Striking Poems

I came across some more brilliant poems in the poetry sections of Literature: A Portable Anthology. 4th Edition, edited by Janet E. Gardner et al. The three poems below spoke to me of our times.

Emily Dickinson’s short poem (written ca. 1862) reminds me of the polarization of our society, where each side deems the other side dangerous or crazy:

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous—
And handled with a Chain

And this one by Langston Hughes (written in 1951) seems so relevant for race relations in the US (and elsewhere):

Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

And here’s just the beginning of a poem by William Stafford (written in 1962) about animals killed by traffic. I read this just a day after my last post, where I wrote about this exact topic. Very odd it was, to find this poem just at this time:

Traveling through the Dark

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
[…]

Keep safe, world.

2020_12_22

Monday Miscellanea

I’ve been in Bavaria with Mum and Curious Dog since the afternoon of December 10 and most of the time it has been foggy and dingy, with only about two afternoons when the sun managed to disperse the fog. But out I went every day anyway with Curious Dog for our walks and it was always quite pleasant. Rather unseasonably mild just a few degrees about 0°C. One afternoon, I saw three deer on a slope in the woods above our path. The deer and I looked at each other for some minutes before they leapt away. They blended in very well with the shades of brown of the trees and I only noticed them because CD was staring at them first. He didn’t bark and he didn’t try to chase them (well, as he was on leash he couldn’t have, but he didn’t even try). That was a nice experience.

A few weeks ago, when I was still at my place, I saw a grey heron in a field by the side of the road hunting for insects or frogs as I was driving by on my way to the shops. On the way back, it had been run over by a car and was dead. That was horrible and I’m still sad when I think about it today. I really hate that so many animals fall prey to traffic. Whenever I see such a tragedy, I always start musing about driving less, but it’s not practical. Here in the countryside in Bavaria, with spotty public transport, it would be a nightmare to do one’s grocery shopping per bus. You’d need half a day at least for one trip. Public transport tends to be good in cities, but rudimentary in the country in Germany. So, I have to continue using my car, but maybe when I retire and have more time, I’ll either move to a small town where I can do my shopping on foot or by public transport or perhaps I’ll get a freight bike. In the meantime, I try to drive carefully and am glad that I’ve not killed many animals myself (although a lot of luck is involved – a lot of times you just can’t help it). I once hit a blackbird who didn’t survive and once I had a close shave with a deer (that was years ago, and I still remember how shocked I was). The deer jumped into the fender of my car from the side, coming up out of a ditch. But I was driving very slowly through what was a dark and foggy night. I braked and swerved, and the deer ran off. There were no marks on the car which made me believe that the deer probably only got a bruise (if anything). But I was super shaky for a couple of hours afterwards.

On a more positive note, I’ve been reading a lot. I’ve finished all the novels by Dickens that I still wanted to read this year, Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities. I read a book for my book club and another non-fiction one for fun. I also read the two Toni Morrison novels still on my list (Home and God Help the Child). I want to write reviews for most of these and will hopefully manage to get started on them this week. Despite this progress I don’t think that I’ll get to all the books I mentioned in my End of the Year Book Tag post. I’ve been doing most of my reading at the weekends, when I was also baking some Christmas cookies, shopping and cleaning. So, I’m quite happy with what I’ve read so far in December, and I enjoyed it all.

I was incredibly busy last week with work. Lots of quality checks and end-of-the-year tasks. I was absolutely knackered at the end of each day and not up to blogging or even reading – I just nodded off in front of the TV. This week, I’m working today, tomorrow, and on Wednesday and then will be on vacation until January 17. So, lots of time for reading, watching films, playing games with Partner (once we are back at my place on December 31). I usually get lots of reading done in those weeks at the beginning of the year. After all, the weather will probably be wet and cold and this year there’s the lockdown. So, a good time to curl up with a good book, some hot tea and some left-over Christmas cookies. It’ll be great, I’m really looking forward to it. I love having a long break at the end of the year to wind down and get fresh energy for the new year and I usually save up my vacation days for it.

