cover image The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans

The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans

Simon Winchester. HarperCollins, $23 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-06-019574-8

As NATO planes began to atttack Belgrade last March, British journalist Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) visited the Kosovar refugee camps in Macedonia, where he was shocked by the ""Bruegel-scene of mass misery"" that confronted him: international aid workers had not yet organized proper food and sanitation for the thousands of people crammed into a muddy field surrounded by Macedonian police. The sight provoked Winchester to visit as much of the Balkans as he could, in hope of grasping the complexities that had led to the debacle. Starting out from Vienna, he continued into Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, where he found that nationalist citizens still refer to the Muslim Kosovars as ""Turks."" Although he sets his travels against the history of the Balkans--from the battles of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires through the Croatian massacre of Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and homosexuals during WWII to the recent war in Kosovo--his conclusions are too pat to make his analysis significant. Taking a fatalistic attitude, he views the region's problems as little more than the fruit of ""classic Balkan hatreds, ancient and modern."" Still, Winchester's extensive interviews make his book notable. Almost every page contains the reflections of ordinary citizens, who reveal to Winchester their hatreds, their troubles and their hopes, lending richness and authenticity to his account. His unsentimental descriptions of the area's destroyed mosques, burned houses and virulent graffiti serve as a poignant reminder that the effects of war last long after the planes are gone. (Oct.)