Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

By Rebecca West VIKING. 2 vols, $7.50
SUBTITLED ‘A Journey Through Yugoslavia,’ this monumental work is that rare thing well done — a travel book that is also a history, plus a running commentary which weaves in and out of the pattern at interludes as naturally as a chorus in a Greek play. A political document? Yes, that too; but, above all, a piece of authentic literature, wrought with love, with patience, with the unflagging ardor of a craftsman devoted to a cause. There are no loose ends here; it is all of a piece, and strong.
The conception many people have of the Balkans is that of a kind of cauldron in which the Three Witches brew most of the European troubles. That, however, is mostly legend. The picture Miss West gives us of Yugoslavian life is one of an almost incredible diversity of cultures, of perceptions sensitive to beauty, of ways of existence fraught with integrity and dignity, of values we would not have away. She began her journey at Zagreb at Easter, in 1937, and in the company of her husband and three representative Yugoslavs, the most interesting of whom is Constantine, a Serbian poet of Jewish blood strongly attached to Yugoslavia. He studied under Bergson, his culture was international, and, alas, he was married to a German woman named Gerda, who is the very embodiment of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles.' Pitiful she certainly is, a psychopath, touchy on the subject of her precious German blood—she at once supplies the thread of comedy, and is a foil to the fine upstanding natives conspicuously lacking in those qualities that go to the making of the Nazi mind.
Miss West pays tribute to the spirit of Yugoslavia, an admirable spirit perfectly aware of what resistance to Germany would cost, yet emulating the legend of Tsar Lazar and the grey falcon: —
An earthly kingdom lasts only a little time,
But a heavenly kingdom will last for eternity
and its centuries.
Praise this book one must; it would be foolish to pretend that it is possible within brief space to do it justice. J.c.