Corona infection numbers in Germany are still increasing despite the lockdown in place (it hasn’t been long enough). It seems that the first vaccines will be available at the end of December for residents of retirement or nursing homes. Mutti, at 82, will be eligible for a shot soon. I just hope that she will tolerate it well. She tends to have strange reactions to medications. I’m also not sure how it will work. I guess we’ll have to get the shot here in Bavaria as this is Mum’s main place of residence and so I expect her notification will be sent here. But it will take some weeks till all the elderly are vaccinated and I’m sure we’ll organize it somehow. Anyway, the vaccination is a ray of light in these times.

One of Mum’s sisters (my aunt) is in hospital, having just received an artificial hip. She’s spending Christmas in rehab and so far she’s not allowed any visitors. Mum calls her every day. She’s doing well, except for the loneliness and the boredom. Her husband is allowed to drop of things, but he’s not allowed to see her. That’s hard for them. I hope my aunt continues to do well and will be able to return home soon.

Brexit isn’t going well. There’s still no trade deal agreed on between the UK and Europe. Things remain interesting, but even with a deal it will be sad to see Britain leaving the EU at the end of the year. Without a deal, I can’t imagine the chaos. Worse than the current chaos at the borders because of the travel ban because of the mutated Corona virus in the UK? No doubt, we shall see.

Keep safe, world

Aemilia Lanyer

On Friday I stumbled across an interesting poem by Aemilia Lanyer (also known as Emilia Lanier). I found it in an anthology that I’ve had for some time but hadn’t had a look at the poems in it: Literature: A Portable Anthology. 4th Edition, edited by Janet E.Gardner et al. Lanyer was the first Englishwoman to consider herself a professional poet and she was quite the proto-feminist. She lived from 1569 to 1645, a few years earlier than John Milton (1608 to 1674). Her poem “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women” really struck me, because it reminded of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Last December I reread Paradise Lost together with a friend. I had last read it about 25 years ago while I was at university. I didn’t remember much about it except that I had rather liked it. I had, however, completely forgotten how much I had disliked how Milton interprets Eve’s role. She is shown as being responsible for the fall of man, because she enticed Adam to eat the forbidden fruit… and so on and so forth, the traditional view. It was quite funny finding all my outraged exclamation marks and notes in the margins of my old battered Oxford World’s Classics edition.

Well, Aemilia Lanyer’s poem judges the actions of Adam and Eve quite differently, seeing Eve as a simple and ignorant woman who was deceived by the serpent Satan and writing about Adam:

But surely Adam cannot be excused;
Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame;
What weakness offered, strength might have refused,
Being lord of all, the greater was his shame,
Although the serpent’s craft had her abused,
God’s holy word ought all his actions frame,
For he was lord and king of all the earth,
Before poor Eve had either life or breath.

Aemilia Lanyer, “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women,” verse 5.

The poem can be found online, it has 12 verses. It pairs Eve with Pontius Pilate’s wife and Adam with Pontius Pilate and speaks about giving women freedom. I found it very interesting. I wonder if Milton had read it before he wrote Paradise Lost? It’s fascinating when texts seem to speak to each other by showing different interpretations of the same original source, in this case the biblical myth about Adam and Eve.

I also found out that Aemilia Lanyer may have been Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady”, about whom he wrote some of his famous sonnets. Very intriguing. Maybe next year I’ll try to find a copy of her poems and check out if I like the rest of them as well.

Keep safe, world.

November Reading

It doesn’t really make much sense to do my normal post about my monthly reading for November, as I only read one book, but I’ll do it anyway for completeness sake. I’m looking forward to tallying up my yearly reading at the end of December. I won’t have met all my goals, I don’t think, but I didn’t do too badly.

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    Done, already in October. This year’s read along with one of my best friends brought to a triumphant conclusion. It was a great read, and I hope to get around to writing a report on in. Next year we are going to read The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese classic
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    This one I’ve given up on (for now), but it was only a tentative goal.

Poetry:

Patrick Crotty (ed.), The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry
I did read my daily poem (or more) each morning in bed in November. Actually, I started this collection in October and forgot to mention it. It’s very good. I’m already almost halfway through and am really loving it.

Short stories:

Complete fail. No short stories were read in November.

Non-fiction:

For non-fiction November I read Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West and it completely derailed the rest of my reading. But no regrets. It was a stimulating read!

Graphic novel:

Total fail. I’m still not feeling like reading graphic novels. I bet I’ll have missed this goal.

