Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Penguin Classics)

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9780143104902: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Penguin Classics)

“Rebecca West’s magnum opus . . . one of the great books of our time.” —The New Yorker
 
Written on the brink of World War II, Rebecca West’s classic examination of the history, people, and politics of Yugoslavia illuminates a region that is still a focus of international concern. A magnificent blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and historical insight, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon probes the troubled history of the Balkans and the uneasy relationships among its ethnic groups. The landscape and the people of Yugoslavia are brilliantly observed as West untangles the tensions that rule the country’s history as well as its daily life.
 
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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Review:

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 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

From the Back Cover:

'Impossible to put down, both timeless and of its time - a travel book and epic narrative history brimming with passion, anger, scholarship and intuition, hatred and love.' Observer

First published in 1942, Rebecca West's epic masterpiece is widely regarded as the most illuminating book to have been written on what was once Yugoslavia, essential for anyone attempting to understand the enigmatic history of the Balkan states.

'Such incandescent writing - you find yourself wanting to mark every sentence in order to go back and relish it again.' Brian Eno

'One of the supreme masterpieces of the twentieth century . . . As a book about Yugoslavia it's a kind of metaphysical Lonely Planet that never requires updating . . . this is history as it might have been written by Ryszard Kapuscinski or Gabriel García Márquez'. Geoff Dyer, from his introduction

'It is hard to convey the flavour of a book so rich in observation, history, philosophy, political ideas and ironic humour. West is full of digressions which are extraordinary, but never boring.' The Times

'The sheer quality and depth of the writing make it one of the great books of the century.' Times Literary Supplement

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