuition or open questioning (or authorial subjectivity) to be a work of academic history, and it's not as banal as most travel books. A better phrase would be 'literary non-fiction'. It is one thing to write a merely long book. West does not write to fill space, she writes to retell everything. She writes to describe, yes, but also to inquire and to moralize. Her favorite topics are the complex entanglements of history, the scale of history, the effects of conquest upon conquest to a subject people, art, religion, the chauffeur, cakes, chicken, Goethe. It is only partly a description of the landscape, and partly a series of introspections and epiphanies. These flow freely into each other and often overlap. Her two-month tour of what was Yugoslavia (and is now Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro) is an attempt to see the past alongside the present. At every town or church, she attempts to trace back the history of this place and connect it to present understandings. The physical landscape of a place is not only physical, it is connected with the meaning that humans have imposed upon it, through long habitation or religious ritual or the stains of violence. She has an obvious affection for this place. In it, she finds paradise. Where the Austrians or Turks saw rebellious peasants she finds humanity. She respects its decency and ability to survive, and she hates all that is about conquest or subjection of others - ethnic minorities and women and the poor chief among them. The book has a sense of prophecy. The preface discusses how the book was used as a political prop in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. It is vast enough and has such a multitude of opinions that all sides could pick and choose their arguments from it. There is another dimension to this, however. She made her visit to Yugoslavia in 1937. By then, Nazi Germany had already re-militarized the Rhineland and purged itself of the SA. Next year they would begin pogroms against the Jews, take Austria and the Sudetenland, the next they would take all of Czechoslovakia and Poland and then there was war. By 1940, they would take France, and by 1941, the Germans and the Soviets would grapple in the largest war in human history. It was in 1941 that she published this mass of a book, as a reminder for those bombed in England to remember those invaded in Yugoslavia and held under another empire. Here it is not just an obligation to remember another corner of humanity, but an exhortation to defend it, to remember what kindness can exist, and a plea to remember all those who might soon be dead or enslaved. One of their best friends in this book, Constantine, was a Serbian Jew; I wonder what happened to him.

  • Buck
    2019-06-13 03:06

    Google keeps blanking out on the title, but there’s a Ford Madox Ford novel where the main character hears about a friend’s engagement and asks himself why any man would choose to get married. Then he comes up with a generous explanation: well, he thinks, maybe the careful study of one woman gives you a sort of map of all the rest.See, that’s just crazy enough to work. Not that I’ve ever tried the experiment myself, but in my better moments, I can almost understand the logic. I’m not even talking about marriage per se, really – just a certain philosophy of life. Sometimes I have this dim suspicion that the only way to get a handle on the universe is to scrutinize a tiny corner of it with passionate intensity. Then I get sucked into the MILF portal on Youporn again and the whole vexed question evaporates into a metaphysical mist.Rebecca West, as far as I know, faced no such distractions. She found her particular corner of the universe in that doomed federation formerly known as Yugoslavia. Already a successful, middle-aged writer when she first visited the Balkans, she discovered a place where the innards of history were just kind of hanging out, painfully exposed. “Take the lid off of life, let me look at the works,” goes a line in an old Mekons song. For West, Yugoslavia is where the lid came off. At 1100 pages, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is a very big book – a vast, teeming, magnum-opussy thingamajig combining history, travelogue, political theory and ethnographic fantastication. So, yeah, not for everybody. I happen to think it’s a work of genius, but even so, it took me well over a year to get through. A genius can be a huge pain in the ass, you know? Their whims and prejudices are so much more extravagant than other people’s. Sometimes I almost prefer a nice, interesting minor talent.But in order to explain why this huge, maddening book is worth reading, I’m going to tell a trivial anecdote dressed up as an allegory.One of my co-workers recently competed in the World Jujitsu Championships in California. When he came back to work, we asked him how he did. “I got destroyed,” he answered cheerfully. “But you know, you always learn something. After you come to, you think: huh, I’ve never seen that before.” On a purely intellectual level, that’s what great writing can do – knock you on your ass and make you think: huh, I’ve never seen that before. Whatever else she is, West is a great writer. Just as a putter-together of interesting sentences, she’s got some serious flair. Sometimes she’ll come at you with a whimsical simile:[She] was fat in the curious way of beautiful middle-aged Turkish women. She did not look like one fat woman, she looked like a cluster of beautiful women loosely attached to a common centre.Or she'll take some historical figure and efficiently condense him, like so much evaporated milk:Prince Montenuovo was one of the strangest figures in Europe of our time; a character that Shakespeare decided at the last moment not to use in King Lear or Othello, and laid by so carelessly that it fell out of art into life.A bizarre—and bizarrely beautiful—passage finds West hallucinating in what is apparently the Balkans’ worst toilet:The lavatory was of the old Turkish kind…The whole floor was wet. Everybody who used the place must go out with shoes stained with urine…The dark hole in the floor, and something hieratic in the proportions of the place, made it seem as if dung, having been expelled by man, had set itself up as a new and magically powerful element that could cover the whole earth with dark ooze and sickly humidity.As in that last example, West's prose gives off occasional whiffs of something infernal, almost apocalyptic. This isn't surprising given that she was writing in the spooky dusk of the late 1930s, and that by the time she added an epilogue in 1941, London was in flames ("Often, when I have thought of invasion, or a bomb has dropped near by, I have prayed, "Let me behave like a Serb."”). This gives the book a terrible urgency, as if West felt she might be writing an extended obituary for her civilization. And in a way, it is a funeral oration – for Yugoslavia, for a certain idea of Europe, for everything beautiful that ends up getting defaced or beaten down by history. All of which is to say that Black Lamb and Grey Falcon isn’t really a book for the iPhone age. It’s just too big and dense and idiosyncratic. But that’s alright: it’ll still be here when we get tired of Angry Birds, or the bombs start falling again, whichever comes first.

  • Jan-Maat
    2019-06-05 01:08

    I think I only bought this book because it looked fat, plain and unappreciated on the bookshop shelf. It still is fat and plain but is at least occasionally enjoyed on my shelf.West's prejudices are plain (pro-Yugoslavia and pro-Serb) which on the whole means you can take them into account as you are reading.Some of her attitudes come across as overly simplistic maybe even naive - for instance her characterisation of the young thrusting Serb states at various points in history contrasted with flabby, lethargic Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Perhaps this book is best understood as a form of propaganda, or better said, as expressing a distinct political view at a very particular point in time - the run up to the Second World War. And for her Yugoslavia is the real thing of which Mussolini's Italy is simply a flabby imitation, as well as a kind of answer to the 1930s, authoritative, masculine, virile, a country which in her eyes was both well rooted in its past but also confidently looking forward.She travels both through time and space as she takes us across 1930s Yugoslavia. In Sarajevo she shows us the accidental assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand while taking us back to his troubled relationship with the Imperial court and showing us the mass organised slaughter of his hunting parties, this as a visual counterpoint both to his own slaughter and that of the first world war. She leads us down through the series of battles fought on the Kossovo plain and through the hard lands of Dalmatia stripped bare by foreign occupiers via the city of Split that has grown up in the remains of Diocletian's palace. We see in Belgrade the alternation of Karageorges and Obrenovitchs who in turn struggled to build up a polity out from under the Ottomans. But at the same time she shows us a society in transition and there references to changing habits and traditions. All of this takes place however in the context of the people that she meets and travels with, much of which is humorous, or at least would be humorous if we didn't know what was very shortly due to happen in this country. And in fact the book ends with people of Marseilles, having heard of Yugoslavia's resistance to Hitler, throwing flowers on the grave of King Alexander. An extremely empathetic travel book and a rich introduction to the region, although possibly best enjoyed with something a bit sharper and critical to cleanse the palate. In any case a master work of British travel writing, although it transcends that and is a cultural and historical appreciation of a region coloured by the author's disenchantment with late imperial Britain and the politics of the 1930s.

