Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia

Rebecca West / Aug 18, 2019

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon A Journey through Yugoslavia Part travelogue part history part love letter on a thousand page scale Rebecca West s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is a genre bending masterwork written in elegant prose But what makes it so unlikely

  • Title: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia
  • Author: Rebecca West
  • ISBN: 9780140188479
  • Page: 242
  • Format: Paperback
  • Part travelogue, part history, part love letter on a thousand page scale, Rebecca West s Black Lamb and 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 and Fall of the RomaPart travelogue, part history, part love letter on a thousand page scale, Rebecca West s Black Lamb and 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 and Fall of the Roman Empire crossed with Let Us Now Praise Famous Men West visited Yugoslavia for the first time in 1936 What she saw there affected her so much that she had to return partly, she writes, because it most resembled the country I have always seen between sleeping and waking, and partly because it was like picking up a strand of wool that would lead me out of a labyrinth in which, to my surprise, I had found myself immured Black Lamb is the chronicle of her travels, but above all it is West following that strand of wool through countless historical digressions through winding narratives of battles, slavery, and assassinations through Shakespeare and Augustine and into the very heart of human frailty West wrote on the brink of World War II, when she was already convinced of the inevitability of the second Anglo German war The resulting book is colored by that impending conflict, and by West s search for universals amid the complex particulars of Balkan history In the end, she saw the region s doom and our own in a double infatuation with sacrifice, the black lamb and grey falcon of her title It s the story of Abraham and Isaac without the last minute reprieve those who hate are all too ready to martyr the innocent in order to procure their own advantage, and the innocent themselves are all too eager to be martyred To West, in 1941, the whole world is a vast Kossovo, an abominable blood logged plain Unfortunately, little has happened since then to prove her wrong Mary Park

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    About "Rebecca West"

      • Rebecca West

        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, the Sunday Telegraph, and the New Republic, and she was a correspondent for The Bookman Her major works include Black Lamb and Grey Falcon 1941 , on the history and culture of Yugoslavia A Train of Powder 1955 , her coverage of the Nuremberg trials, published originally in The New Yorker The Meaning of Treason, later The New Meaning of Treason, a study of World War II and Communist traitors The Return of the Soldier, a modernist World War I novel and the Aubrey trilogy of autobiographical novels, The Fountain Overflows, This Real Night, and Cousin Rosamund Time called her indisputably the world s number one woman writer in 1947 She was made CBE in 1949, and DBE in 1959, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to British letters.


    334 Comments

    1. 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 cove [...]


    2. 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 [...]


    3. 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 e [...]


    4. 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 [...]


    5. 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 [...]


    6. 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 [...]


    7. 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.


    8. 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 [...]


    9. Another epic book on the Balkans. The book is the record of a two-month road trip through much of Yugoslavia by a British writer, who meticulously and fastidiously recorded everything that she and her husband experienced on their way. She has a good eye for people and their ways, and deploys her descriptive powers to good effect when describing the country and its inhabitants. Although I don't agree with all her opinions, and some of her flights of fancy verge on the tedious, she nevertheless su [...]


    10. 6 stars. Massive massive game changing book and much respect to Rebecca West because the research and detail that must have gone into that book just must have been eye-wateringly massive! Rebecca went to Yugoslavia in the interwar period and wrote this book. The book isn’t really a travel book as you would imagine but for me this covered a journey through the psyche of the Slavic people – a mind map of them if you will. I’m married to a lovely Bosnian lady so this was a huge magnifying gla [...]


    11. 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 [...]


    12. 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.My [...]


    13. 2.5/5You can blame 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 percentage poin [...]


    14. 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 [...]


    15. 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 [...]


    16. 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 experie [...]


    17. 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: "e scalp of the years has become dandruffed with undistinguished manufactured good"


    18. According to Alan Jacobs, "very possibly the greatest book of the 20th century." His review is here. He also notes that the intro by Christopher Hitchens is a "hit piece on the author" and worth skipping. (Although I'd read it anyway.)I'm surprised I'd never heard of this book. I'm particularly interested because my parents currently live in the Balkans (Albania), and my family was just weeks away from moving to Sarajevo in 1991 when the war broke out in Yugoslavia and we were relocated to Warsa [...]


    19. 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 [...]


    20. 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 [...]


    21. 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 [...]


    22. 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 [...]


    23. 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?"



    24. This book is as much of a battleground as the Balkans. Impossible to read it without going up in arms over some question or other; however pacific you are, Rebecca West will give you cause. But, prejudiced and opinionated as she is, I never for a moment felt that she was deliberately picking a quarrel or otherwise saying things she didn't herself believe in fully. That cannot help but inspire respect, though if you agree with everything she says in this book I'll start thinking you are her clone [...]


    25. In placing 5 stars on Dame Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon I am giving her credit for writing a book better than it could have been intent. Her book makes many things clear. Including some that did not manifest themselves until long after her death. Her prose can alternate between too florid and poetic to classic history professor. Her fondness for assigning the most abstract and poetic meaning to anything from the weather to the expression of a nearly starving local can be maddening [...]


    26. 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 w [...]


    27. 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 [...]


    28. 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 projectIt is hard to explain the depth and complexity of this book. Dame Rebecca West and her husband tr [...]


    29. 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-endingd 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 ente [...]


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