In Search of the Balkan Soul

Thodoris Nikolaou has spent the last three years — and counting — crisscrossing the Balkan Peninsula to create a visual mosaic of the region’s people and their stories. But for Mr. Nikolaou, the project, called “…Balkaniotheque” and sponsored by the Onassis Foundation, became more than a multifaceted look at the region. It has been a search for his very identity.

Courtesy of the New York Times.

Daughters of Shadow and Blood: A Historical Reading List

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca WestThe Daughters of Shadow and Blood trilogy is crammed full of real history. Yasamin spans almost two years, from 1599 to 1601. Elena covers several months in the fall of 1689. Elizabeth takes place over a few weeks in the summer of 1878. Also, sprinkled throughout are vignettes from many other time periods. I did tons of research to get everything right. If you find yourself interested at all in the history I talk about, here are some books to get you started:

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West. Rebecca West was a celebrated British journalist. She wrote this travelogue of Yugoslavia in 1941 when Europe was on the verge of World War II. It’s more than just a travel book, though. West’s masterful prose weaves the history and culture of the former nation into a compelling narriative. Fair warning, though. She does bring her biases. Don’t make this the only book you read on the Balkans.

Lords of the Horizons by Jason Goodwin. This book corrects many of the biases Rebecca West has. It is a short history of the Ottoman Empire with a strong emphasis on the culture of the Ottomans and how it drove them to persist. Goodwin is also the author of a series of detective novels set in Istanbul in the nineteenth century, beginning with The Janissary Tree. His sleuth, Yashim, is unique in that he’s a eunuch.

Osman’s Dream by Caroline Finkel. This is a very detailed, comprehensive history of the Ottoman Empire, from it’s beginnings as a Turkish tribe in central Anatolia through the height of its power, to its downfall shortly after World War I.

The Balkans by Misha Glenny. This book covers more recent history, from 1804 to the present, but it sets up perfectly how the violence and warfare of the late twentieth century came about by showing its roots in earlier conflicts.

Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan. This is another travelogue by a journalist. Kaplan also delves into the roots of the recent strife in the Balkans. Unlike the other writers on this list, he focuses heavily on Romania and the toll of the Communist regime there.

Kosovo: A Short History by Noel Malcolm. The Serbs claim they were in Kosovo first. The Albanians claim they were there first. As Malcolm points out, the truth is somewhat more complicated.

Bosnia: A Short History by Noel Malcolm. Bosnia has always been a crossroads of culture. In this book, Malcolm explores how a place renown for its tolerance and the peaceful coexistence of religions was torn apart by war.

The Raven King by Marcus Tanner. Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, amassed the largest library in the Christian world. He also held Vlad the Impaler captive for ten years.