Monday, May 23, 2011

Just Shelved

As part of my (continuing) self-education about Croatia and Greece, I began these two books before and during my travels, and just wrapped them up over the past couple of weeks. Both were delightful reads, and added so much richness and depth to my experience of these places. A well-read tourist is a happy tourist!

The Impossible Country: A Journey Through the Last Days of YugoslaviaThe Impossible Country: A Journey Through the Last Days of Yugoslavia by Brian Hall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is incredible--the feats of understanding and compassion that can be achieved simply by talking to people. This remarkable book holds a glass to the multiple voices of the Balkans, just as the former Yugoslavia was beginning to dissolve into violence and genocide in the early nineties. Hall, like a novelist, presents us with people and their stories first. He asks difficult--sometimes explosive--questions of those he meets while traveling throughout what is now Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia. He doesn't give us an easy "answer," but he provides us with portraits, and in so doing, troubles the notion of nationalism and ethnic divisions everywhere, not only in the "impossible country." It is a deeply moving, lovingly written book.

Prospero's Cell: A Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of CorfuProspero's Cell: A Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corfu by Lawrence Durrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Northerly wind blows, find solace here, in some of the most beautiful writing you could read. You will taste the olives. You will feel the sunshine. Corfu of the late 1930's will come alive. And you will even learn some things about Greece, and about silence.

"Presently the carbide lamp is lit and the whole miraculous underworld of the lagoon bursts into a hollow bloom--it is like the soft beautiful incandescence of a gas-mantle lighting. Transformed, like figures in a miracle, we gaze down upon a sea floor drifting with its canyons and forests and families in the faint undertow of the sea--like a just-breathing heart."

--Durrell, "Ionian Profiles"

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