  • Jonfaith
    2019-06-07 05:23

    Hatred comes before love, and gives the hater strange and delicious pleasures, but its works are short-lived; the head is cut from the body before the time of natural death, the lie is told to frustrate the other rogue’s plan before it comes to fruit. Sooner or later society tires of making a mosaic of these evil fragments; and even if the rule of hatred lasts some centuries it occupies no place in real time, it is a hiatus in reality, and not the vastest material thefts, not world wide raids on mines and granaries, can give it substance.Throughout my teetering adulthood I often assume and maintain numerous guises. Oh, I am a Southerner, I understand, I'm Irish, It is really for us Intellectuals to ponder, well, you might know if you were a Manchester United fan like I am. So it goes. These aren't fictions, as such, they simply are whiffs of reality rather than constitutional components. This flaccid list could also include I'm a Serb by marriage. I truly feel that I am but I can relate and certainly empathize. The principal reason I never read this book in the former Yugoslavia was that I feared I would be the everybore, asking questions about West's observations, as asking whether so-and-so spa was still in existence and could we go there, that sort of thing. When my wife and I were married 12 years ago I knew about 200 words in Serbian, now I likely know about 150. There isn't constant reinforcement for such in Indiana. Life, however, is never as simple as that, and human beings rarely so potent. Rebecca West traveled to Yugoslavia with her husband in the spring of 1937. She had been by herself the year before and returned to document the fascinating land as the dark clouds of war rumbled into view. There isn't a great deal of judgment about races or nations in these 1200 pages. That is refreshing. The pair arrive for a snowy Easter in Dubrovnik and travel to Zagreb and then Sarajevo. The piece here of Gavrilo Princip and Franz Ferdinand is simply stunning. Then it is on to Belgrade and then to Macedonia, Kosovo (where the fateful battle of 1389 is explored in gorgeous detail) and finally Montenegro. there are a dozens of short sections detailing towns, vineyards and monasteries. The conceptual ambivalence of Roman rule is considered. Did the viaducts and roads outweigh the hegemony? Did the survival of Millennialist cults betray the fate of present day Bosnia? There is an exciting admixture of poetry and philosophy in these historical digressions, how the aesthetic sparkle of the Byzantines was allowed to sleep under 400 years of Ottoman degradation. Along that road, was the Turkish empire really so vacuous? The narrative is propelled by the foil of their friend Constantine, a poet and Yugoslav official. He's a Serbian Jew married to Gerda, an ethnic German with a loathing of Slavs, the recriminations of Versailles and, well, apparently Rebecca West. This tension keeps the discussions and observations personal but the reader soon tires of Gerda's shrieking. I have been on bad road trips. I would've cut and ran. I finished the book earlier today and I remain afraid to check online for the fate of Constantine.

  • Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
    2019-06-10 01:15

    A few years ago I read The Return of the Soldier, the first novel of Rebecca West, the pen name of Cicely Isabel Fairfield. I quite liked it, but not nearly enough to pursue the author any further. But earlier this year, on the recommendation of another blogger, I bought Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, one of her later books.At almost 1200 pages it’s quite a tome, too heavy and too big even for my shoulder bag, which contains all sorts of fripperies! But I’ve been reading it in bite-sized chunks since March, interspersed with other things. I finished it in Rome at the weekend and I already feel a sense of loss; for it’s one of the most remarkable books I have ever come across. There is no exaggeration or hyperbole here.I’m not sure exactly how to describe Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, first published in England in 1941. On the surface it’s an account of the author’s visits to the old state of Yugoslavia - now no more than a historical memory - in the interwar period. To that extent it’s a travelogue, but, oh, how shallow and inadequate that word seems, conjuring up the tedium of train spotting and stamp collecting; places gathered on an itinerary, images frozen in an album.There are indeed beautiful and lengthy descriptions of the various places she visited, from Croatia in the north to Macedonia and Montenegro in the south, places to follow in her footsteps. But Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is so much more than a travel journal or a Lonely Planet guide. It’s part history, part criticism, part philosophy, part theology, part personal introspection, part political warning and, towards the end, even part novel. Above all, it’s a kind of love story, the story of the writer’s love for the people and the civilization of Serbia. She made me see Serbia partly through her eyes and partly through the eyes a man she identifies as Constantine the Poet, her official government guide through the country. I will have more to say about ‘Constantine’, a figure I fell in love with, a bit later.The tragedy of Yugoslavia, and, yes, and the story is indeed a tragedy, is that it was a country shaped around some of the great contradictions and fault lines of history – the Western and the Eastern Roman Empires, the Catholic and the Orthodox, the Christian and the Muslim. It was this background, and these influences, that made the Southern Slav State all but an impossible dream.Driven by internal hatreds, the people were also the victims of empire: of the Turkish Empire, against which the Serbs fought for centuries in pursuit of the right to exist, and of the Austrian Empire, which in its later Austro-Hungarian form was to be a particularly malevolent influence. Beyond that West sees the Slavs as a victim of a ‘Third Empire’, one yet to emerge. This, as she puts it, is Gerda’s empire. Who or what is Gerda, you ask? Gerda is Constantine’s wife, and of her I will also have more to say.The wonder of this great, meandering book is that it takes one to the heart of a civilization or a people – I really can’t say ‘country’- through its past, through the traces of its past, through its art, particularly in the various religious establishments West visits, places that seem to give one the intensity of the Orthodox experience, mystical, ethereal and yet immediate in the lives of the people. There are long historical passages where she touches on the greatness of the medieval Serbian Empire, the empire of Stephen Dushan, the last best hope of saving Byzantine civilization from the steady encroachment of the Ottoman Turks. But Dushan died and within a generation Serbia crashed to ruin. Serbia met destiny and destruction on the battlefield of Kosovo.This is another remarkable thing about Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: it shows, as West puts it, the past side by side with the present it created. Here her argument gets quite subtle. She has no time at all for Christian concepts of atonement or sacrifice, in what she calls the blood ritual of the black stone. The black stone in question is a feature in a field she comes across, a place where the peasants come to offer up lambs in sacrifice.It was this fatal obsession with sacrifice, this obsession with a greater kingdom, an eternal kingdom, which took Tsar Lazar into battle with the Turks on Saint Vitus Day, 28 June 1389, a recurring black day in Slav history. Here she records the old Serbian poem of Tsar Lazar and the Grey Falcon, translated for her by Constantine;There flies a grey bird, a falcon,From Jerusalem the holy,And in his beak he bears a swallow.That is no falcon, no grey bird,But it is the Saint Elijah.He carries no swallow,But a book from the Mother of God.He comes to the Tsar at Kossovo,He lays the book on the Tsar's knees.This book without like told the Tsar:"Tsar Lazar, of honourable stock,Of what kind will you have your kingdom?Do you want a heavenly kingdom ?Do you want an earthly kingdom ?If you want an earthly kingdom,Saddle your horses, tighten your horses' girths,Gird on your swords,Then put an end to the Turkish attacks,And drive out every Turkish soldier.But if you want a heavenly kingdomBuild you a church on Kossovo;Build it not with a floor of marbleBut lay down silk and scarlet on the ground,Give the Eucharist and battle orders to your soldiers,For all your soldiers shall be destroyed,And you, prince, you shall be destroyed with them."When the Tsar read the words,The Tsar pondered, and he pondered thus:"Dear God, where are these things, and how are they!What kingdom shall I choose ?Shall I choose a heavenly kingdom ?Shall I choose an earthly kingdom ?If I choose an earthly kingdom,An earthly kingdom lasts only a little time,But a heavenly kingdom will last for eternity and its centuries."The Tsar chose a heavenly kingdom,And not an earthly kingdom,He built a church on Kossovo.He built it not with floor of marbleBut laid down silk and scarlet on the ground.There he summoned the Serbian PatriarchAnd twelve great bishops.Then he gave his soldiers the Eucharist and their battle orders.In the same hour as the Prince gave orders to his soldiersThe Turks attacked Kossovo.Then the Turks overwhelmed Lazar,And the Tsar Lazar was destroyed,And his army was destroyed with him,Of seven and seventy thousand soldiers.All was holy, all was honourableAnd the goodness of God was fulfilled.But it was not good, so far as West was concerned; for the people were given over to centuries of servitude. Writing from the perspective of the late 1930s it was evident to her that “the whole world was a vast Kosovo”; that Czechoslovakia was the ‘black lamb’ and that Neville Chamberlain, then British prime ministers, was the high priest of the cult of sacrifice. Resistance, not sacrifice, was the essential thing, the noble thing.I really must stop here for fear of spending as many words in praising this superb book as it took to write it! So let me just finish, as promised, by saying something about Constantine and Gerda.Constantine, as I have said, is described as a poet and an official, a one-time student of Henri Bergson, the great French philosopher. And taking a cue from Bergson’s philosophy he is for me a living representation of the élan vital. He is full of wit and wisdom, full of simple energy, full of love for the idea of Yugoslavia. Throughout the book he is a dominant influence, a giant. He is also of Jewish origin, a point of some relevance.When the party arrives in Belgrade we meet Gerda, his wife. Quite simply Gerda is a monster. She is German, not just German but an obvious Nazi. She travels south with West, West’s husband - who accompanies her throughout her trip - and Constantine to Macedonia but hates everything she sees: she despises the Slavs and Slav culture. Her mere presence diminishes Constantine, from giant to dwarf. It was with her that my sense of disbelief kicked in. Here the book was entering into the territory of the novel. I quickly realised that there was no Gerda; that she was an idea, a metaphor for the things to come, a metaphor for the Third Empire that was to visit Yugoslavia in 1941, a metaphor for a final sacrifice to the Black Stone.No sooner had I finished Black Lamb and Grey Falcon than I began to think about Constantine, about the fate of Constantine. Perhaps worry is a better word. West makes no mention of him in her epilogue. What happened to him, I wondered, after the Nazis took control, after Gerda’s Empire was set in place? The rump state of Serbia was one of the first places to be declared Judenrein – free of Jews. Did this brave and wonderful man, one who survived the death march of the Serbian army in 1915, end up in Auschwitz like so many others? Did he exist at all, or was he just another symbol, another metaphor? I’m delighted to say, after some quick internet research, that he did exist and that he did survive. His name was not Constantine at all. He was Stanislaw Vinaver, an important figure in Serbian literature and culture. He joined the Yugoslav army in 1941 and was held as a prisoner-of-war in a German camp. During this time West sent him food packages through the Red Cross. He died in 1955.Black Lamb and Grey Falcon finishes with bombs falling on London. The author reflects Often, when I have thought of invasion, or a bomb has dropped nearby, I have prayed, ‘Let me behave like a Serb.’ Amen. How extraordinary these people are and how extraordinary it is that we have understood them so little. How extraordinary this book is, a true masterpiece.

