Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Book Update: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

The book I'm currently reading, Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia is 1150 pages long, so forgive me if it takes me a while to finish it. Written in the late 1930's when the Nazis were starting to become pretty scary and before they invaded Yugoslavia, this book follows the author's trip through Croatia, Dalmatia, Bosnia and Herzogovnia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. So far I've only read the the Croatian and Dalmatian sections, but I've taken note of some excepts that I really like so I thought I'd share them.

It's clear from her writing that West is (was) an extremely intelligent woman, and she is very gifted in her ability to see more than just the superficial in society and politics. When visiting Dalmatia, she is struck by the sight of a woman sitting on a wall as they passed by. I read somewhere that the odd shape of Croatia has a historical background in the Turkish invasion, and basically the borders lie where they do because the Turks were not successful in penetrating further into Europe. Specially West mentions how Venice, while it controlled regions of Dalmatia, would essentially collect monies from the natives to pay off the Turks in order to momentarily halt the western progress of the Ottoman Empire. When West came upon the woman in that poor region she wrote:

The west has done much that is ill, it is vulgar and superficial and economically sadist; but it has not known that death in life which was suffered by the Christian provinces under the Ottoman Empire. From this the people of Rab had saved me: I should say, are saving me. The woman who sat on the stone wall was in want because the gold which should have been handed down to her had bought my safety from the Turks. Impotent and embarrassed, I stood on the high mountain and looked down on the terraced island where my saviors, small and black as ants, ran here and there, attempting to repair their destiny.

I'm a bit of a history buff, so her combination of travel and history (that I imagine is very prevalent in modern travel writing) is really fascinating to read. But she can also be witty and sharp, as this excerpt from her visit to a girl's school shows. She writes to the girls:

Remember, when the nuns tell you to beware of the deceptions of men who make love to you, that the mind of man is on the whole less torturous when he is love-making than at any other time. It is when he speaks of governments and armies that he utters strange and dangerous nonsense to pleas the bats at the back of his soul. This is all to your disadvantage, for in love-making you might meet him with lies of equal force, but there are few repartees that the female governed can make to the male governors.

This book is full of insights such as that, and I am thoroughly enjoying the read!


Shannon & Aaron said...


Lindsey Lou said...

You'd better be nice. I have the power to axe your posting abilities.