Moving and evocative — 5 years ago
I picked this up solely on the strength of Robert D. Kaplan’s later work, An Empire Wilderness, one of the best books about travel in America’s heartland I’ve ever read. Balkan Ghosts did not disappoint!
I agree with the other reviewer that the first section, on the former Yugoslavia, had the least impact, but I think a lot of this is due to the power of the other sections; it suffers by contrast. It’s still a great probing into what a mess this part of the world really is, and why it is, and how it got to be that way, and why it’s a task beyond most if not all imaginations to ever satisfactorily tidy it up; Tito just clamped a lid down and let it stew and now it’s frothing over. How are we going to do it better or different (for another look at this area, I’d strongly recommend Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde).
The sections on Bulgraria and Romania pull off the difficult trick of de-romanticizing these places — and then making them romantic all over again in a new way. I fell in love with the same people Kaplan did, especially his friend Guillermo.
Strangely, I find the last section, on Greece, to be less engaging. I say strangely because he did live there after all — but the story here becomes much more of a dreary rehashing of recent Greek history. Still very informative — I’d always vaguely known Greece was another mess that had been glossed over but not to this degree. And he succeeds in making the argument that Greece is a Balkan country more than a Mediterranean one (though my Mom told me that decades ago — but I’ve an unusual mother).
All in all… this is a library book I checked out that I can just tell I’m going to end up hunting down in hardcover for my personal library because I’ll want to re-read it a lot.