‘The Balkans: A Short History’ by Mark Mazower

I first learnt of the existence of this book when my family and I briefly went into a gorgeous little bookshop in Dubrovnik in June. My sister is not a fan of bookshops however – or books, for that matter – and is possibly the only person in the world who has called the magnificent Strand bookstore in New York City ‘boring’, so unfortunately I had to leave without it. Well, I thought it was unfortunate, until I actually began the book. I’ve not used a simile in a review for an age, but I feel as though the following is applicable here.

Mark Mazower’s The Balkans is like a fruit cake. It looks so appetising from far away, is nicely decorated, and you think you know exactly what you’re going to get. When you start nibbling away at the edges however, you realise that the cake is dry and rather stale. It tastes old fashioned and out of date. As you eat a little more, the situation worsens. The quality of the cake is very poor. There are a couple of juicy raisins dotted here and there, but there are nowhere near enough of them.

As you eat more, you realise that the cake is underdone, and has a sagging middle and rather a soggy bottom. You also realise that someone has replaced the flour in the mixture, that most wonderful of foundations, with a whole lot of land reform. (Seriously, Mazower, there is only so much land reform a girl can take).

To conclude, this cake book is rather a disappointing one, which looks marvellous on the surface, but does not promise what it offers. I love history books (really, I do), but this ranks among my least favourites.


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