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Balkan reading list

A friend of mine recently asked me for recommendations of books on the Balkans - not textbooks on history or politics, but more interesting stuff, novels for preference. This was my reply.
Dear X,
When we were on the phone earlier, I strongly recommended the classic Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West - not really fiction, and madly pro-Serb, but the Macedonian and Bosnian bits are very good - and Bosnian Chronicle/The Days of the Consuls by Ivo Andrić. A few other thoughts:

Contra my hasty statement on the phone that there is no worthwhile fiction about the conflicts of the 1990s, Joe Sacco has written two excellent graphic novels about the Bosnian war: Safe Area Goražde and The Fixer. Also Bosnian, not quite fiction but rather unusual, is Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipović  - she was 11 when the war started and is of course now almost 30 and living in Ireland.

Kosovo politician and intellectual figure Veton Surroi wrote a novel looking forward to the independence negotiations called Azem Berisha's One and Only Flight to the Castle - you won’t find it in shops but I can lend you my copy (which I will want back, as it is autographed). It’s very short.

I’m a big fan of the world-famous Albanian writer Ismail Kadarë, and have read his Three Elegies for Kosovo, The General of the Dead Army, The Successor, Chronicle in Stone, and particularly recommend The File on H.

I’m also a big fan of the Serbian magical realist writer Zoran Živković, whose books are more difficult to get hold of than Kadarë’s (though Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue always seems to have them in stock); see especially Impossible Stories and Hidden Camera. Unlike Kadarë, there is not much overtly about his country in his work (though I think it’s always there implicitly).

Olivia Manning’s Balkan trilogy takes place in Romania and Greece so I suspect is no good for you.

Lawrence Durrell wrote several not terribly good books about Serbia (his muse was better inspired farther south); I have read his comic short story collection Esprit de Corps, which is set in the British embassy in Belgrade in the 1950s, and a James Bond ripoff called White Eagles over Serbia.

On similar lines a rather dim CIA agent wrote an account of spying in Macedonia during the 2001 conflict, Lindsay Moran’s Blowing My Cover. Harvey Pekar wrote a graphic novel about the same conflict simply called Macedonia but to be honest the main interest for me was spotting the characters based on friends of mine.
I still can't think of any mainstream fiction based on the more recent Balkan conflicts (even Veton Surroi's book has magical realist elements), at least none that is worth reading; any suggestions?

Edited to add: kulfuldi rightly suggests Fitzroy Maclean's Eastern Approaches in comments; kicking myself for forgetting it. Over on Facebook, a Croatian correspondent has the following suggestions:
Sarajevo Marlboro, a short story collection by Miljenko Jergović. Amazon has it. Just like his novels Ruta Tannenbaum and Buick rivera. Haven't read any of them, but he won awards for the books. A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, a short story collection by Danilo Kiš. "A portrait of a country and a people in turmoil, a portrait of how Communism both creates and devours its sons." Read it a long time ago, don't remember anything except that it was great. Also on Amazon. BTW, there's also a SSC by Andrić on Amazon, Damned Yard and Other Stories. That might be more accessible than The Bridge. The stories are really good. That's for mainstream. Fantastic... Possibly Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife. Then, there's Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić on Amazon. They also have her The Ministry of Pain, a novel about exiles from Yugoslavia in Amsterdam, which obviously is not fantastic.
I take "not fantastic" in that last sentence to mean "not sfnal" rather than "bad". I also endorse Andrić's The Damned Yard and Other Stories ahead of Bridge on the Drina. And I seem to remember reading a recommendation from Stephen Schwartz for A Tomb for Boris Davidovich.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
kulfuldi
Sep. 13th, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC)
I know it's not fiction, but what about Eastern Approaches? It's not a textbook, it's very readable, and gives a view of Tito that you certainly won't get elsewhere.
nwhyte
Sep. 14th, 2011 05:40 am (UTC)
Good point. (And you're very welcome to drop in and borrow any of the others!)
minny
Sep. 14th, 2011 08:02 am (UTC)
I remember hearing about Zlata’s Diary and seeing Zlata on TV when I was a kid (must have been Blue Peter or something like that)! I still haven't read it though.
iansales
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC)
PS Publishing have published several of Živković books.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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