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From Greece to Croatia: your comprehensive reading guide for the Balkans

Cramming in more history, culture and spectacular scenery than seems entirely reasonable for its size, the Balkans has something to offer every traveller. This wonderful collection of cookbooks, biographies, novels, and historical reads invites you to open your heart to the Balkan spirit and let curiosity and anticipation take over before your upcoming trip.

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The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller (classic travelogue)

As the possibility of WWII loomed across Europe, American writer Henry Miller left his home in Paris and travelled to Greece at the invitation of his friend, the writer Lawrence Durrell. As an impoverished writer in need of rejuvenation, Miller spent nine months in Greece reigniting his passion for living. The Colossus of Maroussi was written in New York and reflects Miller’s resentment at having to return to America when war was declared. Considered by many to be his best work, The Colossus of Maroussi is a homage to Greece and the preciousness of life and a must read before a visit to the Greek Isles.

Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff (novel)

Sofka Zinovieff fell in love with Greece as a student, but had no idea she would eventually move here with her expatriate Greek husband and two young daughters. Eurydice street: A Place in Athens is a fresh, funny account of Sofka’s first year living in Athens. While her children start school and tackle learning a new language, Sofka’s husband, Vassilis, deals with the feeling of arriving home after half a lifetime away. Meanwhile, Sofka gets to know her new home and tries to forge a new identity as a Greek citizen. Along the journey, Sofka learns the importance of smoking, the unimportance of time-keeping, and the intricacy of Athens’ past. This affectionate yet honest description of Greek society and all of its frustrations will fill you with a rejuvenating joie de vivre!

Little Infamies: Stories by Panos Karnezis (short stories)

Set in an isolated Greek village, this collection of short stories filled with intriguing characters invites you to explore the social dynamics of modern Greek families and villages. Panos Karnezis has a sharp, unsentimental eye for contemporary Greek life, and hints at the village’s pagan past and the untrustworthiness of the local villagers. Their lives intersect, as lives do in a small place, and hidden crimes, mysteries, and the ‘little infamies’ are exposed. In this charming black comedy, Karnezis creates a world where magic invariably loses out to harsh reality.

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis (novel)

This classic novel, international sensation, and inspiration for the iconic film starring Anthony Quinn, explores the story of two men, their incredible friendship, and the importance of living life to the fullest. Zorba, a Greek working-class man, accompanies the unnamed narrator to Crete to work in his lignite mine. Zorba is a larger-than-life, energetic and unpredictable character, while the narrator is modest and reserved. These two polar opposites become best friends as Zorba helps him appreciate the joy of living. Zorba the Greek explores the beauty and pain of existence, invites readers to reevaluate the most important aspects of their lives, while celebrating the rich sights, smells, and sounds on the charming island of Crete. This is a novel that you won’t be able to stop reading once you start, while it simultaneously demands you put it down so you can live your own life to the fullest.

The Great Chimera by M. Karagatsis (novel)

Eager to flee a painful family past, the young and beautiful Marina finds love in a seductive Greek sea-captain she meets at the port of Rouen, France. Fascinated by Greek culture, she follows him to the Aegean island of Syros to begin a new life as a married woman. When disaster falls on her husband’s shipping business, Marina’s world turns from comedy to tragedy. Made into a highly acclaimed stage play with three sold-out seasons in Athens, The Great Chimera will pull at your heart strings and wrap you in the windy nights of the Isle of Syros.

Odyssey, by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson (epic poem)

The Odyssey is an epic Greek poem written by Homer in the 8th century BC that tells the story of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca. The poem tells of his 10-year struggle to return home after the fall of Troy in the Trojan War. Emily Wilson’s translation of this literary classic includes a fascinating introduction of the poem’s major themes, the controversies surrounding its origin, and its great impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries make this version of The Odyssey a treasured book for a new generation of readers.

War Music, by Christopher Logue (epic poem)

If reading Homer’s Illiad is a bit ambitious, try Christopher Logue’s contemporary interpretation of the original ancient Greek poem. Christopher Logue began writing his modernized version in 1959 after a BBC radio producer commissioned him to translate a section of the epic poem for a new program. Not knowing a word of Greek, Logue reinterpreted and modernised other translations, creating a remarkable hybrid of translation, adaptation, and invention. Logue continued to write his award winning reinterpretation until he died in 2011 at the age of 85, leaving his project incomplete, yet still mesmerising readers and critics to this day.

Pocket Museum: Ancient Greece by David Michael Smith (ancient Greek art guide)

This small coffee table book presents nearly 200 ancient Greek artifacts currently housed in public collections around the world. From the bifacial hand tools of the Lower Paleolithic (from 300,000 years ago), to the Hellenistic Great Altar of Pergamon (second century BCE), these artifacts reveal the rich history of Ancient Greek civilization. Beautifully illustrated with photographs of each featured object, Pocket Museum: Ancient Greece gives you the perfect introduction to an ancient country that has helped shape Western Civilization and the world as we know it today.

The Greek Slow Cooker by Eleni Vonissakou (cookbook)

One of the most important parts of visiting a new country is the opportunity to taste exciting new flavors. Eleni Vonissakou, creator of The Foodie Corner, brings simplified Greek classics to your kitchen in this collection of healthy, light, and flavorful recipes. Invite the aromas of Eleni’s kitchen into your home with authentic meals like lamb fricassee, white wine chicken with orzo, and mouth-watering sweets like Greek sticky walnut cake. All recipes call for easy-to-find ingredients and minimal prep, so forget standing by the stove all day and enjoy preparing a simple yet delicious Greek feast. Celebrate an upcoming trip, or reminisce on the flavours of the Balkans with the help of The Greek Slow Cooker.