  • Kelly
    2019-06-03 03:10

    I imagine this book and I will be together on and off for some months, like a Proust project. But from everything I've heard, I very much look forward to it.

  • knig
    2019-06-15 03:26

    Holy Mother of God. What a woman. Not since Margeuerite Yourcenar have I felt so humbled and awed by a woman author, whose breadth and scope of panoramic vision is magnificent. This apropos VS Naipul’s spurious attack on female authors as being incapable of breadth and scope. If Naipul were to be given a (small) point indirectly, it would be that West has paid a price for her erudition. She was a poor mother to her only son, and he estranged from her quite early on. The divide freed her up to gallivant across the world and travel-blog her way through the Balkans and then South America. Yourcenar of course had no progeny. Well. I guess you can’t have it all after all.So. This is a colossal, 1400 page pontification on Yugoslavia and the Balkan states as were in 1937. Where she went with her husband on a jolly, erm, for cultural reasons. Now. There is nothing, I put it, in that plethora of pages which retains a kernel of relevance today: its a snapshot of a time gone by and erased by the passage of moments: of interest only to niche specialists or historical buffs with little current application. Still, horses for courses: some will enjoy the kaleidoscope of lost fringe civilisations.As a voracious, insatiable, mad traveller myself, my interest is a bit of a sideline. (well, not entirely but that a different story). I want to benchmark myself against this woman, and doublecheck my approach not so much to the constitutive equations of assimilating foreign cultures but rather the governing equations: because, thats where the rub really truly lies.Preconceptions: we all have them. Even when we say we don’t. Rebecca West is comfortable dis-aggrandizing Christianity in general, in keeping, but fails the de Bono pattern sequencing of transferability: whereas Christianity may be a ‘failed’ religiosity it seems to be a paramount value driven zeitgeist: so: primitive as all Balkanites may be, a hierarchy of barbarians ensues: gypsies and turks are marginalised for no other reason than being heathen (I am paraphrasing). Conrad’s Heart of Darkness pertains. Is this still a viable waltenshuung? Intellectually I rise to a protest. Emotionally, if I am true, then recently when I was in Egypt and Jordan at the forefront of some troubles, the fact that my driver was a Christian (whether true or not, who knows), gave me irrational comfort. Mea Culpa.More preconceptions and Aristotle: everything is relative, right? Its bestest to imbibe the incomparable: if there are no points of reference, then let magic weave its wendy way. But should a misbegotten Yugoslavian aspire to western dress or thought, thus breaking rank, then he falls immediately (although quite subtly) into a category of crass and vulgar. How dare the peasant! Harrumph. These people are best in their oriental and primordeal qualia. Lets all take our places, please, and.....stay there!What preconceptions am I guilty of as I criss cross the globe? And how can I know what I don’t know? (Socrates)/.

  • John Farebrother
    2019-05-31 23:18

    Another epic book on the Balkans. The book is the record of a two-month road trip through much of Yugoslavia by a British writer, who meticulously and fastidiously recorded everything that she and her husband experienced on their way. She has a good eye for people and their ways, and deploys her descriptive powers to good effect when describing the country and its inhabitants. Although I don't agree with all her opinions, and some of her flights of fancy verge on the tedious, she nevertheless succeeds in conveying the vivaciousness of Balkan society, and interweaves into her narrative extensive details from the rich and turbulent history of the area. But perhaps the real value of this book is that the writer visited Yugoslavia in 1939, on the eve of WWII, that everyone knew was coming, but no-one suspected would be so bad. As such it is a monument to the lost world that was pre-WWII Yugoslavia. WWII was the only second conflict between Serbs and Croats, and it is the unresolved issues from that time that the nationalist leaders were able to hijack to such devastating effect 50 years later (the first conflict, WWI, was likewise imposed from outside).

