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Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia
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Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia

4.24 of 5 stars 4.24  ·  rating details  ·  1,019 ratings  ·  159 reviews
Part travelogue, part history, part love letter on a 1000-page scale, Rebecca West's Black Lamb & Grey Falcon is a genre-bending masterwork written in elegant prose. But what makes it so unlikely to be confused with any other book of history, politics or culture--with, in fact, any other book--is its unashamed depth of feeling: think The Decline & Fall of the Roman ...more
Hardcover, 1-volume, 1181 pages
Published June 25th 1943 by Viking Press (NYC) (first published 1941)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Buck
Google keeps blanking out on the title, but there’s a Ford Madox Ford novel where the main character hears about a friend’s engagement and asks himself why any man would choose to get married. Then he comes up with a generous explanation: well, he thinks, maybe the careful study of one woman gives you a sort of map of all the rest.

See, that’s just crazy enough to work. Not that I’ve ever tried the experiment myself, but in my better moments, I can almost understand the logic. I’m not even talki
...more
Warwick
Writing a five-star review full of superlatives is always difficult: for people who haven’t read it yet, there’s no way any book can live up to the kind of praise that someone who loves it wants to give out. And so I really need to marshall my thoughts here, because I genuinely believe that Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is one of the three or four greatest books published in the twentieth century, and I want to make sure I present my case as well as I can. (I say ‘three or four’ just to cover mysel ...more
Jonfaith
Hatred comes before love, and gives the hater strange and delicious pleasures, but its works are short-lived; the head is cut from the body before the time of natural death, the lie is told to frustrate the other rogue’s plan before it comes to fruit. Sooner or later society tires of making a mosaic of these evil fragments; and even if the rule of hatred lasts some centuries it occupies no place in real time, it is a hiatus in reality, and not the vastest material thefts, not world wide raids on ...more
knig
Holy Mother of God. What a woman. Not since Margeuerite Yourcenar have I felt so humbled and awed by a woman author, whose breadth and scope of panoramic vision is magnificent. This apropos VS Naipul’s spurious attack on female authors as being incapable of breadth and scope.

If Naipul were to be given a (small) point indirectly, it would be that West has paid a price for her erudition. She was a poor mother to her only son, and he estranged from her quite early on. The divide freed her up to ga
...more
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
A few years ago I read The Return of the Soldier, the first novel of Rebecca West, the pen name of Cicely Isabel Fairfield. I quite liked it, but not nearly enough to pursue the author any further. But earlier this year, on the recommendation of another blogger, I bought Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, one of her later books.

At almost 1200 pages it’s quite a tome, too heavy and too big even for my shoulder bag, which contains all sorts of fripperies! But I’ve been reading it in bite-sized chunks sin
...more
Elaine
Spending what turned out to be 6 weeks with Rebecca West, her husband, her Serbian Jewish guide Constantine and his Nazi wife Gerda as they tour what was then Yugoslavia filling my head with philosophy, Byzantine art, history both modern and medieval, ethnography, descriptions of seedy inns and filling meals was the kind of immersion in a brilliant and quirky mind that reminded me both in pleasure and in length of the times I've spent with Proust.

It's not a book I can recommend lightly -- I read
...more
Erik Graff
Jul 26, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Yugoslav fans, West fans
Recommended to Erik by: Elizabeth M.
Shelves: travel
In 1998 I became friends with a political refugee from Bosnia and her family. I also happened to be spending most of my cafe hours at a place owned by a Bosnian couple. Many Bosnians had moved to our neighborhood after Bill Clinton finally, and belatedly, awarded them refugee status. Being pretty ignorant of the history of the South Slavs and having read many times about West's book in articles about the Yugoslavian wars of the nineties, I read it over the course of several days at that cafe.

Thi
...more
Jan-Maat
I think I only bought this book because it looked fat, plain and unappreciated on the bookshop shelf. It still is fat and plain but is at least occasionally enjoyed on my shelf.

West's prejudices are plain (pro-Yugoslavia and pro-Serb) which on the whole means you can take them into account as you are reading.

Some of her attitudes come across as overly simplistic maybe even naive - for instance her characterisation of the young thrusting Serb states at various points in history contrasted with fl
...more
Paula
1150 pages including the Epilogue but not the Bibliography! I read this book for months (I believe I started it in July). Black Lamb and Grey Falcon records a journey taken by West and her husband Paul, a banker, through the former Yugoslavia in 1934. They spend several months investigating Croatia, Dalmatia, Herzegovina, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Old Serbia (Kossovo) and Montenegro, mostly in the company of a Serbian Jewish poet named Constantine and, for a time, his quite unpleasant German wi ...more
J. Matthew Saunders
There are two things to keep in mind when reading this book. (1) Rebecca West is very pro-Serb and very anti-Turk. (2) She hates Germans.

