Read these books set in The Balkans
The incredible history, culture and landscapes of The Balkans have long been a source of inspiration for writers. The intense fighting and political unrest has drawn writers from all over the world to this deeply divided region. Most of the books on this list are fictional, and they are all the perfect way to dip your toes into the complex politics of the region. They will also inspire you to travel to the Balkans to see first-hand how this beautiful region is rebuilding after the unrest.
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Dame Rebecca West
This is the oldest book on our list, but it hasn’t become less relevant with time. There are plenty of reasons why you might choose to read Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. You may be interested in the history and culture of the region, or you may just be looking for a beautifully rendered travelogue.
Dame Rebecca West’s aim with this book was to portray the history of Yugoslavia and the present it had created. When it was initially published in the1940s, that is exactly what this book achieved. The new modern publication collates the whole work in one weighty tome of over 1200 pages. As it was written in the 1930s, this book feels slightly old-fashioned, but in a charming way. This gives a historical resonance to the book. Historical observations and political philosophies are interwoven with the travel narrative as Dame West and her husband travel through the Balkans.
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
The Cellist of Sarajevo has been a huge success since it was published in 2009, and it is easy to see why it has stayed on bestseller lists for so long. This touching book is an intimate portrait of a city under siege, a careful examination of a complicated historical moment and a beautiful evocation of a beloved city-scape.
The novel tells the story of four characters living in Sarajevo during the civil war in the 90s. They deal with the constant threat of snipers, and even crossing the road to get water is a risk. Not only does the book capture the danger and emotional trauma, but it also describes the city in a way that is instantly recognisable to anyone who has visited.
Café Europa: Life After Communism by Slavenka Drakulić
Drakulić’s collection of essays was written in the 90s, and explores Eastern Europe and life after communism. She ruminates on many different subjects from the use of the word “we” with its communistic undertones, through to the political situation in Europe at this turbulent time. This book delves deep into the complexed geopolitical relationships within the Baltics mostly exploring the author’s home country of Croatia. However, the author’s focus moves between many states in the area.
This collection of journalistic articles is perfect for those with an understanding of the politics of the post-soviet era. Each article deals with political philosophy and history lightly. Nevertheless, Drakulić incorporates a deeply personal perspective, which gives a greater insight into the shifting tides in the Balkans. With a journalistic eye for detail, the author draws the reader into her writing.
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
The Tiger’s Wife, the first novel from American-Serbian writer Téa Obreht, is a stunning example of lyrical writing at its best. Bringing together elements of folklore, magical realism and war narrative, this highly wrought novel explores themes of death and war.
The novel is set in a fictional village in an unnamed Baltic state. “The city” in the novel is presumably Belgrade but details are scant. Nevertheless, Obreht’s vivid descriptions evoke a life-like if slightly abstracted image of the Baltic region pulled this way and that by violence.
Broken April by Ismail Kadare
Ismail Kadare is one of Albania’s best known authors. In this book, he tackles one of Albania’s most persistent legal legacies, that of the bloody and ancient Kanun Law.
Broken April’s narrative follows Gjorg, the unwilling killer of his brother’s murderer, as his life intersects with those of Bessian and Diana, a honeymooning couple intent on investigating the customs and stark beauty of the mountainous regions of Albania.
This novel is visceral but also heady. The language is evocative, bringing forward the very real issues that still plague Albania, while also breathing the very essence of Albania’s natural beauty.