  • Sunny
    2019-06-17 06:13

    6 stars. Massive massive game changing book and much respect to Rebecca West because the research and detail that must have gone into that book just must have been eye-wateringly massive! Rebecca went to Yugoslavia in the interwar period and wrote this book. The book isn’t really a travel book as you would imagine but for me this covered a journey through the psyche of the Slavic people – a mind map of them if you will. I’m married to a lovely Bosnian lady so this was a huge magnifying glass for me into her people and what I saw frightened me and yet had me in awe in places. What I loved most about the book was Rebecca’s writing style. She had a child with HG Wells apparently. She really reminded me of W Somerset Maugham in that her writing was literally poetic in places. I have lost count how many times I had scribbled “wow – beautifully written Rebecca” on the sides of the text. Not only did she give me angles on an area that I had thought I had understood but wrote it all in such a beautifully poetic manner. As a Muslim myself the one qualm that I had with the book was what I perceived to be a very pro-Serbian angle to it. Could just be my interpretation but the book was split into chapters and there were 2 dedicated to Serbia and older Serbia. She was travelling with a Serbian Jewish dude so that may have influenced her slightly in places. Having said all that I would be lying if I said that I had read all that there was to read about the wars that had happened in the past in that area from the Serbian side, if honest, I don’t think I had read anything from that angle at all, so to hear about some of the Turkish atrocities and the impact of circa 500 years of Turkish rule in that area from “the other side” although written by a diplomatic English lady, was quite eye opening. What comes out to me again and again in the book is what seems to be the natural call to violence and power and strength that sits at the heart of the Slavic character. I guess it’s something I occasionally ask my 2 young boys to tap into when they are sparring in boxing. Slavs are such a tall, strong, beautiful race of people, it’s just a shame that religion divided them into the fractions Yugoslavia was split into after the war and the factions it was split into before the forming of that “south Slav” nature. There is also an Incredible detailed section on the incident which galvanised the beginning of WW1 when Gavrilo Princip murdered archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo On St Vitus’ day in 1914. Here are some of my best bits from this fascinating 1,000 plus page book:• “Since the industrial revolution capitalism has grooved society with a number of free slots along which most human beings can roll smoothly to a fixed destination. When a man takes charge of a factory the factory takes charge of him.”• “The Croats were originally a Slav tribe who were invited by the emperor Heraclitus to free the Dalmatian coast and the Croatian hinterland from the Avars, one of the most noxious pillaging hordes”• “Croats are fierce and warlike intellectuals.”• “The sense of inevitability in a work of art should be quite different from scientific conception of causality for if art were creative then each stage must be new, must have something over and above what was contained in the previous stages and the connexion between the first and the last may be creative in the Bergsonian sense. He added that it is to give this creativeness its chance to create what is at once predictable and inevitable that an artist must never interfere with his characters to make them prove a moral point, because this is to force them down the path of the predictable.”• “Because men of that day had convictions where we moderns have only opinions”• “Here was the authentic voice of the Slav, these people hold that the way to make life better is to add good things to it, whereas in the west we hold that the way to make life better is to take bad things away from it.”• “So you are intellectuals. The false sort that are always in opposition. My God, my God, how easy it is to be an intellectual in oppositions to the man of action.”• “We in England have an unhistorical attitude to our lives, because every generation has felt excitement over a clear-cut historical novelty which has given it enough to tell its children and grandchildren without drawing on its fathers and grandfathers tales.”• “And it seemed very probable that Rome was able to conquer foreign territories because she had developed her military genius at the expense of precisely those qualities which would have made her able to rule them. Certainly she lacked them to such an extent that she was unable to work out a satisfactory political and economic policy for Rome itself and perished of that failure.”• “But I passed one of the nuns and remarked as I had done before that the rank and file of the female religious order presents an unpleasing appearance because they have assumed the expression of credulity natural and inevitable to men who find it difficult to live without the help of philosophical systems which far from outrun ascertained facets, but wholly unsuitable to women who are born with a faith in the unrevealed mystery of life and can therefore afford to be sceptics.”• “The great men for whom humanity feels ecstatic love need not be good, not even gifted but they must display this fusion of light and darkness which is the essential human character they must even promise by the predominance of darkness that the universe shall forever persist in its imperfection.”• “There is a Finnish word “sisu” which expresses this ultimate hidden resource in man which will not be worsted, which takes charge when courage goes and consciousness is blackened, which insists on continuing to live no matter what life is worth.”• “That philanthropy consisted of giving sops to the populace which would make it forget that their masters had seized all the means of production and distribution and therefore held them in a state of complete economic subjection.”• “These are among the most pleasing architectural gestures ever made by urbanity. They do not publicly declare the relationship of man and god like a Christian tower or spire. They raise a white finger and say only “this is a community of human beings and look you we are not beasts of the field.” - talking about Mosques. • “Her stillness was more than the habit of a western woman, yet the uncovering of her mouth and chin had shown her completely un-oriental as luminously fair as any Scandinavian. Further away two Moslem men sat on a bench and talked politics beating with their fingers on the headlines of a newspaper. Both were tall, raw-boned bronze haired with eyes crackling with sheer blueness: Danish sea captains perhaps had they not been wearing the fez.” • “A musical instrument each note for its own colour, the gurgle of wine pouring from a bottle of water trickling though a marble conduit in the garden – all sorts of sounds that many westerners do not even hear, so corrupted are they by the tyranny of the intellect which makes them inattentive to any message to the ear which is without an argument.” • “These people could pass what the French consider the test of a civilised society: they could practise the art of general conversation, voice dovetailed into voice without impertinent interruption; there was light and shade, sober judgement was corrected by mocking criticism and another sober judgement established and every now and then the cards were swept off the table by a gust of laughter and the game started afresh.” • “Like her husband she could see no point in consistency, which is the very mortar of society.”• “He took to shutting himself up in his poor room and read enormously of philosophy and politics undermining his health and nerves by the severity of these undirected studies.” - me?• “That characteristically Slav look which comes from the pulling of the flesh down from the flat cheekbones by the tense pursing of the mouth.”• “The lad was the worse off for being a Christian; he had not that air of being sustained in his poverty by the secret spiritual funds that is so noticeable in the poverty stricken Muslim.”• “It is the misfortune of the Jews that there are kinds of Jews who repel by their ugliness and the repulsion these cause is not counterbalanced by other kinds who are beautiful because they are too beautiful, because their glorious beauty disconcerted the mean and puny element in the gentile nature, at its worst among the English, which cannot stand up to anything abundant or generous which thinks duck too rich and chambertin too heavy and goes to ugly places for its holiday and wears drab clothes.”• “For she was not Slav and she had not made that acceptance of tragedy that is the basis of Slav life”• “Suddenly I remembered friendship and how beautiful it is in a way that is difficult in London or any capital where one suffers from an excess of relationship and I realise that it was probably greater comfort for this German woman so far from home to talk with my husband whose German is like a German’s and of her own kind for he learned It in Hamburg and she was of Bremen.”• “So far the history of Belgrade like many other passages in the life of Europe makes one wonder what the human race has lost by its habit of bleeding itself like a mad medieval surgeon.”•“Human beings love to inflict pain on their fellow creatures and the species yields to its perverse appetite allowing vast tragedies to happen and endure for centuries people to agonize and become extinct. The pleasantness of life which is so strong when it manifests itself that it is tempting to regard it as the characteristic and even determinant reality of the universe is of no real avail. I could be burnt to death in this church though the air smelt of honey.”•“It may be that the breakdown of the turkish administration was not only a matter of political incompetence but resulted from a prevalent physical disability affecting men precisely at an age when they would be given the most responsible administrative posts.”•“Of course the english have no real religious instinct but thy approve of religion because it holds society together.”•“The congregation had realized what people in the west usually do not know: that the state of mind suitable for conducting the practical affairs of daily life is not suitable for discovering the ultimate meaning of life.”•“The churches of asia became extinct not because islam threatened them with its sword but because they were not philosophers enough to be interested in it's doctrive not lovers enough to be infatuated with the lovable throughout long centuries and in isolation. But these macedonians had liked to love as they had been taught by the apostles who had come to them from byzantium.”•“Turkey in europe was an advantage to england who wanted a weak power at the end of the mediterranean to keep out any strong power that might have inconvenient ambitions. It held back the austrian empire on its way to the black sea and the russian empire from its pan slavist dream and its itch for constantinople.”•“And i alleged to myself that probably nothing had fallen at Kossovo that was an irreparable loss, that perhaps tragedy draws blood but never life blood.”•“I saw before me what an empire which spreads beyond its legitimate boundaries must do to it's subjects. It cannot spread its own life over the conquered areas for life cannot travel too far from its source and it blights the life that is native to those parts. Therefore it imprisons all it's subjects in a stale conservatism in a seedy gentility that celebrates past achievements over and over again.”•“What is art? It is not decoration. It is the reliving of experience. The artist says I will make that event happen again altering its shape which was disfigured by its contacts with other events to that it's true significance is revealed.”

  • Elaine
    2019-05-26 23:21

    Spending what turned out to be 6 weeks with Rebecca West, her husband, her Serbian Jewish guide Constantine and his Nazi wife Gerda as they tour what was then Yugoslavia filling my head with philosophy, Byzantine art, history both modern and medieval, ethnography, descriptions of seedy inns and filling meals was the kind of immersion in a brilliant and quirky mind that reminded me both in pleasure and in length of the times I've spent with Proust.It's not a book I can recommend lightly -- I read fast and its nearly 1200 pages were daunting. I had just gotten home from a trip through the Balkans, so was intrigued to know more, without some hook it's hard to imagine making the journey.But if you have time to have your eyes opened and your brain stretched -- even if you find West occasionally by turns naive, preachy, too complex or too biased towards the "manly" "goodlooking" Serbs-- you will find that you can't view history quite the same way. The passion and the urgency with which she writes(at the eve of and during the early days of World War II), as she argues -- against utter darkness -- that history and philosphy matter, that even after 500 years of subjugation (the Serbs but an easy metaphor for the 1000 year Reich then threatening West's existence) hope and renewal are not impossible, make this book surprisingly moving and about much more than "just" the former Yugoslavia.