Novels:

None. I started reading Oliver Twist, but didn’t continue once I started BL&GF. I started it again in December and have now finished it, but it was a fail for November. No Toni Morrison either.

I didn’t meet my goals in November, but as the one book I read had 1232 pages, I’m quite happy.

Monday Miscellanea

Last week we had a bit of snow. About 10 cm Tuesday morning. It was rather wet and only lasted for a day or two (except for some traces here and there) but we did get one or two nice walks with Curious Dog in the snow. The first morning started with traffic chaos. A lorry had slid across the road up on the hill and all the traffic was backed up though the town. Good thing I’m doing home office and didn’t need to drive anywhere. A very common occurrence at the beginning of winter.

The rest of the week was dark and cloudy, wet and muddy. Curious Dog’s undercarriage (that is, his paws, legs, and belly) is always wet and muddy. After each outing, we mess up one of his towels. Good thing I washed them all the week before last and fortunately we have quite a lot. Whenever any of our towels start becoming threadbare, they are relegated to dog-towel-dom until they fall to pieces completely.

I got on with my end of the year book list and finished Ready Player One and Two and Oliver Twist. As always seems to happen when I read one of Dickens’ novels, I like Oliver Twist a lot more than I’d anticipated. I will write a review. I also managed to get some Christmas presents for Cousins 1 and 2 and one for Partner. This is entirely due to Partner putting pressure on me, because he’d already got his presents for Cousins 1 and 2 and wants to post the package as soon as possible, probably tomorrow. I taped up some reused Amazon cardboard boxes last night. Our packages are always covered in reams of masking tape, because that’s the only tape I’ve got at home. And I’m always scared that something will fall out of the package if I go easy on the tape. The tape is left over from when we painted our rooms two years ago (and didn’t paint as much as we meant to). But after having taped up these two packages, the masking tape stock is now almost gone, and I will have to remember to get some proper tape soon (the paper, not the plastic kind). Anyway, this will be the soonest we’ve ever managed to send off our Christmas packages. Usually, I send them off a couple of days before Christmas and hope that they’ll make it, but Partner thinks that that wouldn’t work this year, what with Corona and all. He’s probably right, and it is nice to have this off my to-do list. Now I just have to find a present for Mum and something else for Partner.

So, the weekend was soggy and muddy. We stayed in as much as possible, except for walking with Curious Dog and grocery shopping. Corona isn’t looking good at all in Germany. I think the lockdown is going to be intensified almost everywhere. This week on Thursday Mum and I are off to Bavaria to spend Christmas at our house (and check on everything, as usual). Partner’s off to his place in North-Rhine Westphalia and we will meet up again here in Baden-Württemberg as usual on December 31. I did ask Partner if we shouldn’t spend Christmas here together this year, but he wasn’t enthusiastic. He likes to hole up by himself over Christmas. I’m fine with it, but this year I’m worried that there will be a travel ban within Germany if the Corona numbers don’t improve. If there’s a ban that would prevent us from returning on December 31, I guess we may return earlier. I don’t want to spend longer than normal without Partner. But we’ll see what happens. Kind of odd, my little family dispersing over Christmas, but that’s our tradition.

Yesterday we watched the second part of last week’s Tatort (Crime Scene) episode “In der Familie, Teil 2” (In the Familie, Part 2). It was set in Munich six months after the first episode. It was mostly centered around what happened to the daughter of the half-Italian family. She didn’t know that in the last episode her father murdered her mother because she snitched on him to the police. He didn’t want to murder her, but otherwise the mafia would have murdered his entire family. Well, they didn’t do well in Munich either and the mafia still had them in their sights, so things go south again. The daughter turns into an avenging angel trying to find out who killed her mother. This transformation wasn’t really all that believable, in my opinion. The acting was great, though. We also had the Dortmund police detective visiting his colleagues in Munich and being an asshole there (he’s always kind of an idiot). I quite liked the scene were the assistant of the two Munich detectives tells him off. We also see the stolen BvB coffee cup in one scene, as nice reminder of the first episode. All in all, not bad, but not great. Next week’s Tatort will be one set in Münster, which I’m looking forward to, as that’s usually a fun episode.

