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A True Portrait of One of the World's Most Chaotic and Beautiful Regions That Explains Why Violence Has Always Occurred There--And Why It May Continue For Years To Come

The vast and mountainous area that makes up the Balkans is rife with discord, both cultural and topographical. And, as Simon Winchester superbly demonstrates in this intimate portrait of the region, much of the political strife of the past century can be traced to its inherent contrasts. With the aid of a guide and linguist, Winchester traveled deep into the region's most troublesome areas--including Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, and Turkey--just as the war was tearing these countries apart. The result is a book not just about war but also about how war affects the living. Both timeless and current, The Fracture Zone goes behind the headlines to offer a true picture of a region that has always been on the brink. Winchester's remarkable journey puts all the elements together--the faults, the fractures, and the chaos--to make sense out of a seemingly senseless place.

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 27, 2009
ISBN: 9780061978197
List price: $10.99
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Simon Winchester is a pleasant writer and the book an easy read. The problem of the book is structural. It is a curious mix of a holiday travelogue mixed with a war reporting excursion. Reporting on the Kosovo War both paid for Winchester being in the Balkans and prevented him from visiting Serbia, the keystone country of the Balkans. As a British tourist, he also fails to present the full picture of the Balkan countries which are a wedged no-man's land between the Danube and the Adria. Not including the Danube and the Adria also removes the crucial influence of Hungary and Venice on the Balkans. Winchester thus overplays the Austrian and Turkish influence and interest in the region. Austria was much more interested in maritime access at Trieste. "The bridge over the Drina" splendidly showed the Ottoman neglect of this backward and resource-poor region. As the European Union and NATO had to learn anew, one could, as the Austrian and Ottoman Empires had done before, pour vast sums of money into the regions without creating an effect. Angry young men remain the chief export of the region.The two highlights of the book are Winchester's visit of two men. Firstly, he meets the locked away skull of the Grand Viszir who botched the siege of Vienna and paid for it with his life. His skull became a cherished trophy mounted in a silver receptacle. Out of new-found piety, the recent Prince Eugene exhibition in Vienna displayed only the skull-less receptacle (fortunately for the curious, the catalogue includes an old picture of the Baroque ensemble). Secondly, Wiinchester meets with Michael Jackson, the general not the singer. The British General Michael Jackson commanded the NATO forces that liberated Kosovo out of Serbia's deadly embrace. Having leisurely traveled from Vienna to Sarajevo to Dubrovnik and Albania, Winchester joins the NATO forces in crossing into Kosovo. He even manages some feat of war tourism driving around and into the Kosovo airfield desired by both NATO and the Russians. The book ends with him relaxing in Bulgaria and Turkey. Overall, a mixed travelogue that misses most of Balkan history and its central country. The main purpose of this booklet was the reimbursement of Winchester's travel bills at which he succeeded.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Other books by this author which I have read have been about a fractured planet (Krakatoa, etc). This one focuses on people and is an easy to read, topical history of the Balkans wrapped up in a travel book. Its a very good introduction to reaching at least some understanding of what was a puzzling, brutal and unnecessary war between some slavic peoples at the end of last century.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I had read Kaplan's book "Balkan Ghosts" and found that Winchester's treatment of the area was much more readable. He takes us through the Balkans after the war and shows how we got there. Memories die hard. They are still fighting battles lost 600 yeas ago.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
One of the great things about Winchester is his ability to weave centuries of history into contemporary travel writing. In this book he puts today's tragedies in the context of hundreds of years of bitter feuds and disagreements.Part travelogue, part narrative history, part social history, Winchester deftly combines interviews with the historical record, helping to clarify why so many wars and atrocities have been committed in this region. What struck me most was how the beliefs and ideas of ordinary people have been so carefully manipulated by political and religious leaders so as to consolidate power and perpetuate centuries old disputes. It's hard to be optimistic about the future of the region after reading this powerful book. Winchester was a newspaper journalist for 30 years, and the strength of this narrative makes all too clear how today's 24 hour cable news journalism -- of food fights in the name of balance -- do a disservice to understanding, and ultimately the truth.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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Reviews

Simon Winchester is a pleasant writer and the book an easy read. The problem of the book is structural. It is a curious mix of a holiday travelogue mixed with a war reporting excursion. Reporting on the Kosovo War both paid for Winchester being in the Balkans and prevented him from visiting Serbia, the keystone country of the Balkans. As a British tourist, he also fails to present the full picture of the Balkan countries which are a wedged no-man's land between the Danube and the Adria. Not including the Danube and the Adria also removes the crucial influence of Hungary and Venice on the Balkans. Winchester thus overplays the Austrian and Turkish influence and interest in the region. Austria was much more interested in maritime access at Trieste. "The bridge over the Drina" splendidly showed the Ottoman neglect of this backward and resource-poor region. As the European Union and NATO had to learn anew, one could, as the Austrian and Ottoman Empires had done before, pour vast sums of money into the regions without creating an effect. Angry young men remain the chief export of the region.The two highlights of the book are Winchester's visit of two men. Firstly, he meets the locked away skull of the Grand Viszir who botched the siege of Vienna and paid for it with his life. His skull became a cherished trophy mounted in a silver receptacle. Out of new-found piety, the recent Prince Eugene exhibition in Vienna displayed only the skull-less receptacle (fortunately for the curious, the catalogue includes an old picture of the Baroque ensemble). Secondly, Wiinchester meets with Michael Jackson, the general not the singer. The British General Michael Jackson commanded the NATO forces that liberated Kosovo out of Serbia's deadly embrace. Having leisurely traveled from Vienna to Sarajevo to Dubrovnik and Albania, Winchester joins the NATO forces in crossing into Kosovo. He even manages some feat of war tourism driving around and into the Kosovo airfield desired by both NATO and the Russians. The book ends with him relaxing in Bulgaria and Turkey. Overall, a mixed travelogue that misses most of Balkan history and its central country. The main purpose of this booklet was the reimbursement of Winchester's travel bills at which he succeeded.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Other books by this author which I have read have been about a fractured planet (Krakatoa, etc). This one focuses on people and is an easy to read, topical history of the Balkans wrapped up in a travel book. Its a very good introduction to reaching at least some understanding of what was a puzzling, brutal and unnecessary war between some slavic peoples at the end of last century.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I had read Kaplan's book "Balkan Ghosts" and found that Winchester's treatment of the area was much more readable. He takes us through the Balkans after the war and shows how we got there. Memories die hard. They are still fighting battles lost 600 yeas ago.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
One of the great things about Winchester is his ability to weave centuries of history into contemporary travel writing. In this book he puts today's tragedies in the context of hundreds of years of bitter feuds and disagreements.Part travelogue, part narrative history, part social history, Winchester deftly combines interviews with the historical record, helping to clarify why so many wars and atrocities have been committed in this region. What struck me most was how the beliefs and ideas of ordinary people have been so carefully manipulated by political and religious leaders so as to consolidate power and perpetuate centuries old disputes. It's hard to be optimistic about the future of the region after reading this powerful book. Winchester was a newspaper journalist for 30 years, and the strength of this narrative makes all too clear how today's 24 hour cable news journalism -- of food fights in the name of balance -- do a disservice to understanding, and ultimately the truth.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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