  • Jimmy
    2019-05-26 22:12

    Well, it's been several months, and I haven't been able to come up with a review that can sum up this overwhelmingly insightful, powerful, and complicated (and yes sometimes problematic) reading experience. But I did take notes as I read, mostly for myself. So what follows isn't a review per se, but more of a bunch of cobbled together impressions and quotes. (For more quotes, please check out all the status updates below this review). Hopefully these notes will be useful to someone else also.My NotesPrologue The first chapter (Prologue) is essential in terms of background information and history that leads up to the region, including the preconditions of WWI. Very interesting stuff, will pay off to spend extra time understanding this (and maybe reading other accounts of these same events). Her opinionated, thoughtful and very personal interpretation of history is so much more engaging than any history text, although a bit hard to follow at times (she doesn't always explain everything).Croats vs. Serbs:A Croat is a Catholic member and a Serb an Orthodox member of a Slav people that lies widely distributed south of the Danube, between the Adriatic and Bulgaria, and north of the Greek mountains. A Serbian is a subject of the kingdom of Serbia, and might be a Croat, just as a Croatian-born inhabitant of the old Austrian province of Croatia might be a Serb. p. 13Pascal: "Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water, suffices to kill him. But if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this." In these words he writes the sole prescription for a distinguished humanity. We must learn to know the nature of the advantage which the universe has over us (p.22)Chapter 1 traveling on train with Germans, who she characterizes as well-meaning and friendly but steeped in a very peculiar type of self-absorbed bureaucratic malaise and misery of their more-than-well-off lives. It seems a particularly significant portrait given that this book was written between WWI and WWII and the spirit of Nazi Germany was in the air at the time, and to see every day Germans and how they reacted or lived within this system. Also it is a nice contrast between these western cultures of Germany/Austria and the Slavs that we will meet later, who have much less but enjoy their lives much more (and are way more passionate/engaged with life)(she does seem to characterize / stereotype entire peoples, which is one of the things that bothered me off and on about this book. I talked to a Croatian recently who had a bad opinion of this book because he felt that she had exoticized them into types.)Part 2: Croatia Constantine, age 46, is a Serb, Jew (although I don't understand how he can be both Serb (Orthodox) and Jew), poet and gov. official from Serbia, talks a lot, fat, Heine-like (need to read some about Heine), pro-Yugoslavia (but takes it for granted, he thinks Y is needed to maintain themselves against Central Europe), his parents fled from Poland.Valetta, age 26, is a lecturer in mathematics, and a Croat from Dalmatia (Southern Croatia). Described as "archaic" and statue-esque, very likeable and charming, but can also be severe and martyr-ical with the right causes, he is Anti-Yugoslavian (sees it as an unjust authority) and pro-autonomous CroatiaMarko Gregorievitch, age 56, is tall, gloomy, and Pluto-like. Fought against Hungarians for Croat-rights. Pro-Yugoslavia, and thinks Y represents defiance to Austro-Hungarian Empire. He's super fervent about his beliefs and about Y, and has fought for the cause.A (IRL!) friend who happens to be reading this at the same time as me (I agree with her): "interesting [that] she's able to connect her sense of the present with the past as if both are unfolding together" ... "history takes on personal relevance... and so does gender relations!"Yellatchitch: Croat patriot, led victory against Hungarians, in twisted history betw. Croatia and Hungary (p 48 on) Hungarians defeated by Turks, Croatia alone, becomes idiotically loyal to Austria/Hapsburgs: "between Austrian tyranny and Turkish raids, the Croats lived submissively" -- Maria Theresa (a Hapbsurg) "put Croatia under [Hungary] as a slave state"...led to crisis of 1848... Croats asked Austria for divorce from Hungary, and to name Yellachitch as Ban of Croatia (approved only grudgingly and because of circumstance) .. Yella led his men to defeat Hungarian army that was "hurrying to Austria to aid the Viennese revolutionaries against the Habsburgs" ... "Yella and the Croats had saved the Austrian Empire. They got exactly nothing for this service, except this statue..." p 54Part 3: DalmatiaWe leave the 3 friends, what's left is Rebecca and her husband going to coastal town after coastal town and sharing their history and her impressions. But I miss the friend's arguments, as they pull things together more, make the politics more real in their passionate convictions. They do meet up with some of Rebecca's previous friends, a professor and a Philip, who have interesting things to say also.Dalmatia is southern part of Croatia, barren because of conquest, incompetence, and misgovernment. Page 119: man from Dalmatia illustrates how everyone is not merely a personality, but a personality molded by long political history; the man's rage against being charged mere pennies more is a byproduct of his entire region's historyThe husband: it amuses me to think of the factuality of the husband. As this is a compilation of several trips, we already know she's not keeping exactly to the facts of her travels. I wonder if what he says in this book is made up, as a device for her to express her own thoughts. Husband as device, as a way of reversing sexist tropes. That said, she makes him say very interesting and insightful things.Part 4: ExpeditionTsavtat (Cavtat, Croatia): Cadmus vs. Pan, talks about literature and art as if it were the strange fruit of knowledge. Interesting descripton of landscape:and where there were some square yards of level ground there were thick-trunked patriarchal planes, with branches enough to cover an army of concubines. The sea looked poverty-stricken, because, being here without islands, it had no share in this feast served up by the rising sap. p 251On Cadmus's metamorphoses: "It is an apt symbol of the numbness that comes on the broken-hearted. They become wise; they find comfort in old companionship; but they lose the old human anatomy, the sensations no longer follow the paths of the nerves, the muscles no longer offer their multifold reaction to the behests of the brain, there is no longer a stout fortress of bones, there is nothing but a long, sliding, writhing sorrow. But what happened to Cadmus was perhaps partly contrived by the presiding deity of the coast, for he was the arch-enemy of Pan, since he invented letters. He made humankind eat of the tree of knowledge; he made joy and sorrow dangerous because he furnished the means of commemorating them, that is to say of analysing them, of being appalled by them. p. 252Perast (Montenegro) & the next few chapters, some beautiful tiny islands: a German belonging to one of those families which were settled by Maria Theresa on the lands round the Danube between Budapest and Belgrade, because they had gone out of cultivation during the Turkish occupation and had to be recolonized. p 262Really great part about how religious faith plays a role in a people's power of governance on p. 268.Part 5: HerzogovinaTrebinye: story of Jeanne Merkus, who seems to have led a martyr's life only to be forgotten, according to West."The Republic" refers to Dubrovnik, I think, they were in the middle of Russian and France forces. They never lost their independence, but had to sacrifice for it. 283-etc.Mostar: the cover image described as Stari most bridge, in a Muslim city called Mostar p288Sometimes I think Rebecca West is a little harsh towards the Turks and the Muslims. Granted she's also harsh towards the Germans and Austrians, maybe because all of these empires tried to take over the Balkans. But I suspect she may also be biased because she's of the West and she talks of Muslims sometimes in an unfair light.order and disorder in Muslim culture, p 288-9muslim dress & women's dresses p 290-2Part 6: BosniaThe following 3 chapters take the cake so far for the most interesting and well written history account I've ever read:Sarajevo V - about Franz and Sophie's assassination, and the many details that led up to its unlikely result, both from Franz's side and from Princip Gavrilo's sideSarajevo VI - about Franz and Sophie's burial and Serbia's innocence in the plotSarajevo VII - about the conspirators' fate -- in prison, tortured, death, etc.379-380:This was a Slav, this is what it is to be a Slav. He was offering himself wholly to his sorrow, he was learning the meaning of death and was not refusing any part of the knowledge; for he knew that experience is the cross man must take up and carry. Not for anything would he have chosen to feel one shade less pain; and if it had been joy he was feeling, he would have permitted himself to feel all possible delight. He knew only that in suffering or rejoicing he must not lose that control of the body which enabled him to be a good soldier and to defend himself and his people, so that they would endure experience along their own path and acquire their own revelation of the universe.There is no other way of living which promises that man shall ever understand his destiny better than he does, and live less familiarly with evil. Yet to numberless people all over Europe, to numberless people in Great Britain, this man would be loathsome as a leper. It is not pleasant to feel pain, it is the act of a madman to bare the breast to agony. It is not pleasant to admit that we know almost nothing, so little that, for lack of knowledge, our actions are wild and foolish. It is not pleasant to be bound to the task of learning all our days, to be under the obligation to go on learning even though it involves making acquaintance with pain, although we know that we must die still in ignorance. To do these things it is necessary to have faith in what is entirely hidden and unknown, to cast away all the acquisitions and certainties which would ensure a comfortable existence lest they should impede us on a journey which may never be accomplished, which never even offers comfort. Therefore the multitudes in Europe who are not hungry for truth would say: 'Let us kill these Slavs with their dedication to insanity, let us enslave them lest they make all wealth worthless and introduce us at the end to God, who may not be pleasant to meet.'p. 381 -- not understanding this part wholly, but her writing is just phenomenal that I don't care: But the deed as Princip conceived it never took place. It was entangled from its first minute with another deed, a murder which seems to have been fully conceived by none at all, but which had a terrible existence as a fantasy, because it was dreamed of by men whose whole claim to respect rested on their realistic quality, and who abandoned all restraint when they strayed into the sphere of fantasy. Of these two deeds there was made one so potent that it killed its millions and left all living things in our civilization to some degree disabled. I write of a mystery. For that is the way the deed appears to me, and to all Westerners. But to those who look at it on the soil where it was committed, and to the lands east of that, it seems a holy act of liberation; and among such people are those whom the West would have to admit are wise and civilized.This event, this Sarajevo attentat, was in these inconsistencies an apt symbol of life: which is loose and purposeless, which weaves a close pattern and doggedly pursues its ends, which is unpredictable and illogical, which follows a straight line from cause to effect, which is bad, which is good. It shows that human will can do anything, it shows that accident does everything. It shows that man throws away his peace for a vain cause if he insists on acquiring knowledge, for the more one knows about the attentat the more incomprehensible it becomes. It shows also that moreal judgment sets itself an impossible task. The soul should choose life. But when the Bosnians chose life, and murdered Franz Ferdinand, they chose death for the French and Germans and English, and if the French and Germans and English had been able to choose life they would have chosen death for the Bosnians. The sum will not add up. It is madness to rack our brains over this sum. But there is nothing else we can do except try to add up this sum. We are nothing but arithmetical functions which exist for that purpose ... We went out by the new grave where the young officer was trying to add up the sum in the Slav way. A sudden burst of sunshine made the candle-flames sadder than darkness. He swayed so far forward that he had to stay himself by clutching at the cross. His discipline raised him and set him swinging back to his heels again.Considering the DENSE-ness of her writing here, this 1200 page book is filled with maybe 3000 pages of good material. Probably the only other book I felt this way about is Man Without Qualities. And like that book, this is a book to live with day in and day out for months, savoring it at every stop light and lunch break, marking up its pages, having a conversation with it, my copy is so ruined but so loved, I have torn it into 3 parts just so I can carry it around with me everywhere, but also surprising in that a compact unit of bound paper can give me so much joy that every time I need to I can dip into it for humor and wisdom and knowledge and imagination and soul-enlargement.Part ?: SerbiaSerbian history is very complicated!Lineage, looks something like this? (at least the ones she mentions a lot: * Stephen Dushan (1331–1355) aka "Stefan Uroš IV Dušan" - "the mighty" succeeded by son, Stephen (the weak) who wasn't a great ruler * Tsar Lazar (reigned from 1373–1389) led battle of Kosovo, major for Serbian history * Stefan (son of Lazar)Foreign rule (Austrian & Hungarian rulers go here). Afterwards, Karageorge (Karađorđe) and Obrenovitch families rule Serbia in a back and forth fashion almost. See Wikipedia for full back and forth, but here are the ones mentioned in the book most often and as most important? * Karađorđe Petrović - 1804-1813 - leader of first uprising * Aleksandar Karađorđević - 1806-1885 * Prince Michael Obrenovitch (Mihailo Obrenović III) - 1860-1868 * his son: Milan Obrenevitch - 1868-1889 (listed on wiki as both Milan Obrenović IV and Milan I / Prince and King respectively) - secret convention with Austria (married Natalia) * his son: Alexander I (1889-1903) married Queen Draga * Peter Karadorde - 1903-1918 - Other vocabulary: * Skupshtina (Skupština) is a Serbian and Croatian word for assembly, referring to Parliament. * Haiduk (Hajduk) - most commonly referring to outlaws, brigands, highwaymen or freedom fighters in Southeastern Europe, and parts of Central and Eastern EuropePart ??: MacedoniaThis part was less history, and more about Constantine and Gerda. And going places, meeting people, seeing things, etc. more in the present. Gerda turns out to be the villain here. The last chapter "St. George's Eve: II" is far and away the best chapter in this section. It talks about this rite of fertility that has been done for many hundreds maybe thousands of years at this rock. There are sacrifices of chickens and black lambs. This is source of the book title.She talks about how the barren come there in all sincerity and belief, and how their love of life is perverted by the ones who perpetuate this myth so that they can perform a senseless act of violence in the name of something positive. She then spins out a long metaphor about how this is the same lie that is told in Christianity, that Christ had to die for our sins, a totally fabricated story that defies the logic of goodness. When she started talking about Paul I was afraid she would buy into all the Zealot: lies about Paul, but she exposed Paul for who he is."If one drops in a piece of suffering, a blessing pops out at once. If one squares death by offering him a sacrifice, one will be allowed some share in life for which one has hungered. Thus those who had a letch for violence could gratify it and at the same time gain authority over those who loved peace and life." p 826"All our Western thought is founded on this repulsive pretence that pain is the proper price of any good thing. ... and because we are infatuated with this idea of sacrifice, of shedding innocent blood to secure innocent advantages, we found nothing better to do with this passport to deliverance than destroy [Jesus]." 827"It is not possible to kill goodness. There is always more of it, it does not take flight from our accursed earth, it perpetually asks us to take what we need from it." 827"It is not to the credit of mankind that the supreme work of art produced by Western civilization should do nothing more than embody obsession with this rock and revolt against it. Since we have travelled thus far from the speechless and thoughtless roots of our stock we should have travelled further. There must be something vile in us to make us linger, age after age, in this insanitary spot." 830Part??: Old SerbiaAbout the history of Kossovo and the battles lost there.Constantine starts acting crabby, probably taking on internally the role of Gerda.They visit some mines & monasteries.The gray falcon gets introduced, which is a continuation of the concept of the Black Lamb. Around page 913. it comes from a poem about a gray falcon that carries a message in its beak. And can be summed up as: "They want to be right, not to do right [...] The friends of liberty have indeed no ground whatsoever for regarding themselves as in any way superior to their opponents, since they are in effect on their side in wishing defeat and not victory for their own principles." It's a crushing indictment on those rather selfish self-righteous people (Bernie Brothers?)We meet Gospodin Mac & his wife.A highlight: the idea of "heroism" of the Montenegrin people, and the chauffeur who tried to kill them rather than admit to the world that he got lost.Epilogue(ran out of space... review continues in comments below...)