Because of her biases, you should not make this book your only source of information if you are at all interested in the history of the Balkans, but she does provide a riveting account of the region’s tumultuous past. What amazes me is how easily she is able to integrate the history of each place that she visits into her description of her own present experienc
...more
Lee Sheppard
Mar 28, 2011 Lee Sheppard is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
So far this is one fabulous read. I ordered it from Amazon after reading an amazing sentence from it that is quoted in Francine Prose's "Reading Like A Writer". I didn't realize that it was cinderblock size and when I hoisted it I thought to myself, how could an author hold someone's interest for 1200 pages? By mixing history, travel writing and warm, clear-eyed descriptions of people is the answer. Extremely beautiful. I feel like I am on a journey through a beautiful country with a charming co ...more
Elizabeth
A magnum opus! Travel through Yugoslavia with Rebecca West.
Tony
BLACK LAMB AND GREY FALCON. (1940,1941). Rebecca West. ***.
I recently read “A Man of Parts,” a sort-of biography of H. G. Wells. Rebecca West was one of his mistresses, with whom he had a child. In her own right, Ms. West was a highly respected author of the times and this book has been called her magnum opus. It certainly is magnum. When I finally got it from the library, I found that it contained over 1,000 pages in a Penguin paperback edition. I was almost afraid to read it. I didn’t want to
...more
Rick
Well, I finally made it through Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, and it feels something like finishing a political campaign; grueling, fun at times, never-ending...and once you've done it, you don't want to think about it again for a really long time. The book is incredible in its scope, and as a resident of the former Yugoslavia, I found it usually quite interesting. Her forays into history were very interesting (although unreferenced and without any footnotes), and her cultural overviews were often ...more
Beatrice
This is an incredible book. I have actually had this book on my nightstand for about 15 years. I ordered it after reading "Balkan Ghosts" by Robert D. Kaplan, and it has followed me from house to house ever since. But it's a doorstopper - some 1,200 pages - so it's not like I was going to pick it up for some light reading. Finally I decided that "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" would be my summer project.....It is hard to explain the depth and complexity of this book. Dame Rebecca West and her husba ...more
Ricardo Ribeiro
Absolutely awful reading. It's definitely not because it's 1200 pages book. No, I actually like them like this. I assume a book will provide me with delight, therefore I don't want it to end soon, I don't want it short. And it's not because Rebecca writes like a Serbian ambassador. No, I don't share her point of views, but I guess I could deal with this. The problem is her prose is awfully boring. I managed to read 120 pages and one after the other, boring, boring, boring. She doesn't know how t ...more
Agreenhouse
I schlepped this 1000 plus page book around during my travels through Eastern Europe this summer, hoping to gain some insight into the people and places I was passing by. I fell in love with this book - not only the fascinating history of the former Yugoslavia, but also Rebecca West writing. I had trouble picking up a pen during my journey, finding no way I could come close to capturing her descriptions. I also learned that to understand Yugoslavia is to understand one thousand years of conquest ...more
Mommalibrarian
The author is in love with the Balkan area. On her first trip to Yugoslavia she finds "enormous, reassuring natural wealth of energy, intellect, spirituality". Yugoslavia was a relatively new country (1918) comprised of areas of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. She is amazingly widely read on world history - both European and Eastern. The book is 50% travelogue in 1937 (before WWII was called by that name but after the politics of Germany and Italy began ...more
Merilee
Jan 31, 2012 Merilee is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
There's a wonderful intro by Christopher Hitchens in the Penguin edition (which I don't have), but you can get said intro free from Kindle if you order the sample of the book. I just got the Penguin version from the library and am copying the intro with my scanner.

Interspersed with centuries of dense historical narrative, West comes up with gems like this description of the Skopje train station: "...the scalp of the years has become dandruffed with undistinguished manufactured good..."
Leslie
This is one of the best books I've ever opened, but it's 1200 pages long! I'll be reading this thing when they wheel me away to the nursing home, assuming I can even read then.

I finally finished it! So good! I'm afraid I'm going to have withdrawal symptoms now. I wish Rebecca West had written a history of every region of the world. But she didn't, so I guess I'll just have to settle for reading this one again, even if it takes me another three years.
Czarny Pies
Sep 30, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Des serbes qui meritent d'entendre cet eloge de leur nation
Shelves: european-history
J'ecris ce commentaire en francais parce qu'il y a deja beaucoup d'excellents critiques en langue Anglais deja disponsible sur Good Reads.

Rebecca West de son vivant etait consideree comme un des plus importants ecrivains de l'Angleterre. Pour cette raison la Reine Elisabeth l'a nommee Dame Commander (DBE) en 1959 ce qui est l'equivalent feminine de Sir.

Les romans de Rebecca West avaient des merites mais son chef d'oeuvre est sans doute ce drole livre qui est une histoire de la Yugoslavie deguise
...more
JoséMaría BlancoWhite
There is no way this book is not a classic. People who don't appreciate it simply haven't read it or are too prejudiced. Its 11 hundred marvelous pages are full of wisdom, historical accounts, relevant personal experiences, wit, humor, love of literature and personal humility. Despising it is a suicide of the intellect.