Today started off with a wet drizzle on our walk with Curious Dog. We met one of his dog friends, and they had a bit of a romp across the muddy fields. That was another dirty towel, but CD had fun. Work was as usual on Mondays, lots of meetings and nothing much else got done. One of my colleagues is waiting for the result of their teenager’s Corona test. I hope that it turns out negative. The colleague is also feeling a bit under the weather and all the team is hoping that it’s just a cold. A stupid cold, something one usually never thinks about twice, is now cause for alarm.

Partner’s trying out a new dish tonight for dinner. A pumpkin risotto where the pumpkin is roasted in the oven and afterward mashed with some broth. The risotto rice is cooked with some leek and when it’s done the pumpkin mash is added and it’s served with some pumpkin seeds. Hope it turns out well.

Keep safe, world.

Ready Player Two

by Ernest Cline. An excellent sequel to Ready Player One. It picks up and develops characters and themes raised in RPI. This will be a mostly spoiler-free review, as RPII was just published and I don’t want to reveal any of the surprising plot twists.

The novel starts off rather slowly with Wade (Parzival) reporting on some astonishing technical advancements made by the company GSS now owned by him, Samantha (Art3mis), Aech, and Shoto. The new technology had been developed in secret by James Halliday, whose heir Wade has become, because of the quest he solved in RPI. The new technology makes the Oasis even more addictive and Wade and Sam have a falling-out over his use of it and because Wade, Aech and Shoto vote to market it. I rather liked this estrangement between Wade and Sam as I’d found their relationship not very believable in RPI. Wade spends a lot of time regretting the fact that his life has gone nowhere while his three friends have found worthwhile careers and/or fulfilling relationships. But soon a new quest arises, again left by James Halliday, and the novel picks up speed and becomes as thrilling a page-turner as the first installment.

The themes of the dystopian near future are again touched upon and at first it seems no different than before: people hide in the Oasis from their dismal non-virtual life. However, there’s an interesting twist at the end of the novel that brings hope for the planet while showing a good balance between virtual and non-virtual existence (I don’t want to be clearer, as that would be a spoiler). There’s also an important new theme about artificial intelligence with an interesting twist on how AIs could come to be (although I don’t know if the idea of the novel will ever be possible, but it’s certainly intriguing).

During the new quest, Wade at first is the only one of the four friends engaged in it, and he doesn’t make much headway. But he gets a hint from some new friends that helps him solve the first step. And, once the stakes are raised because the Oasis and its users are held hostage under a strict time limit (meaning, they will all die if the quest isn’t solved in time), the friends reconnect and work together to save everyone. It’s engrossing and has the plot twists and pop-culture trivia like the first novel. I especially like the part of the quest that takes part on a world based on the tales in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Aech, Shoto and Art3mis (Samantha) each have a much larger role to play in RPII. They can shine with their pop-culture specialties – without them Parzival (Wade) would have had no chance to finish the quest successfully on time. They also helped in RPI, of course, but most of the ideas came from Parzival. In this case, they collaborate on an even level, which is heart-warming.

The development of the relationship between Parzival (Wade) and Art3mis (Samantha) is also nicely done. Each of them shows their stubborn side, but when things are dire, they work together, find that they still have feelings for each other, and both change so that their relationship becomes a lot more stable and believable by the end of the novel. As a Tolkien fan, I really enjoyed the quest the two of them had to complete in his world. It seemed very fitting.

So, I found Ready Player Two at least as good as Ready Player One. I’d been slightly worried that I wouldn’t like it, but I think it has a lot of new ideas mixed in with the exciting adventures in the Oasis that the reader is already familiar with from RPI. The beginning may be a little slow, but it soon picks up the pace. The ending is creative and very hopeful for the future of the entire dystopian world (not only for the four friends). And, I’m sure there’s enough material for a third novel. I, for one, would look forward to it (not that I’ve heard anything about a sequel).

Keep safe, world.

Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline. A re-read, as I wanted to remind myself of the story before reading Ready Player Two which has just been published. I like Ready Player One because it’s an exciting page-turner and touches on some themes that I find interesting.

It is set in a dystopian near future. Dystopian and apocalyptic stories are a favourite genre of mine. Weird, really, considering that we might be heading for a difficult future with climate change and that we are currently living in a kind of dystopian present with the Corona pandemic. But then I also like reading murder mysteries and other crime novels without wanting to have anything like that in my life. I like reading about travel without needing to do a lot of travel myself. So many situations that are fun, or interesting, or thrilling to read about, but would be horrible in real life.