  • Aubrey
    2019-06-07 22:03

    2.5/5You can blame Goodreads for this rating being rounded down rather than up. Anything three-starred or higher gets churned up in a 'liked it' mash and spewed forth on recommendations that have nothing to do with why I read the book in the first place and everything to do with sucking up to the capitalism machine. If I could get some assurance of my rating having the nuance of 'found it useful despite all odious efforts to the contrary', I'd bother with the effort of joining in with the percentage points that are on the side of yay rather than nay and play its own small role in the advertising juggernaut. As it stands, this book is already suffering from a preponderance of overblown praise intent on selling it to all and sundry without the slightest consideration for how all and sundry may differ from this book's optimal reader, who will be white, well off, and think that Trump really gets the United States. Anyone offended by that last one should take a good look at West and her utter refusal to see where her ideologies and those of her nightmarish Nazis and Facists are in such delightful agreement.I did not greatly care what he thought of me, for I was too greatly interested in him, and any personal relations between us could not aid my interest, for I could get everything out of him that I could ever get by watching him.That, and some history that was the only redeeming factor for this read by way of utmost usefulness, is the entirety of the book. West goes, West sees, West writes some fanfiction that coagulates around fingers in too many pies and results in some virulently racist and Islamophobic tract whose worth lies only in the few facts that manage to slip past her sentimental grasp. If you took Tolstoy's epilogue to War and Peace and expanded it to 1150 of the 1400+ pages, you'd get a sense of flavor of disgruntled whining filling hundreds upon hundreds of pages; one obsessed with the threat of a literate proletariat, the other convinced that queer people are the reason for everything going wrong in the world. The commentaries on imperialism, nationalism, capitalism, and oppression are aborted by West's tendency to treat with everything as types, rather than facts: "Americans" are wishy washy white liberals with paranoid tendencies, the British Empire has mostly redeeming qualities while the Ottoman Empire was nothing but stagnant filth, and it's the industrial workers that are to blame for Hitler and Mussolini, not the veins of hatred that have been carefully cultivated for centuries by both the European powers and every nation they have spawned. Only a few of the broad sides caused by her continued and defensive thrusting her head in the sand, mind you. She makes apologisms for everything from anti-Semitism to pedophilia, and whatever prose style she has works more to obfuscate her have-her-cake-and-eat-it-too attitude towards the oh so poor but manly Slavs, the sadly neglected but obviously blood inherited aesthetics of the Byzantine Empire, and the Catholic/Orthodox tradition. The fact that I better understand the aspects of religious piety the title of this work refers than she does is sad, to say the least. All that reading, and she couldn't even spare a glance for the hagiographies of female saints? The closest she got was Saint Monica, who wasn't even referred to by name and was probably only appreciated with how she kept her husband a 'true' man and insured her son is remembered to this day.The worst part about this books is I have no idea where to go from here. I can't trust the bibliography, as West's characterizing of epistemological worth relies on little more than on how well she can mold whatever she comes across into some drama of stereotypes and on her pride. Recommendations would be great if I hadn't been led to this work by recommendations in the first place and the compatriot lists below my shelving of this wasn't littered with stars galore and very little serious consideration of values other than how many subjects someone tries to talk about, how well someone writes, and how long their money and self-satisfaction allows them to write. My best bet is to move along the lines of what West admitted to, such as the history of Islam and Turkey (the two are not identical) in southeastern Europe, the Romani (you don't get to say g*psy unless you are Romani. It's a slur, and the hatred is alive and well as evidenced in the white washing that happened in Avengers 2 and films subsequent to that), and history actually written by those with some investiture in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia, beyond some trite approval of tourist souvenirs and a desire to do some novel "noble savage" writing that hadn't already been taken up by Bird and Blixen.By the end of this book, Constantine, West's officiating friend and knowledgeable tour guide, has had a physically noticeable breakdown that results in, among other things, an increased antagonism towards his English wanderlusters. West chalks it up to his wife's antisemitism (a wife that West blames for everything from Nazis to the denial of world peace) and remains content in the belief that they would be in Constantine's good graces if he was in his right mind. If West had been reading even a fraction of the trash she had written aloud to her Serbian thinker, the only surprise is that his patience didn't run out sooner.Why should Western cretins drool their spittle on our sacred things?There's nothing like finishing off some monstrous entity to the point that naysayers cannot use lack of completion as leverage for enforcing their own opinionated acceptance onto oneself.

  • Erik Graff
    2019-05-22 02:09

    In 1998 I became friends with a political refugee from Bosnia and her family. I also happened to be spending most of my cafe hours at a place owned by a Bosnian couple. Many Bosnians had moved to our neighborhood after Bill Clinton finally, and belatedly, awarded them refugee status. Being pretty ignorant of the history of the South Slavs and having read many times about West's book in articles about the Yugoslavian wars of the nineties, I read it over the course of several days at that cafe.This is not the book I'd recommend for anyone not already generally conversant with the history of Europe, particularly of the inter-war period. West was chronicling trips she made in the late thirties and covering the history of the constituent parts of what was then The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. An understanding of inter-war history is presupposed. Beyond that, she mixes quite a bit of impressionism of, to me, uncertain value with forays into episodes of the region's history going back to antiquity, but primarily concerning what, for her, were relatively recent events.

