It’s the mid-semester holidays and since the weather’s still pretty cold most days, I’ve been reading a fair bit lately. (That is, I always read a lot, but finally I’m not talking about textbooks for uni.) I’m currently reading “Gitanjali” by Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Lagore for a book club I’ve just become a part of, and am loving it, but next to that I’m also guiltfully reading “Another Fool in the Balkans” by British writer Tony White.*
AFiTB (for short) is a really excellent book. White originally became interested in the Balkans as a teenager in the ’80s after he traveled through what was then Yugoslavia with a bunch of friends after high school. After the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 90s, White’s interest in the region piqued again when he helped to organise a piece of performance art by young Yugoslav artist Gordana Stanišić in the gallery where he worked in London. In the years that followed (and with the backdrop of the Balkan Wars on the news every night), White began to read about the history and culture of the region, and stumbled onto a travelogue** from the 1940s, written by Britishwoman Rebecca West.
Impressed and intrigued by West’s log, and becoming increasingly enthralled with the Balkans, White decided to follow in the footsteps of his countrywoman and travel through the Balkans to find out more. The result is AFiTB, and I’ll tell you what, it’s much more than a travelogue. It’s a nuanced, extremely well-researched and politically impartial look at the continuing transition of the ex-Yu countries into what they are (or are still becoming) today. (And being impartial, omg, that’s like an impossibility in the Balkans. White mentions that himself several times, as well as identifying the improbability of he himself being partial, reflecting on biased news-reporting practices all over the Western world. In short it’s a very careful, reflective book and that itself is an achievement when it comes to literature on ex-Yugoslavia.)
Anyway, so the book is great. But more importantly than that… shit man, it’s frustrating! And d’you know why? Because it’s making me want to go back, again. As friends and followers of my previous blog would know, I spent seven months in Serbia last year. I’m from there. I love the whole region. I love the people, the food, the customs, the trees, and everything else. But last year was meant to, like, get all of that out of my system. And now a Britishman’s look at the Balkans is getting me back into it! Ergh!
Okay, so, being honest, I’m not going to go back there. I mean, not to live, and even if I do, it’s not going to be in the near future at all. And even if I did go, in the far future, it probably wouldn’t be forever. I love Australia and I love living in Canberra and my life is here. I’m approaching the start of my career and I’m actually really excited about that! But just like *that* crush you’ve always had but have never acted on, the Balkans are always going to be there, calling to me, holding a part of my heart. I guess it’s going to be a lifelong process of… well, processing that. It’s the lot of the migrant, I guess.
Anyway, so that notwithstanding, AFiTB brings me back to my life last year. When White mentions Birčaninova street or Srpskih Vladara street, I remember that time when I was going on a walk and realised where these streets were ’cause I was walking on them. Then I think about how I would just stroll around the streets all weekend long and stop in at random cafes and bakeries along the way, eating poppy seed plaits and drinking americanos (long blacks), and, occasionally, some Dunjevača (quince brandy; quince being my namesake fruit). And then I remember showing Belgrade to my friends when they’d come to visit, and being excited about showing a bit of the Balkans to the world!
What an awesome seven months that was!
Aaanywho, that’s enough reminiscing for this morning. Things to take out of this post:
1. read AFiTB (seriously, do it).
Now to get back to my readings. I guess that’s the lot of the student. (Can someone tell me when all these lots are going to end? Or are endless lots just the lot of human beings?)
Love y’all. x
* I say guiltfully because, when you’re a student, everything you do that isn’t related to uni creates a sort of gnawing, haunting feeling in your left ear, like “Duuuuuuunja, you should be reeeeeeading!” (Think one of the ghosts from Scooby-Doo when reading that.)
** “Travelogue” is an understatement – West’s book was more of a PhD thesis, weighing in at some 1,100 pages.