Rebecca West must have been a one of a kind woman, understanding and forgiving. She dwells on all topics through this travel book. There are passages that are so interesting and s
...more
Veronica
I'm not sure I'll ever finish this, so I'm doing half a review here, since I've read a bit more than half of it. It's always been proclaimed as a great travel literature classic ... but now I can't help wondering how many of the proclaimers have actually made it to the end. I'm reading it on the Kindle and I did notice that the popular highlights petered out after about page 200 :)

Not that it's a bad book. Rebecca West is awe-inspiringly erudite and she's a good writer. The part where she visits
...more
Bill Hammack
In Feb 2002 I started into the half million word world of Rebecca West. I read perhaps a quarter of the way through the first volume. I really enjoying seeing how she put this together. For me a large part of the joy is appreciating Black Lamb and Grey Falcon as a work of art: I can picture her traveling and thinking of the story to tell. Picking out pieces, looking specifically for something - some object, some person - so she can illustrate a point she has already in her head. I can see her ge ...more
John
Rebecca West's three trips to Yugoslavia took place in the mid 1930's but this book wasn't published until 1941 and well past historical events in Europe of 1938, 39, 40 and 1941. Obviously she wrote about the Balkans based on events already past and her knowledge of history is daunting but I couldn't help thinking about this gap in time. I wondered if some of her opinions as they related to the Allied and Axis powers would have been the same as she experienced them during her travels when those ...more
Ted
This will take a while. I spent nearly 7 months reading Black Lamb and Grey Falcon once I finally started it. It's worth it. Rebecca West may go on for pages about things that might not interest you all that much, describing church architecture, but this book is also full of interesting stories and observations and gems of writing. West can be one of the best prose stylists I've ever read, perhaps the greatest female writer I can think of (I do spend more time reading books by men). A sampling o ...more
Colleen Clark
The blurb on the back of my edition - an older one than this one (also with a picture of the same bridge but perhaps from an earlier time) calls this book "one of the great books of the (20th) century." Indeed.

I picked it up several years ago, drawn particularly by the picture of the bridge at Mostar, which I had seen myself in 1966. One of those sights that's unforgettable. But a thick paperback of 1100+ pages is one that is easy to set aside for another day. A houseguest, sleeping in the room
...more
Maureen
Typically, I'm not a big fan of travel books. Because it's so hard to put travel experience into words, authors often try to compensate with overly flowery language and introspection that borders on Livejournal-type angst. This work is an exception to the rule. Over a thousand pages on the history and culture of Yugoslavia as experienced by an English tourist in 1937, the entire book has beautiful writing, insightful commentary on history, culture, and people. If you're interested in European hi ...more
False Millennium
I rated it amazing, and it is. I never would have read this book, if I hadn't read the introduction, by Christopher Hitchens, in a book of his essays. I read War and Peace in three days. This book took me weeks. Set in Eastern Europe (chiefly Yugoslavia) in 1934, it is a history book, a travel journal, a study of pre-World War II Europe, a theological book, a nature study. Some passages were like handling rare gems. Fair warning: The book is 1150 pages long. Around page 733, Ms. West herself won ...more
Joan
Read this book after my own trip through the Balkans in the early nineties. She writes vivid, dense prose that makes centuries of Byzantine history (in all senses of the word), and ancient hatreds come to life. She's a bit overly romantic regarding the manliness of the Southern Slav versus the effete, homoerotic culture of England as she saw it. She was an opinionated, forthright and brave woman who traveled a wild region durning the period between the wars.
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John Stuart Mill and peter Karageorgevitch 1 2 Jul 24, 2014 09:35PM  
  • Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History
  • Between the Woods and the Water
  • Danube: A Sentimental Journey from the Source to the Black Sea
  • Trieste and The Meaning of Nowhere
  • The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers 1804-1999
  • The Way of the World
  • The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels
  • The Road to Oxiana
  • The Impossible Country: A Journey Through the Last Days of Yugoslavia
  • An African in Greenland
  • On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe
  • Hope Against Hope
  • The Strange Death of Liberal England
  • The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats
  • The Fracture Zone: My Return to the Balkans
  • Samuel Johnson
  • Travels With Myself and Another
  • Eminent Victorians
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Cicely Isabel Fairfield (21 December 1892-15 March 1983), known by her pen name Rebecca West, or Dame Rebecca West, DBE was an English author, journalist, literary critic and travel writer. A prolific, protean author who wrote in many genres, West was committed to feminist and liberal principles and was one of the foremost public intellectuals of the twentieth century. She reviewed books for The T ...more
More about Rebecca West...
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“Only part of us is sane: only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our nineties and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set back life to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.” 16 likes
“Were I to go down into the market-place, armed with the powers of witchcraft, and take a peasant by the shoulders and whisper to him, 'In your lifetime, have you known peace?' wait for his answer, shake his shoulders and transform him into his father, and ask him the same question, and transform him in his turn to his father, I would never hear the word 'Yes,' if I carried my questioning of the dead back for a thousand years. I would always hear, 'No, there was fear, there were our enemies without, our rulers within, there was prison, there was torture, there was violent death.” 11 likes
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