  • Paula
    2019-06-02 00:09

    1150 pages including the Epilogue but not the Bibliography! I read this book for months (I believe I started it in July). Black Lamb and Grey Falcon records a journey taken by West and her husband Paul, a banker, through the former Yugoslavia in 1934. They spend several months investigating Croatia, Dalmatia, Herzegovina, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Old Serbia (Kossovo) and Montenegro, mostly in the company of a Serbian Jewish poet named Constantine and, for a time, his quite unpleasant German wife Gerda. Gerda stands in for everything nasty that an Englishwoman might attribute to a German in the 1930s. West is a fabulous stylist and an often astute observer. However, some of her claims/ views are either dated (she was writing in the 1930s and early 1940s just as WWII was preparing itself and getting underway) or downright wrong-headed. Primarily, I’m thinking here about her obsession with racial and national destinies /identities / behavior. Although she refutes others' categories of superior and inferior races, she herself, at times, assigns relative value to different racial or ethnic groups. For example, she greatly admires the South Slavs, particularly the Serbs, because they drove the Turks out of their country after over 500 years of Turkish rule. She sets Byzantium as her standard for judging "civilization" and is attracted to Orthodox Catholicism. She seems to dislike or disapprove of both Roman Catholicism and Islam (although she does admire the “sensuousness” of the Turks).West's arguments are often suspect, but her writing is superb. I found the book to be a fascinating read.

  • J. Saunders
    2019-05-23 23:23

    There are two things to keep in mind when reading this book. (1) Rebecca West is very pro-Serb and very anti-Turk. (2) She hates Germans.Because of her biases, you should not make this book your only source of information if you are at all interested in the history of the Balkans, but she does provide a riveting account of the region’s tumultuous past. What amazes me is how easily she is able to integrate the history of each place that she visits into her description of her own present experiences and then relate that bit of history to the overall history of Yugoslavia. Her descriptions are also beautiful, lush, and evocative. She is incredibly adept in capturing a moment in words. You can almost open the book at random and find an example:"So we went our way by the river, widened now into a lake, which held on it’s rain-grey mirror a bright yet blurred image of the pastoral slopes that rose to the dark upland forest, and which seemed, like so much of Bosnia, almost too carefully landscape-gardened. At the end, it split with a flourish into two streams, which were linked together by a village set with flowering trees, its minarets as nicely placed as the flowers on those trees."The picture is so vivid that it makes me sad I'll never be able to see Bosnia like this.

  • Merilee
    2019-06-07 23:03

    There's a wonderful intro by Christopher Hitchens in the Penguin edition (which I don't have), but you can get said intro free from Kindle if you order the sample of the book. I just got the Penguin version from the library and am copying the intro with my scanner. Interspersed with centuries of dense historical narrative, West comes up with gems like this description of the Skopje train station: "...the scalp of the years has become dandruffed with undistinguished manufactured good..."

  • Hannah
    2019-06-05 04:03

    According to Alan Jacobs, "very possibly the greatest book of the 20th century." His review is here. He also notes that the intro by Christopher Hitchens is a "hit piece on the author" and worth skipping. (Although I'd read it anyway.)I'm surprised I'd never heard of this book. I'm particularly interested because my parents currently live in the Balkans (Albania), and my family was just weeks away from moving to Sarajevo in 1991 when the war broke out in Yugoslavia and we were relocated to Warsaw. I'm guessing this would be a valuable companion book to those who have read and enjoyed Island of the World.

  • A.L. Sowards
    2019-05-22 22:20

    This book has been on my to-read list for a while (since 2006). I knew if I wanted to write a novel set in Yugoslavia during the 1940s, I had to tackle Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. All my other research books mentioned it (often in the text, not just in the bibliography), but I wasn’t looking forward to it, mostly because of the length. I finally got around to reading it. At first, it was a lot better than I expected. But it kept going, and going, and going. This isn’t the longest book I’ve read, but it felt like it. It felt longer than The Count of Monte Cristo or Les Miserables or The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich—all of which contain more pages (not sure on the word count). Sometimes her writing was beautiful. Sometimes it seemed really wordy. There were parts I loved, especially the history. And there were parts that left me yawning. Yet I could see how each chapter and each tangent told me a little something extra about Yugoslavia.Am I glad I read it? Yes. Did I learn something? Big yes. Would I recommend it to others? Parts of it, yes. In it’s entirety—probably just to people really, really interested in Yugoslavian history up until the beginning of WWII. I’ll reread some chapters, but doubt I’ll tackle it all from start to finish again.Overall, I felt like I was on a really long journey with Rebecca West. And Rebecca West is very smart, but I didn’t always agree with her. During some sections, I kind of wanted a break from her. I didn’t like that she was so harsh on the apostle Paul. In the end, I found her epilogue about freedom and the war that had just begun against the Nazis inspirational (and possibly a little long winded).

  • Randolph Carter
    2019-06-21 02:16

    I finally finished this mother. It was given to me as a gift and I was intimidated by the heft. However, it was one of the finest books I have ever read. It is part travelog, part history, and part literature. It is one of the great books of the 20th century, a magnum opus. A detailed history of the now Balkanized Yugoslavia up to WWII. It also features some of the finest prose ever put to paper in English. In addition it gives a delightful look into West's Easter holiday in Yugoslavia in the 1930s. By turns humorous and tragic, West also imbues it with her own idiosyncratic thoughts on history, literature, and life. She obviously loves the country and its people even as she recounts the often tragic and bloody history of the Balkans that continues even today. West has one of the great voices.The book features a fine essay/introduction by the unsurpassable Christopher Hitchens that is a pleasure by itself. It is the worthiest introduction to the book I can think of.

  • Ricardo Ribeiro
    2019-06-13 23:24

    Absolutely awful reading. It's definitely not because it's 1200 pages book. No, I actually like them like this. I assume a book will provide me with delight, therefore I don't want it to end soon, I don't want it short. And it's not because Rebecca writes like a Serbian ambassador. No, I don't share her point of views, but I guess I could deal with this. The problem is her prose is awfully boring. I managed to read 120 pages and one after the other, boring, boring, boring. She doesn't know how to tell a story. So she randomly writes about this and that, whatever comes to her mind... but writing is not to put on paper whatever comes to mind. This book would be a piece of universal garbage if it was written today. Nobody would buy this, but before that, nobody would publish it.

  • Agreenhouse
    2019-06-09 05:28

    I schlepped this 1000 plus page book around during my travels through Eastern Europe this summer, hoping to gain some insight into the people and places I was passing by. I fell in love with this book - not only the fascinating history of the former Yugoslavia, but also Rebecca West writing. I had trouble picking up a pen during my journey, finding no way I could come close to capturing her descriptions. I also learned that to understand Yugoslavia is to understand one thousand years of conquest and war throughout Europe and the Middle East.

  • Jennifer
    2019-05-30 00:05

    The scope of this book is amazing. You have a sense of foreboding reading this because you have the benefit(?)of knowing what will happen to this region over the next 75 years. The shadow of WWII hangs over this and adds even more intensity. I can't forget the words of an old woman in Montenegro; "If I had to live, why should my life have been like this?"

  • Elizabeth
    2019-06-04 23:02

    A magnum opus! Travel through Yugoslavia with Rebecca West.

  • Nente
    2019-06-06 04:18

    This book is as much of a battleground as the Balkans. Impossible to read it without going up in arms over some question or other; however pacific you are, Rebecca West will give you cause. But, prejudiced and opinionated as she is, I never for a moment felt that she was deliberately picking a quarrel or otherwise saying things she didn't herself believe in fully. That cannot help but inspire respect, though if you agree with everything she says in this book I'll start thinking you are her clone.There are sweeping generalizations: of course there are, this is a description of a whole country after a couple of visits for a few months each. But, curiously, many of those generalizations deal with Britain back home, or Western Europe as she knows it; the Slavs inhabiting the country of her dreams are minutely discriminated from each other, socially, geographically, linguistically.Also, her passionate recriminations are almost always against entities, social groups, or ideologies. The individual people, once you get to know them, often turn out to have a saving grace or an inner integrity which prevents you from despising them, even when the social group they represent or the idea they cherish seems to you hopelessly wrong. This is perhaps one of the features of this book (or the author herself: this is all about her) that resonated strongly with me.No wonder this book doesn't have a large following now. In this age of political correctness, West's strong expressions are jarring; especially considering that many of them deal with ethnic differences, her dislike of Islam, her mistrust of homosexuality. This is something to be looked at in her other books: does she stick to that people-over-ideas rule? In this one, she doesn't hate someone because they are Muslim, but deplores the Ottoman rule and glories in the Balkan peoples stopping the Muslim expansion; she doesn't disapprove of any one person who prefers the company of their own sex in bed, but attributes many of the deficiencies of Western civilization as she sees them to the acceptance of homosexuality as a social fact.The writing style is delightful (one of her favourite words, by the way). In more than a thousand pages, it was only twice or three times that I felt the word choice to be infelicitous, or had to reread a phrase to grasp her meaning.I spent seven months in these pages. They influenced my choice of other reading and coloured my perception of it. And I will never regret that.

