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Balkan Ghosts is a book that defies categorization. In part a travel memoir, in part a historical critique, and in part an analysis of the then political climate. Balkan Ghosts displays an excellent synergy of the above as it does much more than take the reader on, as the title suggests, a journey through history, but rather one is rewarded a stimulating and aesthetic treat, a book that one does not simply digest, but one lives. Kaplan brings a writing and storytelling style all of his own, something I had become familiar with in his most reason Monsoon, and to a lesser extent in his more ideological treatise Warrior Politics. However, it must be noted that Balkan Ghosts became the travel reading of President Clinton, some say an influence on his Yugoslavia policy, for better or worse, and coincidentally the book that put Kaplan on the map. Published in 1993, before the worst of the wars in the former Yugoslavia had yet to happen, Balkan Ghosts is as much a study of countries often forgotten in the Western mind amidst the more immediate chaos of the past 20 years. Within these volumes Kaplan examines the poverty and eccentric chaos of Ceausescu's Romania, and its difficult transition under the badly remodelled National Salvation Front, the authoritarian nature of Moscow's closest Eastern Bloc ally Bulgaria, and the eccentric nature of 1980s Greece under Andreas Papandreou. Balkan Ghosts begins in Croatia, examining the fusion between Croat nationalism and Catholic identity, with a sympathetic portrayal of the controversial Bishop Stepinac, and then taking us to Serbia and the emerging problem of Kosovo, and how this breakaway province is the historical heart of Serbia, yet stolen by history. Whether Kaplan is taking us through Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia or even his long term home of 1980s Greece, one is given the full visual and atmospheric delight. The foods and drinks with which the insightful conversations are all inscribed, the atmosphere down to the living conditions. One is given an immersion into a travel memoir that one lives with the author. At the same time, Kaplan weaves his historical narrative with expert skill, and in many ways demonstrates a unique form of writing, perhaps the most educational travel memoir I have ever read. A truly unique and groundbreaking book, Balkan Ghosts is a rare treat, both a history book and a travel memoir that provides the reader with total sensory immersion. Unforgettable.
This I think is my first 'political travelogue'. What I did not know is that in practice (in this case) means a book that to 98% consist of ordinary history, just without annotation and references. I had more hoped for personal reflections and meetings that the author had experienced and maybe with 20% historical content.
A fascinating account of the Balkans just before the Yugoslav civil war. It shows how Soviet communism merely froze long established conflicts in the region, which surfaced again after the fall of the Berlin Wall. These conflicts can be traced back for centuries through the Ottoman Empire and before. A rather gloomy book, but fascinating nevertheless. Of great interest to anyone with even a small knowledge of European history.
rrived a little later than expected (from the USA) but the service was good. The book is a wonderful synthesis of interesting historical information, much of it little known, and a beautifully described modern travelogue of the Balkans, complete with a political overview.