Yugoslav Journey, 1937: Black Lamb & Grey Falcon : Dame Rebecca West
Wow, I’ve been on a great journey back in time and through southeastern Europe. Along the way I had my fill of history, travel, and period commentary. Through this enormous tome I had a glimpse of the places I visited on a tour group last year as they were in the late 1930s. So where I did “travel” for my reading adventure? Originally published in 1940, Dame Rebecca West’s Black Lamb & Grey Falcon is considered a masterpiece in travel writing.
Why I read it: It’s a tribute to my trip.
Back Story: During Easter 1937 Dame Rebecca West and her husband Henry Andrews traveled throughout Yugoslavia. (This was one of several trips she made to Yugoslavia in the late 1930s) In Zagreb, Croatia, they met one of their companions Constantine, a Serb and a poet. As they traveled, West describes the towns and their history, daily life, and their adventures on the road. When the journey concludes, West finishes off with an epilogue. A bibliography is included. After the book’s publication, excerpts appeared in “The Atlantic” during 1941. I also found this 1999 article about Constantine from a Serb-American publication.
My thoughts: What a great tome! I learned a great deal of history about the seven countries and one coastal region West visited during her Yugoslav journey. Since I visited a few of the places West describes in the book, I enjoyed getting a snapshot of how it was in 1937. I wish a map had been included so the reader could see her travel route and how Yugoslavia’s borders appeared at the time.
Some of the conversations, whether on the road or in a café, provide an invaluable insight into affairs in the Balkans today. Her description of the places and situations are well written. At times there are humorous moments. West had her prejudices and favorites as they are revealed in her narrative. While she wrote of her book, “hardly anybody will read by reason of its length” on page 773, that hasn’t been so. It was worthwhile to read this great book.
Going there today: As I mentioned earlier, I visited Croatia’s famed Dalmatia coast last August. Our tour group began in Dubrovnik which is known as the pearl of the Adriatic. (West included Dubrovnik’s old name Ragusa in a chapter title) During our stay, a few of us took day excursions to Kotor, Montenegro and Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Border crossing isn’t too bad although you may have to wait depending on the volume of cars and buses there. Then we went to Hvar for another few days. Split and Trogir were the last two cities on our itinerary. In each city we visited, I was impressed with its beauty and history. If you’re looking to try a different part of Europe, this is a great place to travel and it’s safe.
For country profiles of southeast Europe today, a special series “Europe District” has been airing on France 24.
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