The best books about the Balkans

3 authors have picked their favorite books about the Balkans and why they recommend each book.

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The Three-Arched Bridge

By Ismail Kadare, John Hodgson (translator),

Book cover of The Three-Arched Bridge

Another parable, another legend, another work of manual labour turned mystical. In this tale of a bridge-building gone wrong, Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare considers the harms and inevitabilities that come from spanning disparate cultures. This book features a human sacrifice at the altar of erection; it feels antique and yet timeless; it explores the boundaries of human endeavor. Notes the narrator, a silenced sceptic, “all great building works resemble crimes.” It is a recognisable concern from Kadare, an exile of Hoxha’s totalitarian regime.


Who am I?

When I published Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn, in which Soviet-era psychological warfare plays a heavy role, I happily washed my hands of Russian intrigue and turned to more benign, pastoral inspirations – my life-long relationship with an idyllic cathedral town in Wiltshire, for example. Just days later, the world learned that a certain Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov shared my fondness for Salisbury’s “world-famous 123-metre spire,” the glories of which prompted their 72-hour visit from Moscow (and overlapped with the botched poisoning of a KGB defector living down the road). Since then, I find myself drawn to works that explore the interstices of morality, criminality, and great construction projects.


I wrote...

Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn

By Elizabeth Kiem,

Book cover of Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn

What is my book about?

The first and the last story of The Bolshoi Saga trilogy stars Svetlana Dukovskaya as the matriarch of a three-generation blood feud within the Bolshoi Ballet. Suggested by The New York Times for readers "enamoured with the Russia of literature and film,” The Bolshoi Saga blends Cold War intrigue, the Russian mob, family secrets, and backstage vendettas from both sides of the Iron Curtain. 

Beautiful Bad

By Annie Ward,

Book cover of Beautiful Bad

This book is rich in detail and tells the story of Maddie who is a travel writer who meets her future husband, Ian, while abroad. From the beginning during a 911 call, it’s obvious that something has gone badly wrong. This is a wonderfully written book, set in the Balkans, Iraq, and Kansas, to name a few places, and is full of tension. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. 


Who am I?

I worked as long-haul cabin crew for many years and I love travelling. I’ve really missed being able to travel (as many have too) and I dream of the places I’ll be able to visit again soon. The Ex-Husband was the book I wrote in lockdown so I loved being able to ‘escape’ to the sunny Caribbean. I had fond memories of a trip to Barbados, so the book is mostly set there. I also travelled a lot as a child and one of my first memories is of being on a plane.


I wrote...

The Ex-Husband

By Karen Hamilton,

Book cover of The Ex-Husband

What is my book about?

Charlotte has an unsavoury past, but she’s on the straight and narrow these days. She was so young then – she married the wrong man, falling for Sam’s sweet-talking charm and charisma, and got caught up in his con artist games. Now Sam is missing. But before he disappeared, he left urgent, cryptic messages about someone threatening him – someone who has been threatening Charlotte too.

So Charlotte takes a job as a personal assistant for an engagement party aboard a private luxury cruise ship, the Cleobella, to get far away from anyone who means her harm. But as the Cleobella sails through its glittering destinations, increasingly sinister events haunt the guests, and the turquoise waves and sun-drenched beaches give way to something darker. 

Imagining the Balkans

By Maria N. Todorova,

Book cover of Imagining the Balkans

This is an extraordinary book that gives a broad understanding of the Balkan region in its cultural and historical contexts. The book explores the concept of the Balkans and its changing meaning which far surpasses its geographical connotations, becoming some kind of a concept-container capable of containing all sorts of fantasies and political aspirations. The book does an excellent job of depicting how various imperialisms managed to determine, to a very significant extent, the fate of peoples in the Balkans, while creating a certain image of the region whose significance extends far beyond its physical boundaries.


Who am I?

I'm professor in the Department of Eastern Christian Studies at University College Stockholm and president of The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity. I focus primarily on human freedom and creativity, which I explore as aesthetic, socio-political, and existentially relevant phenomena. I've been teaching and publishing in the domains of visual arts, art history and theory, but also in religion/theology and political philosophy.


I edited...

Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

By Noam Chomsky,

Book cover of Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

What is my book about?

Yugoslavia and the Balkan region had a particularly turbulent history during WWII but also at the end of the XX century. Being exposed to various imperial projects and aspirations, while trying to reconcile its own, very diverse religious, ethnic and national landscape, Yugoslavia was in many ways a paradigmatic modernist project, a case study for how the ideologies of nationalism, (state) communism, liberalism, and capitalism shaped social and political realities. 

