Friday, March 25, 2016

European RC #6

I read this book for the European Reading Challenge 2016.

Another Fool in the Balkans: In the Footsteps of Rebecca West - Tony White

White collects essays he wrote between 1993 and 2005. Some touch on the politics and reconciliation between Serbs and Croats after a bitter war. White has obviously read many books besides Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, one of the great nonfiction works of the 20th century. With humility, White attempts to combine personal responses to history and art as West did in her masterpiece. He deftly avoids the pitfalls of travels writers such as geniality (Eric Newby, In Bolivia), sarcasm (Daniel Kalder, Lost Cosmonaut), or portentousness (William Langewiesche, Sahara Unveiled).

He talks to a couple of politicians, but he focuses on writers, and artists in the visual arts. He discusses the pressure artists face in a cultural sphere dominated by sharp-eyed nationalists ready to pounce on anybody they perceive as unpatriotic or otherwise not on the team. I enjoyed his meditations on the importance of art as he revisits works of sculpture.  The Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, for instance, resisted a dictator’s pressure to “serve the state” and emigrated to the US.

An indicator of a good travel book is how much the reader wants to see, for instance, Zagreb and Istria while reading the book. I wanted to pack and go, keeping in mind White’s advice to visit in spring or during the "Indian" summer - known in Croatia as babije ljeto, or "grandma's summer" - between September and November. 

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