Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [15]


Well, I'm actually a little past the half-way mark, but since I had to return my copy and have not yet received another through Interlibrary Loan (a great service, if your local library provides it, by the way), so I thought I'd take this opportunity to reflect a little on the book as a whole.

I have read ahead of where I'm at in the review, and for the record I'm looking forward to reviewing the rest of the book. The later chapters lend themselves more to substantive analysis than do the earlier chapters (which are shorter--roughly speaking the first 8 chapters make up a little over half the book, with the rest of the book consisting of only 4).

The book does suffer somewhat from being the result of academic research, writing, and publishing over many years, dating back from the 1980s up until the very early 2000s. Many of the early chapters seem to have been separate articles or at least give the impression of having been developed separately. Perica is upfront about the non-linear structure of the book, which he describes as being both narrative and analytical in approach. This is not surprising, given his academic background and the circumstances of the books development. However, while his decision to analyze the different national churches and other aspects of his topic in discrete chapters, often out of chronological sync with surrounding chapters need not be a liability, the lack of consistent editing is. Too many details, facts, and anecdotes are repeated, often verbatim, as if each chapter was edited in isolation with no regard for the other chapters. This only accentuates the already stuttering pace of the book.

Also, there are some obvious spelling and syntactical errors which are often quite glaring. Coupled with the failure to rework his varied preliminary drafts into a more unified text, these errors tend to make the book harder to digest than it should be.

That's the bad news, and my apologies to Mr. Perica for leading with them. The good news, on the other hand, should dispel any doubts the potential reader has that this book is worth reading.

The subject matter, it cannot be emphasized enough, is vitally important for understanding the events leading up to the Balkan wars of the 1990s, and for understanding the cultural and political realities in the former Yugoslavia today. Perica has wisely and intelligently mapped out a new area of inquiry which others had not explored or often even acknowledged. If he had done nothing but presented this information--much of which was the result of his own independent research--he would have done all of us an enormous favor.

But he has done more than that--despite my above-mentioned concerns about the editing of this book, he is an enjoyable and readable writer, who presents his findings in a manner quite accessible to any reader. And, as I hinted above, the best is yet to come--the final few chapters contain more analysis than some of the earlier chapters provided.

I encourage anyone with an interest in the breakup of Yugoslavia, or in the formation of nationalist sentiment in the western Balkans in the 20th Century, to read this book. And I promise my readers that, when my review of "Balkan Idols" resumes, the reviews will be more interesting, if only because Perica's insights and analysis come to the fore.

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