A Stanford historian’s posthumous memoir recalls his childhood among the peasant communities of his ancestral home in Borah, Yugoslavia.
Vucinich is nothing if not thorough in his descriptions of the people and places that made up his childhood home. From his arrival in the village by horse-drawn cart in 1920 to his departure in an automobile in 1929, there is no matter of daily life too small to be described in vivid detail. People slept on the floors under goat-hair blankets. Women hauled water from a cistern using a barrel, or burilo. All the older men in the village were given colorful nicknames derived from their personality quirks. Enormous stone hearths sat at the physical and emotional center of every home, until the Communists came to power after World War II, and everyone was required to replace their hearths with stoves and chimneys. Wives walked two or three steps behind their husbands. Cheese makers in the extended clan were so revered that they were given the most comfortable riding saddles when they traveled by horse. Schoolchildren became shepherds each summer, driving flocks of goats into the verdant mountains, counting and milking the livestock every day, processing the milk into cheese. Christmas celebrations were marked by the ritual arrival of the polaznik, the first person to visit on Christmas day. And so it goes. It’s not that Vucinich’s observations are uninteresting–there are, in fact, many engrossing, enjoyable moments–but with no story to hold all the disparate recollections together, and provide the reader some forward momentum, it becomes difficult to stay engaged.
A heartfelt recollection constructed on a solid foundation of facts, though the absence of a through line will disappoint general readers.