Dilwali cites the bewitching paintings of Nicholas Roerich as his guiding principle, and some of the photographs in this collection do approximate the unearthly light and sudden transcendence of Roerich--s best work
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How long must Rebecca West have travelled, one wonders, for her book to clock in at 1,100 pages? Not that long, as it turns out. She made one six-week-long trip to Yugoslavia in 1937 and two sorties in 1936 and 1938. Her own journey is documented skilfully enough, but what preoccupies this magisterial book is West’s eccentric, wide-ranging travel through the histories of the Balkans, an effort “to show the past side by side with the present it created.” West’s terrain is treacherous. Few regions in the world can point to as complex and strife-ridden a past as the former Yugoslavia. Her great gift, however, is her ability to single out the telling detail in a swatch of vastness, in a wry but acutely perceptive voice.
I bought West’s book weeks before my own trip to the Balkans, and I bore its heft without complaint, dipping into relevant chapters along the way. It turned out that this was the wisest method of consumption. Only after returning to India did I read the book through, giving myself over to the Balkans all over again.
Samanth Subramanian is a journalist and the author of Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast.
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