It is about virtual reality. I also like stories about virtual realities. It would be great to log into a virtual reality like the Oasis for work or for school and for games. Interacting with one’s colleagues in a virtual reality would be a lot more fun than online calls. And virtual school could be fantastic – I liked the parts in Ready Player One about the schools in the Oasis. Of course, the real question, which is sometimes touched on in the novel, but not grappled with in detail, is how to balance virtual life with non-virtual life. I don’t want to contrast ‘virtual’ with ‘real’, because the virtual life would also be real, but I wouldn’t want to neglect the non-virtual life on which we all depend. We can’t live without nature, food, the planet. In Ready Player One people seen to hide from their dystopian natural world in the artificial Oasis world which doesn’t solve any problems. Virtual reality in Ready Player One can be like an addiction, like smartphone addition only worse.

I like the thrilling plot. It’s the usual fight against evil, where evil has all the advantages but good prevails. A good traditional plot well executed. I enjoy all the trivia about the 80s (although I can’t remember them once I’ve finished the book). I was a teenager in the 80s and missed all this computer and gaming stuff. I know a few of the movies and have read a few of the books that are mentioned, but that’s about it. The book doesn’t even trigger any nostalgia in me, as it is just not the life I lived.

I like the characters, Parzival, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto (to call them by their Oasis names). I like their fight against the overwhelming numbers of Sixers who are their rivals in the search for the Easter egg (or the quest for the Holy Grail of the Oasis – even the hero’s name, Parzival, reminds one of the Grail myths). That they can only win by working together is a nice moral. Parzival, or Wade, is the point-of-view character and the one who is best realized. The others are not well developed, but the book seems to me to be more about the plot and the action and less about character development, so it’s OK.

I don’t like the romantic love between Wade/Parzival and Samantha/Art3mis. It’s fine that Wade falls in love with her, but after she breaks it off, he acts like a creepy stalker. Keeps trying to get her to change her mind in obnoxious ways in Oasis, hanging around her virtual home trying to get her to communicate with him again. And afterwards, at the end of the book, they easily pick up their romantic relationship again. I didn’t find that very believable. Still, it might be interesting to see how and if their relationship will continue in Ready Player Two.

So, Ready Player One is a fantastic, mostly light and fun read and I’m looking forward to Ready Player Two, which I going to start today.

Keep safe, world.

Rebecca West’s Tome on Yugoslavia

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West, with an Introduction by Christopher Hitchens, Penguin Classics.

I finished this non-fiction November read just at the end of November. It was probably my most challenging read this year, not because the prose was difficult to understand, but because I know so little of the subject and I didn’t have much background to put the book into context, so I never knew when I read West’s outspoken opinions and judgements whether they had a basis in reality, or were prejudiced or exaggerated or just plain wrong. For this book is not a simple travel account. It is also about history and politics and philosophy and religion and, not least, feminism. Very interesting, stimulating but also challenging to read.

In 1937 West and her husband travelled through Yugoslavia, a new country created after WWI with WWII already on the horizon. After their journey, West spent four years researching and published the book in 1941, as she explains in the Epilogue (no page number, as my Kindle edition didn’t have any for the Epilogue):

This return meant, for me, going into retreat. Nothing in my life had affected me more deeply than this journey through Yugoslavia.

[…]

I was obliged to write a long and complicated history, and to swell that with an account of myself and the people who went with me on my travels, since it was my aim to show the past side by side with the present it created

West travels through the Yugoslavian countries (or provinces?) of Croatia, Dalmatia, Herzegovina, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Old Serbia and Montenegro. She gives beautiful descriptions of places and people, industry and art, but also includes a lot of historical details to show how the situation at the time was the result of historical events. When she visits Sarajevo, for example, she writes a lot about the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie which was one of the causes that sparked off WWI. Of course, I’d known about that, but I’d only known the bare bones. I didn’t know anything about Franz Ferdinand and was very surprised to read her biography of him – he comes across as a lunatic, whose one redeeming characteristic was his love for his wife. I thought that this account was totally exaggerated, but when I looked him up on Wikipedia, I found out that West’s depiction was certainly based on fact, although somewhat exaggerated. To get a rounded picture I would have to read up on Franz Ferdinand, maybe read a biography, but I have to admit I’m not interested enough. Anyway, this reassured me that her account while exaggerated was nevertheless founded on valid history. I learned from West what happened to the assassins. Certainly no humane or enlightened treatment, to put it mildly.

