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Black Lamb and Grey Fa...
Rebecca West
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Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

4.23  ·  Rating Details ·  1,449 Ratings  ·  207 Reviews

Written on the brink of World War II, Rebecca West's classic examination of the history, people, and politics of Yugoslavia illuminates a region that is still a focus of international concern. A magnificent blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and historical insight, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon probes the troubled history of the Balkans and the uneasy relationships

Paperback, 0 pages
Published February 17th 1964 by Penguin Books (first published 1941)
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Community Reviews

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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 marshal 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 myself ...more
On June 15, 1389, the armies of the Serbs and the Ottoman Turks were to meet on the fields of Kosovo. A battle that decisive and so far removed from our present would naturally have legends swirling around it, and West carves out two of them in the title. The black lamb is a symbol of sacrifice, designed to be as primeval and threatening to us as the idea of Moloch and The Wicker Man.

The other story is of the grey falcon, a sort of Christian Faust story, where the Prophet Elijah came down in tha
Jan 26, 2010 Buck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Aug 09, 2016 Kelly is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I imagine this book and I will be together on and off for some months, like a Proust project. But from everything I've heard, I very much look forward to it.
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
Sep 29, 2011 knig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
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
Nov 29, 2010 Elaine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
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

Well, it's been several months, and I haven't been able to come up with a review that can sum up this overwhelmingly insightful, powerful, and complicated (and yes sometimes problematic) reading experience. But I did take notes as I read, mostly for myself. So what follows isn't a review per se, but more of a bunch of cobbled together impressions and quotes. (For more quotes, please check out all the status updates below this review). Hopefully these notes will be useful to someone else also.


You can blame Goodreads for this rating being rounded down rather than up. Anything three-starred or higher gets churned up in a 'liked it' mash and spewed forth on recommendations that have nothing to do with why I read the book in the first place and everything to do with sucking up to the capitalism machine. If I could get some assurance of my rating having the nuance of 'found it useful despite all odious efforts to the contrary', I'd bother with the effort of joining in with the percen
Erik Graff
Feb 12, 2010 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

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. Saunders
Jun 12, 2012 J. Saunders rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Randolph Carter
I finally finished this mother. It was given to me as a gift and I was intimidated by the heft. However, it was one of the finest books I have ever read. It is part travelog, part history, and part literature. It is one of the great books of the 20th century, a magnum opus.

A detailed history of the now Balkanized Yugoslavia up to WWII. It also features some of the finest prose ever put to paper in English. In addition it gives a delightful look into West's Easter holiday in Yugoslavia in the 19
Sep 21, 2011 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..."
The scope of this book is amazing. You have a sense of foreboding reading this because you have the benefit(?)of knowing what will happen to this region over the next 75 years. The shadow of WWII hangs over this and adds even more intensity. I can't forget the words of an old woman in Montenegro; "If I had to live, why should my life have been like this?"
Ricardo Ribeiro
Mar 13, 2013 Ricardo Ribeiro rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: traveling, rubbish
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
Oct 11, 2010 Agreenhouse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 25, 2009 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, feminism
A magnum opus! Travel through Yugoslavia with Rebecca West.
Oct 02, 2011 Tony rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
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
Jul 28, 2010 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 16, 2013 Beatrice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
A.L. Sowards
This book has been on my to-read list for a while (since 2006). I knew if I wanted to write a novel set in Yugoslavia during the 1940s, I had to tackle Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. All my other research books mentioned it (often in the text, not just in the bibliography), but I wasn’t looking forward to it, mostly because of the length.

I finally got around to reading it. At first, it was a lot better than I expected. But it kept going, and going, and going. This isn’t the longest book I’ve read,
Sep 07, 2013 Rick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 18, 2008 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 30, 2013 Allyson marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
From the Note on Pronunciation: "I have therefore regarded the problem as insoluble, and have left such words spelt in the Croatian fashion, with the hope that readers will take the presence of the letter "j" as warning that there are dark phonetic doings afoot."

I love this book already.
Just Wonderful!

In the space between the two world wars Rebecca West and her husband travelled through the Balkans extensively. This account of their travels is fascinating from beginning to end. It is written from the point of view of a woman who knew how awful The First World War had been. She did not know that the next one would be worse, although she suspected it. The book is filled with historical references from which i learned how little i know about Balkan history and how thoroughly the
Apr 15, 2017 5greenway rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: yotl
Passionate and partisan (no pun intended); full of thoughts and ideas pursued, digressions followed, with fire and honesty. An engrossing and affecting journey.

(as an aside, not a great edition - quite a few typos, especially towards the end, and absence of maps & photos only partially made up for by using the internet while reading)
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2015: The Year of...: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West 3 29 Feb 05, 2015 07:10AM  
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Cicely Isabel Fairfield, 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 Times, the New York Herald Tribune ...more
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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.” 28 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.” 13 likes
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