This volume provides a comprehensive survey of virtually all of Noam Chomsky’s texts and public talks that focus on the region of the former Yugoslavia, from the 1970s to the present. With numerous articles and interviews, this collection presents a wealth of materials appearing in book form for the first time.

Conversations with Stalin

By Milovan Djilas,

Book cover of Conversations with Stalin

This book was written by one of the most interesting figures in the history of communist Yugoslavia, Milovan Đilas. He had been a high-level official and a close collaborator of Josip Broz Tito, the leader of Yugoslav partisans (who would become marshal and president of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), before he became best known Yugoslav dissident. 

In this book Đilas gives a first-hand testimony of his meetings with Joseph Stalin, as a member of Yugoslav delegations sent to Moscow. Beautifully written, the book provides a rich insight into the political situation in the Balkans and in Stalin’s Soviet Union during some of the most turbulent times of modern European history. In a unique way, Đilas manages to combine personal accounts with critical perspectives on ideologies and political events that were in many ways decisive for Yugoslavia in the period to come.


Who am I?

I'm professor in the Department of Eastern Christian Studies at University College Stockholm and president of The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity. I focus primarily on human freedom and creativity, which I explore as aesthetic, socio-political, and existentially relevant phenomena. I've been teaching and publishing in the domains of visual arts, art history and theory, but also in religion/theology and political philosophy.


I edited...

Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

By Noam Chomsky,

Book cover of Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

What is my book about?

Yugoslavia and the Balkan region had a particularly turbulent history during WWII but also at the end of the XX century. Being exposed to various imperial projects and aspirations, while trying to reconcile its own, very diverse religious, ethnic and national landscape, Yugoslavia was in many ways a paradigmatic modernist project, a case study for how the ideologies of nationalism, (state) communism, liberalism, and capitalism shaped social and political realities. 

This volume provides a comprehensive survey of virtually all of Noam Chomsky’s texts and public talks that focus on the region of the former Yugoslavia, from the 1970s to the present. With numerous articles and interviews, this collection presents a wealth of materials appearing in book form for the first time.

To Kill a Nation

By Michael Parenti,

Book cover of To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia

The book challenges the well-established and dominant narratives about the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s that have been promoted both in the mainstream media and in academic publications over the past decades. Written by a pre-eminent contemporary American political philosopher, Michael Parenti, the book in many ways compliments Noam Chomsky’s perspectives on the region and the broader imperial policies toward it.  


Who am I?

I'm professor in the Department of Eastern Christian Studies at University College Stockholm and president of The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity. I focus primarily on human freedom and creativity, which I explore as aesthetic, socio-political, and existentially relevant phenomena. I've been teaching and publishing in the domains of visual arts, art history and theory, but also in religion/theology and political philosophy.


I edited...

Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

By Noam Chomsky,

Book cover of Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

What is my book about?

Yugoslavia and the Balkan region had a particularly turbulent history during WWII but also at the end of the XX century. Being exposed to various imperial projects and aspirations, while trying to reconcile its own, very diverse religious, ethnic and national landscape, Yugoslavia was in many ways a paradigmatic modernist project, a case study for how the ideologies of nationalism, (state) communism, liberalism, and capitalism shaped social and political realities. 

This volume provides a comprehensive survey of virtually all of Noam Chomsky’s texts and public talks that focus on the region of the former Yugoslavia, from the 1970s to the present. With numerous articles and interviews, this collection presents a wealth of materials appearing in book form for the first time.

Self-Management

By Saul Estrin,

Book cover of Self-Management: Economic Theory and Yugoslav Practice

Although the book was originally published in 1983, it still remains a very valuable source for understanding one of the major socio-economic phenomena in post-WWII Yugoslavia—Yugoslav self-managing (or self-governing) socialism. The author offers a detailed insight into the theory upon which this system was based, as well as how this system worked in practice, pointing to many obstacles that could be detected. Given the importance of self-management in the history of socialist and anarchist thought, this book remains indispensable for the study of this Yugoslav experiment.


Who am I?

I'm professor in the Department of Eastern Christian Studies at University College Stockholm and president of The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity. I focus primarily on human freedom and creativity, which I explore as aesthetic, socio-political, and existentially relevant phenomena. I've been teaching and publishing in the domains of visual arts, art history and theory, but also in religion/theology and political philosophy.


I edited...

Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

By Noam Chomsky,

Book cover of Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

What is my book about?

Yugoslavia and the Balkan region had a particularly turbulent history during WWII but also at the end of the XX century. Being exposed to various imperial projects and aspirations, while trying to reconcile its own, very diverse religious, ethnic and national landscape, Yugoslavia was in many ways a paradigmatic modernist project, a case study for how the ideologies of nationalism, (state) communism, liberalism, and capitalism shaped social and political realities. 

This volume provides a comprehensive survey of virtually all of Noam Chomsky’s texts and public talks that focus on the region of the former Yugoslavia, from the 1970s to the present. With numerous articles and interviews, this collection presents a wealth of materials appearing in book form for the first time.

Bosnian Chronicle

By Ivo Andric,

Book cover of Bosnian Chronicle: A Novel

Well, there’s an obvious reason, I was born in Travnik, a small town in the very heart of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Despite being a small place, it is immensely important—especially if you ask people who were born and raised there   

This book is a novel by one of the greatest European writers of the mid-twentieth century, Ivo Andrić, and it is one (of two) of his best novels. Apart from being written in a beautiful and unique (“Andrić’s”) style, it is also one of the best resources for understanding the cultural, social, and religious dynamic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, not only during the Ottoman times. If one wishes to get an insight into the culture and “mentality” of the people who traditionally inhabited the region, Chronicles of Travnik (often, curiously enough, translated into English as Bosnian Chronicle) can serve better than most sociological studies. It’s better, of course,…


Who am I?

I'm professor in the Department of Eastern Christian Studies at University College Stockholm and president of The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity. I focus primarily on human freedom and creativity, which I explore as aesthetic, socio-political, and existentially relevant phenomena. I've been teaching and publishing in the domains of visual arts, art history and theory, but also in religion/theology and political philosophy.


I edited...

Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

By Noam Chomsky,

Book cover of Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

What is my book about?

Yugoslavia and the Balkan region had a particularly turbulent history during WWII but also at the end of the XX century. Being exposed to various imperial projects and aspirations, while trying to reconcile its own, very diverse religious, ethnic and national landscape, Yugoslavia was in many ways a paradigmatic modernist project, a case study for how the ideologies of nationalism, (state) communism, liberalism, and capitalism shaped social and political realities. 

This volume provides a comprehensive survey of virtually all of Noam Chomsky’s texts and public talks that focus on the region of the former Yugoslavia, from the 1970s to the present. With numerous articles and interviews, this collection presents a wealth of materials appearing in book form for the first time.

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

By Rebecca West,

Book cover of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia

Don't be put off by the sobering dedication to this thick tome ("To my friends in Yugoslavia, who are now all dead or enslaved"): Rebecca West's record of travels through the Balkans between the world wars is an exuberant magnum opus that will immerse you in the (literally) Byzantine history and minute details of a fascinating place and time. If you like your humor bone-dry, she’d often really funny, and you’ll relish the company of her fearsomely powerful mind: her deftness and insight in describing people and places seem almost superhuman.

Though she admits that the book is so long that few people will ever read it, I was so caught up in the force of her writing that I didn't want it to end. I've read one passage about a Bosnian dentist's struggle to outwit her domineering father many times— a strangely heartwarming tale—and I'm always stunned by its…


Who am I?

If you’re curious about the world, you can find secret doors that open onto unexpected vistas. For me, exploring the lives and origins of the caracaras in A Most Remarkable Creature revealed a vast and surprising story about the history of life on Earth, and about South America’s unique past—stories as wonderful and absorbing as any fantasy. These books are some of my favorite revelations of hidden marvels in the world we think we know. 


I wrote...

A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World's Smartest Birds of Prey

By Jonathan Meiburg,

Book cover of A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World's Smartest Birds of Prey

What is my book about?

In 1833, a young Charles Darwin met a species in the Falkland Islands that astonished him: tame, curious birds of prey that looked and acted like a cross between a hawk and a crow. They stole hats and other objects from the crew of the Beagle, and Darwin wondered why they were confined to a few islands at the bottom of the world. But he set this mystery aside, and never returned to it—and a chance meeting with these unique birds, now called striated caracaras, led Jonathan Meiburg to pick up where Darwin left off, sending him on a grand and captivating odyssey across thousands of miles and millions of years. “To call this a bird book,” wrote The Dallas Morning News, “would be like calling Moby-Dick a whaling manual.”     