West goes on to talk about the role of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in Balkan history, the legacy of Byzantium, the negative role played by all the various invaders, especially the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the West and the Ottoman Empire from the East. She talks about the rivalries between the peoples that made up Yugoslavia and the historical reasons for it. She visits a lot of cities, islands, churches, even a mine, and paints vivid pictures. There are passages in the book where I think that West is a genius and passages where I’m more or less horrified at her weird opinions.

West and her husband are accompanied by a Yugoslavian friend, called Constantine in the book, as West cannot name him for fear of nasty consequences under Hitler’s regime (Germany had invaded Yugoslavia by the time the book was published). The friend gives a running commentary on all sorts of topics. He was a Serb poet, of Jewish ancestry married to an anti-Semitic, anti-Serbian, ethnic German woman called Gerda in the book. Gerda is so unpleasant that at first I believed, again, in prejudice on the part of West, but a bit of research confirmed that she was in fact based on the real wife of her friend, with pro-German (probably Nazi) leanings. Sadly, Gerda’s horridness leads to an estrangement with Constantine (whose real name was Stanislav Vinaver) during the later part of the book.

The book takes its title from a ritual she witnesses, where a black lamb is sacrificed to bring fertility to women and keep misfortune away. West extrapolates from this scene a theory, which I, as a skeptic, find congenial, namely that the sacrifice of Christ for our sins should actually be seen the other way around. The murder of Christ, who was innocent and one of the best of men, shows up our sinful nature. No sacrifice of innocents ever leads to anything good. The grey falcon is a reverence to a poem which describes and lauds the actions of Tsar Lazar, a Serbian king, who fought and lost against the Ottoman Empire in Kosovo in 1389, leading to the subjugation of his people. The poem describes his actions as fighting for a lasting kingdom in Heaven (instead of an earthly kingdom). This West criticizes strongly. She argues that one should try ones very best to fight for happiness and peace on earth and not for heaven, which she equates with seeking death:

Destiny is another name for humanity’s half-hearted, yet persistent search for death. Again and again peoples have had the chance to live and show what would happen if human life were irrigated by continual happiness; and they have preferred to blow up the canals and perish of drought. They listen to the evil counsel of the grey falcon. They let their throats be cut as if they were black lambs.

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Penguin, p. 948

She comments in the Epilogue:

But voluntarily to play a part in an act of cruelty, to subscribe to a theory of the universe which supposes a God capable of showering down blessings in return for meaningless bloodshed, that is to initiate a process of degradation which is infinite, because it is imaginary and not confined within the limits of reality.

Later on in the Epilogue, West contrasts the situation in the Kosovo in 1839 with the situation in England in 1939:

The difference between Kossovo [sic] in 1389 and England in 1939 lay in time and place and not in the events experienced, which resembled each other even in details of which we of the later catastrophe think as peculiar to our nightmare.

But there is hope:

For the news that Hitler had been defied by Yugoslavia travelled like sunshine over the countries which he had devoured and humiliated, promising spring.

This book is so long and goes off on so many fascinating tangents that one could easily write a PhD thesis or three about it. My little review doesn’t do it justice. I can only say that it is deeply fascinating, sometimes deeply strange. As Hitchens says in the Introduction (again, no page numbers), the book shows “the workings of a powerful and energetic mind”. The book as much about Rebecca West as it is about Yugoslavia and its history.

I found it so fascinating that it has inspired me to read up on the Balkans, to get a more rounded view. Also, I’d like to read some more by Rebecca West and especially a biography. I did a bit of research and found these additional books that have made it onto my TBR for next year (tentatively, maybe I will find others):

  • Carl Rollyson: Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl
  • Misha Glenny: The Balkans, 1804-2012: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers
  • Brian Hall: The Impossible Country

I can recommend the book wholeheartedly for readers who like reading about the topics that I’ve mentioned. It’s not useful for readers looking for a straight-forward travelogue.