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Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History Paperback – March 15, 1994


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 15, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679749810
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679749813
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,903,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

From the assassination that triggered World War I to the ethnic warfare now sweeping Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia, the Balkans have been the crucible of the twentieth century, the place where terrorism and genocide first became tools of policy.

This enthralling and often chilling political travelogue fully deciphers the Balkans' ancient passions and intractable hatreds for outsiders. For as Kaplan travels among the vibrantly-adorned churches and soul-destroying slums of the former Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece, he allows us to see the region's history as a time warp in which Slobodan Milosevic becomes the reincarnation of a fourteenth-century Serbian martyr; Nicolae Ceaucescu is called "Drac," or "the Devil"; and the one-time Soviet Union turns out to be a continuation of the Ottoman Empire.

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Kaplan's vivid, impressionistic travelogue illuminates the Balkan nations' ethnic clashes and near-anarchic politics.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Leave us alone and we will resolve our issues ourselves.
Michael Wischmeyer
Unfortunately, however, the book is marred by the author's own Western prejudices and biases.
Kelli
I recommend this book to anyone interested in a study of the Balkans.
john dromazos

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
As a Romanian living in the USA, who has traveled extensively through Eastern Europe both before and after 1989, this book has left me perplexed. On one hand, it does a good job at depicting a complex situation with fractured societies trying to modernize and come to grips with their past deeds and misfortunes. On the other hand, Kaplan is much too frequently given to overdramatization. Local nuances escape him; for example, in Romanian 'drac' means as much trickster as it means devil. It is not necessarily a bad term. You can call someone a drac and this may mean you admire that person for being devious, while Kaplan would have this name conjure a mystical Dracula as a sign of the Other Europe which cannot ever be enlightened and saved from itself.
As such, for example, Ceausescu was as much admired as he was feared and hated; he tricked them (and us) all. In fact, I believe it's this multiplicity, which is a characteristic of the whole region, which puzzles Kaplan and which he never quite gets; after all this is South Eastern Europe, where Latins meet and mingle with Slavs, various breeds of Southerners and Levantines. You get treachery, you get backstabbing, you get shifting alliances, you get hot blood and high emotions, and also you get a (often times very black) dose of humor which somehow makes things very light. I believe this is the case with other leaders of the region, who managed to get to the top and stay there by a combination of cunning, deceit, ruthlessness, and other Byzantine skills, by taking advantage of a largely rural, unsophisticated, and especially careless population.
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68 of 77 people found the following review helpful By S. Miska on March 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
Kaplan weaves a masterful mix of travelogue, history and sociopolitical insight into a book about his journey through the Balkans, before Kosovo became headlines. He traveled throughout the region during the 80's and wrote stories of his adventures along the way. He uses the word idiosyncratic to describe his writing, given that his style mirrors past journalists/travelers who sought to understand the root causes of social and political behavior through the lens of history. Thus, expect a solid accounting of historical narrative for each country, coupled with a mix of contemporary thought largely begotten through his conversations with local politicians, journalists, and travelers.
Criticisms:
1) His approach is fairly egotistical since he believes that few Western reporters actually capture the complexity of the region, and none, except a rare few (of which he is one), ever understand the people or their real motivations. Although his assessment of Western reporters may have elements of truth, he seems to make the point numerous times throughout the book as if to create his own air of superiority.
2) Kaplan's assessment of Greece seems to carry the most weight since he lived there for seven years, whereas he sometimes only spends days in other regions. Nevertheless, he feels obliged to draw the same broad generalizations from those areas where he spoke to relatively few people, as he does from places where he met many people and spent much time. His underlying assumption throughout the book is that only a thorough understanding of history can engender a comprehension for the present state of affairs.
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211 of 250 people found the following review helpful By Kelli on December 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
Robert Kaplan's "Balkan Ghosts" is a flawed book, but certainly worth reading in order to understand, if nothing else, the prevailing Western attitudes towards the Balkan region of Europe.
The books clear strength lies in the author's lucid, fluid and descriptive writing style - it truly makes the book, from the literary point of view, a joy to read. The reader is given a vivid picture of the Balkan lands Kaplan visits in a sort of `travelogue from hell' or `anti-travelogue' regarding places that most readers will not yet have visited. Added to this is a good deal of insight and reportage, interviews with locals, and so forth, that lend the book much readability and depth.
Unfortunately, however, the book is marred by the author's own Western prejudices and biases. What we have here is a critique, in many ways, of the `backwards East' and a not-so-subtle head-shaking that the region is not more `Western' in outlook.
The problems surface on two levels: First, Kaplan's descriptions of the local cultural life are off the mark, due in many cases to his lack of understanding of Orthodox Christianity. Many ignorant comments are notable regarding Orthodox religious art, piety, liturgical life, church organization, etc. Kaplan is right that the Orthodox tradition has had a profound influence on the region, but his conclusions as to the nature of this impact are nothing more than a perpetuation of the common and long-held Western stereotypes about the Eastern Orthodox part of Europe - in particular, the myth that Eastern Orthodox Christianity is a dangerous brew of mysticism, austerity and nationalism.
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