LeAnn's Reviews > High Albania

High Albania by M. Edith Durham
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Mar 16, 12

Read from March 10, 2011 to March 16, 2012

Written just half a dozen years before World War I, British anthropologist Edith Durham's account of her travels throughout northern Albania present a fascinating picture of a place that she dubs "the Land of the Living Past." In 1908, as Durham bravely rode through the untamed Albanian wilderness where joy is celebrated with gunshots into the air and bloody vengeance is pursued whenever a man's honor has been insulted, the Ottoman Empire and other European nations played political and diplomatic games with the Balkans. Given what happens just a few short years later in 1914 (when a Serbian terrorist assassinates Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, sparking World War I), Durham's insight into the plight of the Albanians as well as their Balkan neighbors in Serbia and Montenegro is chillingly prescient.


I particularly liked Durham’s obvious affection—mingled with exasperation, true—for the Albanian people. Her low opinion of their inability to comprehend effective government and the poisonous futility of blood debt is as clear as her disdain for their hardheaded obtuseness regarding the treatment of women and marriage. Several times in her travelogue, she comments on the similarities between the superstitions of the Albanians and the average British citizen despite the great disparity in wealth and education between the two countries. Indeed, she finds Albanian hospitality a decided advantage over British society. Further, she laments that modern, machine-manufactured and shoddy goods had started supplanting traditional, handmade products (yet at the same time lamenting the sheer waste of some traditional practices such as using axes to chip away most of trunk in order to get a single plank of lumber).

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01/15/2012 page 88
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