Flashbacks December 2007

Balkan Epic

Rebecca West's sweeping story of a region in turmoil

In 1937 the novelist Rebecca West traveled to the Balkans in search of a better understanding of that region's tensions and conflicts. Her account of that journey, entitled "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" was published in book form in 1941, and received rave reviews from The New York Times Book Review, which deemed it a paragon of travel writing, and from The New Yorker, which likened it to T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. That same year, a series of excerpts from the book appeared in five installments in The Atlantic Monthly. Later unrest in the Balkans renewed interest in the work.

When the first installment appeared in the January 1941 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, the editors introduced it as follows:

'Violence was indeed all I knew of the Balkans,' writes Rebecca West, 'all I knew of the South Slavs. And since there proceeds steadily from the southeastern corner of Europe a stream of events which are a danger to me, which indeed for years threatened my safety and deprived me forever of many benefits, that is to say I know nothing of my own destiny. The Balkan Peninsula was only two or three days distant, yet I had never troubled to go that short journey, which might explain to me how I shall die, and why.'

So it was that in 1937 Rebecca West, with her husband, set out to explore the Balkans, and particularly Yugoslavia, to see for herself why the fate of the Continent and of England has so often been threatened by the Powderkeg of Europe. The story she brought back with her annihilates distance, and touches every thoughtful reader.

The article originally appeared in five separate installments.

Part One: January 1941
Part Two: February 1941
Part Three: March 1941
Part Four: April 1941
Part Five: May 1941
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