The Stone Fields

By Courtney Angela Brkic,

Book cover of The Stone Fields: Love and Death in the Balkans

In the summer of 1996, Ms. Brkic joined a Physicians for Human Rights forensic team in Eastern Bosnia to excavate the mass graves of the Srebrenica massacre. Ms. Brkic, who grew up in Northern Virginia, had family connections in the Balkans. Her grandmother, Andelka, was from Herzegovina, in a small village among limestone hills. The family survived the Second World War and the Communist takeover of their country. Her father escaped from Yugoslavia in 1959 and settled in America. 

Stone Fields juxtaposes the family story with the story of the summer Ms. Brkic spent on the forensic team in Tuzla and with her friends and relatives in Zagreb. The author portrays the many ways that people can lose their homes—through war, genocide, political oppression, emigration, family discord—with heartbreaking clarity, always aware of the dignity, as well as the tragedy, of the survivors’ lives.


Who am I?

Although two of my nonfiction books—The Dream of Water and Polite Lies—are about traveling from the American Midwest to my native country of Japan, I'm not a traveler by temperament. I long to stay put in one place. Chimney swifts cover the distance between North America and the Amazon basin every fall and spring. I love to stand in the driveway of my brownstone to watch them. That was the last thing Katherine Russell Rich and I did together in what turned out to be the last autumn of her life before the cancer she’d been fighting came back. Her book, Dreaming in Hindi, along with the four other books I’m recommending, expresses an indomitable spirit of adventure. 


I wrote...

The Dream of Water: A Memoir

By Kyoko Mori,

Book cover of The Dream of Water: A Memoir

What is my book about?

In 1990, at the age of 33, I traveled to Japan to revisit the landscape of my childhood. I had fled the country at 20 to attend an American college and never went back. My hometown of Kobe hadn’t felt like home after my mother’s suicide and my father’s remarriage. I had no intention of living there again. But when I received a travel grant from the small college in Wisconsin where I was a tenured professor, I decided to spend the summer in Japan to work on my second novel.

I wanted to reconnect and hear the family stories I hadn’t fully understood. The Dream of Water is the book I wrote instead after uncovering a handful of secrets from my own lifetime.

Never Mind the Balkans, Here's Romania

By Mike Ormsby,

Book cover of Never Mind the Balkans, Here's Romania

Former BBC reporter Ormsby presents a compilation of anecdotes from his time living in Romania. 

The stories vary between shocking, upsetting, and laugh-out-loud funny. They are authentic and absorbing sketches of the characters and hardships that make up everyday life in Romania before the country had shaken every vestige of its communist past. 

Since each chapter is a complete story, this is a great book to dip into for a little light entertainment. If you’re thinking of visiting Romania, it will help to give perspective on what makes the locals tick.


Who am I?

I am an adventure traveller, author, blogger, and dog-ma. Tired of living life in thin slices, I quit work to live my dream. I wanted to travel meaningfully and get to know the countries I visit in a way that is not possible in a two-week mini-break. B.C. (Before Canines). I hurtled, slid, submerged, and threw myself off bits of every continent except Antarctica. A.D. (After Dog), Mark and I became Adventure Caravanners. Our aim: To Boldly Go Where No Van Has Gone Before. Against all advice, we toured Romania for three months and fell in love. Since then, I have been on a one-woman mission to set Romania’s record straight! My forthcoming books will chronicle our progress around Poland in a pandemic and our Brexit-busting plan to convert a 24-tonne army truck and drive to Mongolia.


I wrote...

Dogs n Dracula: A Road Trip Through Romania

By Jacqueline Lambert,

Book cover of Dogs n Dracula: A Road Trip Through Romania

What is my book about?

Have you ever thought of giving up work to head off into the sunset with surfboards on your roof? My husband Mark and I did just that, with four dogs in tow. Three years into our travels, we struck south for Spain and Portugal, but decided to turn left...

According to The Spectator, Romania is “Europe’s most overlooked holiday destination.” According to everyone else, it was somewhere we would be robbed, scammed, kidnapped, or eaten–if we managed to avoid the floods and riots. Join us as we tow our caravan through the largest, untouched wilderness in Europe, crossing the Carpathian Mountains via one of the world’s most ‘Dangerous Roads’, guided by a satnav haunted by a revenge complex more pathological than Vlad the Impaler's. This is the third book in my Adventure Caravanning with Dogs series although, like the others, it is a self-contained story. Dogs ‘n’ Dracula was a finalist in the Romania Insider Awards and is described as ‘Armchair Travel Delight’.

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