Archive for the ‘Classics’ Category

Robert D. Kaplan: Balkan Ghosts

Posted by nybookworm on April 3, 2009

kaplanI am considering filing this book under the “classics” category because it’s definitely a book from another era in more ways than one.  Balkan Ghosts is based on Kaplan’s travels through the Balkans in the 1980s and was published in 1994 only after interest in the region escalated in the early 90s.  It’s famous for its prescient predictions of ethnic strife in the region and is supposedly one of the books Bill Clinton read when deciding whether to take action in Bosnia.  If you’ve been to the Balkans you know that they are eerily beautiful- mountains covered in fog, oldstyle farms, stern peasants, beautiful gothic cities and very diverse people (thanks to the Ottoman Empire).  I think Kaplan does a great job of conveying a sense of each place he travels and of the political and historical backdrop that colors each place.  Yes, he is pretty heavy-handed with the mysticism..after all we are in the “East” and probably simplifies some of the history and the leaders of the region but I think that’s probably a necessary side effect of writing a readable travel memoire.  I liked this book very much and if you enjoy some substance with your travel books (not “Tom Friedman substance” but real history and politics) you will be as engrossed as I was.

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Balkan-Ghosts-Journey-Through-History/dp/0679749810


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James Baldwin: Giovanni’s Room

Posted by nybookworm on March 26, 2009

james-baldwinThis is one of my favorite books so I’m not sure anything I can write about it will make me happy.  Many people have heard of James Baldwin and his first book Go Tell it on the Mountain and probably think of him as a quintessential African American writer of the time chronicling the African American experience.   Actually, although Baldwin was born and grew up in Harlem, he spent much of his writing career in Paris.   Giovanni’s Room (1956) is his second novel and it takes place in Paris.   This is a short book and Baldwin does not waste any words.  There are very few characters and it is set like a play.   There is a mood (twilight in Paris) and a cast of characters, one of whom is the narrator.  It’s a beautiful book both for its description of Paris and for the description of the capricious life of its cast.  There were a lot of great novels written by American writers living in Paris around the same time but I think Giovanni’s Room is unique for its depiction of a seedier, less often spoken about Parisian life. 

“Americans should never come to Europe” she said, and tried to laugh and began to cry, “it means they never can be happy again.  What’s the good of an American who isn’t happy?  Happiness was all we had.”- Giovanni’s Room

Here’s the Amazon link to Giovanni’s Room: http://www.amazon.com/Giovannis-Room-James-Baldwin/dp/0385334583/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238123530&sr=8-1#

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