Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West

On Black Lamb and Grey Falcon – about Rebecca West’s travels through Yugoslavia in 1937.

The length of the book was what originally kept me from launching into it, even though so many people who I admire love Rebecca West, and reference THAT book as WHY they got into journalism, or WHY they became a writer, etc.

Now that I’ve begun the book, I can completely see why.

Holy mackerel. Can she write.

Anyone who writes anything about the Balkans must contend with Rebecca West. You will not be doing anything new, you will just be adding onto the work already been done by this extraordinary woman. It is 1937. You can completely see the cataclysm to come – she prophesied it all.

There doesn’t seem to me to be one boring paragraph. In a book 1700 pages long or whatever, that is some feat.

There’s history, yes. But there are also long descriptions of vigorous conversations before the fire – Croat arguing with Serb arguing with Yugoslav patriot … everyone drinking plum brandy. She goes to church, describes the native dress, the faces. She picks up on EVERYTHING. You read about the scenery, you get the smells, the sights, the sounds. She does not just focus on politics.

We meet dancers. We meet playwrights. We meet doctors.

I can’t believe the scope of the book.

It certainly took some doing to get me to actually pick up and BEGIN this book, but now – I assure you – I will read it through to the end.

Rebecca West deserves a longer post than this one – but here are a couple of quotes I have pulled out – short and sweet. Later, when I have more time, I’ll post some excerpts. Damn, this dame could write.

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3 Responses to Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West

  1. Dave J says:

    OMG, this is clearly a book I must read…and remind me to tell you about my grandparents’ experiences in the Balkans in the late ’30s and into the war. It’s better told in person, and I tend to concur with my mom in thinking it’d make for quite a screenplay.

  2. red says:


    Don’t miss it. Truly. Like I said, when you see how big it is – you might feel a moment of dismay (but perhaps not … law books are big, right?) – but within 2 pages, I couldn’t put it down.

    Good good good.

    You can tell me about your grandparents over that fabled drink I’ll buy you whenever you come through Manhattan.

  3. red says:

    Factoid about Rebecca West: had love affairs with Charlie Chaplin and HG Wells.

    She’s Irish.

    And yet – there’s something in her which is drawn to the cauldron of what was then Yugoslavia – as though it is her REAL home.


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