  • Phrodrick
    2019-05-29 23:08

    In placing 5 stars on Dame Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon I am giving her credit for writing a book better than it could have been intent. Her book makes many things clear. Including some that did not manifest themselves until long after her death. Her prose can alternate between too florid and poetic to classic history professor. Her fondness for assigning the most abstract and poetic meaning to anything from the weather to the expression of a nearly starving local can be maddening. However there is enough of the dispassionate reporter, learned professor and knowledgeable travel guide to keep me reading even as the length of the read was getting to me.In over 1100 pages Dame West leads us through the many nations and peoples that then constituted the then newly created Yugoslavia. She is clearly pro Yugoslavia, and pro-Slavic but less certain about the Turks (Muslims). Respecting their beliefs and holding that they are good enough if only they would stay in their own countries. She has little patience for the Austrians and basically assigns all bad things to the Germans, or at least the subset of Germans who were on the verge of launching World War II. And so it goes through the catalogue of ethnicities and nationalities of a crowded part of Europe. If you have forgotten the term Balkanization or why it was coined, Black and Grey makes the case.She has a educated appreciation of architecture and just enough language skills and at least one well-placed friendly and important local to give her readers access to the many pressures and opinions that were simmering under the newly hung flag of Yugoslavia.Mostly Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is a travelogue as Dame West, her European Banker husband and their guide; Poet friend and government officer, Constantine cover the country. Together they travel mostly by car and train. The year is 1938, this is her second such visit. The publication date of 1941 makes her dedication poignant: “To My Friends in Yugoslavia, Who are All Dead or Enslaved.”Through her we will visit seven major national homelands, notably Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia all names that should have an eerie and deadly and deadly association Dame West would not have wished on a 2017 reader. In each place she will visit (to us) obscure monasteries and monuments. She will recite for us the backgrounds of the royal houses and peoples who were martyred, betrayed or themselves betrayed the many causes that constitute the jumbled nexus of history she knew as Yugoslavia. She makes the case that the selected human tools of the Serbian independence movement that assassinated the Emperor Franz Joseph and started World War One were local heroes.She takes sides in the case of women, so often sold as breeding animals for political purposes and the more modern pheasant equivalent worked prematurely from the beauty of youth into the exhaustion of age. She is bitter about the casual way the better known western nations sold states in Balkans to Austria or back to the Turks, always to the impoverishment and subjugation of the locals.Into this mix she offers a plea and a patriotic call to those who had been the isolationist and the idealists. Being above the fray may lend purity to the conscientious objector but at the cost of the blood of those the objector should be sworn to protect. This many years later this can sound as a note of propaganda. Allowing for that it is still an important insight.When the Bosnian war broke out in 1992 it was common to observe that the war was making enemies of people who had lived in peace for years. By this time Dame West would have been dead for ten years and the state of Yugoslavia that she had traveled was broken with worse to come. What Black Lamb and Grey Falcon achieves, beyond any intention on her part is to remind the modern reader that the forces that broke apart Yugoslavia and started this especially inhumane raping and killing had antecedents centuries in the making. However much individuals had found ways to respect or at least live with each other Dame West had told us, if unwittingly that the spirit of cooperation was weak and the desire for blood had never cooled.

  • Tony
    2019-06-04 01:30

    BLACK LAMB AND GREY FALCON. (1940,1941). Rebecca West. ***. I recently read “A Man of Parts,” a sort-of biography of H. G. Wells. Rebecca West was one of his mistresses, with whom he had a child. In her own right, Ms. West was a highly respected author of the times and this book has been called her magnum opus. It certainly is magnum. When I finally got it from the library, I found that it contained over 1,000 pages in a Penguin paperback edition. I was almost afraid to read it. I didn’t want to break the back of the book. This is a travel/history book about her two extended trips to Yugoslavia. (The books were written in 1937 before Yugoslavia was partitioned after WW II.) The approach I took was to read those sections that covered the regions that I had travelled in myself. That cut the reading down to about 500 pages – a manageable feast. I am always amazed that such sharp differences exist between neighboring countries (or regions in this case) that cause such widespread variations in the customs of the indiginous peoples of those regions. That these differences were the cause of long-term animosities between these different provinces is also a source of amazement to me. These feelings usually go back so far in history that the current residents can’t remember why such hostile feelings exist, but they are sure that there must have been good reason for them. If you are at all interested in the history and customs of the regions, this is the book for you. This sould not be the book to take with you on your travels, however. It is not a guide book, per se, but a set of personal impressions based on Ms. West’s tours and interactions with her friends in the country. There are many sections that describe her encounters with other “tourists” that are both humorous and informing, but she soon settles down to her task at hand – providing the cultural and historical backgrounds of each region. I think that this is an important book that has probably become the benchmark of the history of pre-partition Yugoslavia, but will likely become less and less known over the years.

  • John
    2019-06-11 05:22

    Rebecca West's three trips to Yugoslavia took place in the mid 1930's but this book wasn't published until 1941 and well past historical events in Europe of 1938, 39, 40 and 1941. Obviously she wrote about the Balkans based on events already past and her knowledge of history is daunting but I couldn't help thinking about this gap in time. I wondered if some of her opinions as they related to the Allied and Axis powers would have been the same as she experienced them during her travels when those alliances in reality didn't yet exist. Or were her recollections infused by history unfolding before her eyes and as she was actually writing and rewriting her work. I believe this gap allowed her license to express sharper criticisms and elaborate on positions which otherwise would have been muted or non existent. Don't take me wrong the book is an excellent achievement and West is a brilliant writer but this dichotomy is never resolved in my mind and I felt the result of it sprinkled throughout the entire book. A chronicle of events of an earlier time with the benefit of hindsight to write about the earlier time as it were. True that is what History is but I deemed it awkward here as this book is presented as a story/travelogue of a trip through Yugoslavia and of statements and opinions expressed in the mid 1930's.West's fascinating inquiry into the Serbian poem of the grey falcon and the ritualistic use of black lambs stirred her intellectually and philosophically. As a consequence she found herself questioning closely held beliefs and this led to an epiphany of her former "progressive illusions." A masterful, profound and somewhat discursive account of Yugoslavia; a country now obliterated. The Introduction claims the book as "more than eleven hundred pages of densely wrought text" and anyone venturing into this immense and scholarly volume would certainly cast it in the same light or might instead characterize it in language much, much stronger than that. She concludes with a thoughtful 77 page Epilogue which I felt was one of the best parts of the book.

  • Beatrice
    2019-06-19 01:04

    This is an incredible book. I have actually had this book on my nightstand for about 15 years. I ordered it after reading "Balkan Ghosts" by Robert D. Kaplan, and it has followed me from house to house ever since. But it's a doorstopper - some 1,200 pages - so it's not like I was going to pick it up for some light reading. Finally I decided that "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" would be my summer project.....It is hard to explain the depth and complexity of this book. Dame Rebecca West and her husband traveled through the Balkans in the spring and summer of 1939, and the book was published in 1941, by which time everything she had seen and visited had been destroyed or nearly by war and its effects. So these hundreds of pages serve to kaleidoscope thousands of years of history and knowledge into one moment in time. Part travelogue, part history, part faithful recording of people and events to bear witness, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is also a profound philosophical treatise, a weeping over the destruction of civilizations. The writing is, in parts, luminous. It is extremely dense - I could only absorb a few pages at a time, and let them sink in. Now that I have finally finished, I feel like I want to start all over again, because, just like in the best movies, you only see about 20 percent of the story the first time you experience it. There are so many players, so many events, such a myriad of threads and colors and experiences that I can only just barely begin to understand everything that she is trying to expose in this book. And I don't know that it necessarily explains everything about the Balkans - as if any one book could - but it has opened my eyes and made me want to see, learn, and experience the Balkans for myself.

  • Rick
    2019-06-04 02:15

    Well, I finally made it through Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, and it feels something like finishing a political campaign; grueling, fun at times, never-ending...and once you've done it, you don't want to think about it again for a really long time. The book is incredible in its scope, and as a resident of the former Yugoslavia, I found it usually quite interesting. Her forays into history were very interesting (although unreferenced and without any footnotes), and her cultural overviews were often entertaining. A few things got on my nerves about this opus. First, there was almost nothing about Slovenija! I really don't understand this, especially in a book that is as exhaustive as BLGF. Next, she gets hung up much too often on Gerta, a "rival" and apparent representative of the German people. I almost get angry when I think about how many pages I had to read about this inconsequential woman and why Rebecca West didn't like her. West is also sure that she can pinpoint the exact qualities that make a Slav, or a Serb, or a Montenegrin, or a...take your pick. I suppose it was helpful to her when writing such a book, but it doesn't play well (at least for me) when I read it now. Overall, there are too many positive things to completely bash the book, and I indeed shoveled my way through all 1150 pages, but I was just happy to finish it at the end. I can't say that I would recommend it to anyone who isn't already very interested in the former Yugoslavia, but it certainly has some value.