Eye-opening travels along a little-recognized fault line.
Former London Observer correspondent Clark tours Orthodox Eastern Europe, “the twin that our Catholic and later Protestant Western Europe carelessly lost touch with a millennium ago.” That twin, she writes, was always a little more otherworldly than its more practical-minded Western counterpart; Byzantium, the long-time capital of Eastern Orthodoxy, was once fabulously wealthy, but most of its inhabitants seemed more anxious about their relations with God than with amassing and protecting fortunes—making it ripe for a fall. When that fall came, the Orthodox world became a convenient buffer zone between Western Europe and militant Islam. As the recent case of Kosovo demonstrates, this zone remains prone to violent demonstrations of faith. “Any time-traveling citizen of Late Byzantium who found himself among Serbs in 1990s former Yugoslavia,” Clark writes, “would immediately have recognized his world.” The author travels from Yugoslavia into Russia, where, she suggests, the Orthodox establishment stands opposed to Western notions of democracy and progress and is likely to emerge as an ever-more-committed enemy of the secular state. (That establishment, she notes, enjoys “an apparently unreasonable closeness” with prominent former Communists.) For all her disturbing news about developments in Russia and Yugoslavia, however, Clark takes a less gloomy view of Eastern Europe than does Robert Kaplan, whose recent Eastward to Tartary (p. 1167) covered some of the same ground. Though generally sober-minded, she is not above having a little fun with her subjects. When visiting important centers of the Orthodox faith in Turkey and Greece, for example, she writes of her overpowering urge to violate canonical law and set foot in one of the all-male monasteries of Mount Athos—“from jail I could fight my case in the European Court of Human Rights and maybe even win it,” she reasons, tongue in cheek.
An illuminating portrait of a still-obscure portion of the globe.