THE SERBS by Tim Judah

THE SERBS

History, Myth, and the Destruction of Yugoslavia
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Stressing the Serbs' misuse and mythologizing of history, Judah offers an insightful, informed, and trenchant consideration of their history and their collective outlook. The Serbs is a stylish and highly readable account by an experienced journalist who has written for the London Times and the Economist. Its strength as a primer for a general readership lies in Judah's ability--unprecedented among recent journalistic accounts of the current Balkan wars--to make the behavior of individual Serbs and their leaders comprehensible by placing them in the context of Serbian and Balkan history. His presentation is nuanced, focused, and rich with motifs that he follows from the Middle Ages to the present: massive migrations, banditry and widespread violence, militias, ethnic cleansing, and enduring myths of religious and national identity (most importantly, those surrounding the Battle of Kosovo), among others. Significantly, Judah understands the deep and important nature of ties between Serbia and the Serbs outside the country proper, and explains the similarities and differences between the contemporary situation and the past. Especially effective are his citations from texts by eyewitnesses to events in Serbian history (the Balkan wars, rebellions against the Ottomans, WW II) that sound as if they were written yesterday. Judah's study will, of course, offend Serbs mightily. About the anti-Muslim sentiments in Njego's The Mountain Wreath (Serbia's most revered literary classic) he sensibly offers this view: ``Literature that elsewhere would have long been banned from schools is still, subconsciously or not, shaping the worldview of Serbian children.'' He also asserts that, when faced with the Bosnian question, ``many national and sane Serbs simply cease to function as such. They prefer their own long-held convictions to facts which would force them to rethink everything they hold dear.'' Judah's excellent book stands out in a cluttered field, offering the key to Serbia's behavior over the past decade. In Serbia, Judah observes, ``It is what people believe rather than what is true that matters.''

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-300-07113-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997