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Through the Embers of Chaos: Balkan Journeys…

Through the Embers of Chaos: Balkan Journeys

by Dervla Murphy

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A very dense account of Dervla Murphy's travels by bicycle (mostly) in the former Yugoslavia countries in 2000. Dervla Murphy has a knack of listening to people's stories non-judgementally and engages with so many different people and hears their experiences of the wars. She has carried out considerable research and gives the reader the history of the Balkans and she has got to grips with the acronyms of the war and the complexities of the conflicts. I found it impossible not to be in awe of her courage at times; sometimes carrying on when I would have turned back and at other times having the courage to turn around. Travelling by bicycle she really gets to feel both the landscape and the life of people in these countries. She meets aid workers, armies and people from every country. She sees hatred and love, fear and sadness. ( )
  Tifi | Sep 2, 2015 |
The more of Dervla Murphy's later books you read the more you realize that she doesn't so much travel through places, as into them. Just as she dissected the entangled hatreds and lies that were (in the 1980's) built layer upon layer in Northern Ireland, here she turns her attention to the Balkans, the wreckage of Yugoslavia. She has the advantage over many writers of that scene in that she returned three times and was able to give some perspective and reflection on how things - I would have said 'developed', but 'fell apart' is a more apt expression.

Dervla's other great advantage over several other writers is her bicycle. Others have covered more ground, but I've found their stories impossibly hard to digest because there is so much evil and folly to relate that there's no space to give it any context. Dervla on the other hand rides through the context, and then lets the people tell their stories. It helps that she can reflect on her Northern Ireland experience, but more so than many others she lets other voices carry the message. Which is? Perhaps that there is a thread of normality, or longing for normality, amongst folk on the ground which may yet allow the return of civilized existence. But having said that, Dervla makes it clear that in the former countries of Yugoslavia perfectly civilized (seeming) people now in many cases believe that hatred and a willingness to kill the 'other' is normal.

Dervla is possibly the hardest drinking pensioner-lady cyclist in the world. She's also one of the greatest observers of arcane politics and the lives of ordinary folk. It's a testament to her ability to chart a road through this subject that I can now read those other accounts of the Balkan - and international - descent into insanity. Highly recommended. ( )
  nandadevi | Jun 10, 2013 |
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In all the former Yugoslav territories people are now living a postmodern chaos. Past, present and future are all lived simultaneously. In the circular temporal mish-mash suddenly everything we ever knew and everything we shall know has sprung to life and gained its right to existence.
~ Dubravska Ugresic, August 1993
Foe Zea, who dictated the shape of this book from the womb and who, since emerging, has continued to dictate to everyone about everything
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On 27 December 1991 not many were travelling from Trieste into disintegrating Yugoslavia.
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