North Macedonia

Pirey by Petre M. Andreevski, Translated by Will Firth and Mirjana Simjanovska (novel)

Pirey, one of the most famous novels of modern North Macedonian literature, is set during the Balkan Wars and follows the major political shifts at the end of the Ottoman Empire and their catastrophic impact on a small North Macedonian village. The novel is told from the perspective of a North Macedonian couple, Ion and Velika, as their village is ravaged by war and their family is pitted against each other. When Ion is conscripted into the Serbian army, and his brother is conscripted into the Bulgarian army, their family is torn between opposing sides of the battle. This heart-wrenching, eye-opening novel captures the resilience of village people who must endure a time of conflict and utter turmoil.

Macedonia: Its People and History by Stoyan Pribichevich (history)

The ancient kingdom of Macedonia was briefly the largest empire in the world under the rule of Alexander the Great, but is now one of the worlds smallest, overlooked countries. Macedonia: Its people and History gives an introduction to one of the most significant ethnicities of the Balkan peninsula. From ancient times to present day, thirteen centuries of customs, folklore, art, architecture, and political turmoil are captured in this comprehensive anthropology, a perfect read for the inquisitive traveler.

For 91 Days in Macedonia by Michael Powell (author), Jürgen Horn (photographer) or here (travel guide)

Avid travelers and friends, Mike and Jürgen, spend their time on 91 day stints in various locations around the world, sharing the history, lifestyle and culture of their temporary homes in their entertaining first-hand guidebooks. These enthusiastic travelers spent three months exploring North Macedonia leaving no stone unturned, from the charming capital of Skopje to the breathtaking Lake Ohrid, and everything in between. This book follows their adventure as they visit small-village wineries, hike through the mountains, and discover the wonderful hospitality of the friendly locals. Packed with tips about experiencing the local food, towns, nature, history, and culture, this unique and colorful account features 250 professional full-color photographs to fill you with excitement for your upcoming trip.

From the Bluegrass to the Balkans: Living, Loving and Leaving Macedonia by Benjamin Shultz (memoir)

Benjamin Shultz considered himself worldly, educated, well-traveled, and ready to take on any adventure, but he would soon be put to the test in one of the world’s most unique countries. After completing his Ph.D. in geography, Shultz followed his wife to her home country, North Macedonia. This novel follows his experience negotiating his way through Eastern European bureaucracies, getting to grips with different social customs, and the difficulties of learning a new language. Shultz presents North Macedonia as a proud nation with a strong emphasis on friendship, family, and enjoying life, but contrastingly suffers from political corruption, poverty, and a lack of opportunity that pushes thousands of young people to emigrate permanently. This book gives a comedic glimpse into what life is like in one of Europe’s smallest and poorest countries as it struggles to transition from its socialist past, even 25 years after gaining independence from Yugoslavia.

The Balkans: A Short History by Mark Mazower (history)

Throughout its turbulent history, the Balkans has been a crossroads for the military, cultural, and economic mixing and clashing between Europe and Asia. The Balkans has endured violent shifts of borders, rulers, and belief systems at the hands of some of the world’s greatest empires. In this brilliant account, acclaimed historian Mark Mazower gives a dazzling short history of the Balkans from the Romans to the present day. His concise overview of Europe’s troubled southeastern corner is sympathetic to the region’s never-ending struggle for identity and freedom from invaders. Giving opinion as well as fact, this thought-provoking analysis of an inexhaustible subject provides vital historical and cultural background to contemporary Balkan politics.

Loyal Unto Death: Trust and Terror in Revolutionary Macedonia (New Anthropologies of Europe) by Keith Brown (history)

In the face of the cruelty of the Ottoman Empire, a nation bonded together to rebel against its brutal oppressors. Between 1893 and 1903, the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization recruited and mobilized over 20,000 supporters to take up arms against the Ottoman Empire. From migrant workers, to remote villagers, countrymen from far and wide bonded together to fight for a common cause. In this in-depth book, Keith Brown unpacks the social and cultural factors that united a nation in a fight against the iron grip of the Turkish.

Anarchy in Macedonia: Life under the Ottomans, 1878–1912 by Victor Sinadinoski (history)

During the times of Turkish rule in North Macedonia, two things were certain; violence and poverty. In this in-depth summary of the Ottoman rule, Sinadinoski delves into the grueling conditions that made these forty years in North Macedonia an inescapable abyss of anarchy. To fully understand the culture and customs of one of the world’s smallest and poorest countries, dive into its oppressive history in Sinadinoski’s compelling overview of North Macedonia’s darkest days.

Macedonia Cookbook by Katerina Nitsou (cookbook)

Katerina Nitsou says she has “always believed, as most chefs do, that the best way to learn about any country or culture is through its food and its kitchens.” Embark on a journey into the culinary world that is modest, simple, and honest with classically trained Cordon Bleu chef, Katerina Nitsou. Featuring the most traditional and celebrated recipes of the country, Katerina has captured the essence of North Macedonian culture throughout her book while modernising classic recipes for the modern foodie. This celebration of North Macedonian cuisine features 105 recipes photographed by Katerina’s husband, Oliver Fitzgerald. From North Macedonian street foods such as salty bouek, to the flavors of nuts, citrus, and cinnamon used in their desserts, there is something for everyone in Katerina’s wholesome cookbook.


The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War by John R. Schindler (history)

Deep in the mountains bordering Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the battles of Isonzo raged ferociously during the First World War. These violent battles, much overlooked by the West, left 1.75 million people dead. Schindler’s account brings the terrible sacrifices endured by both armies back to their rightful place in the history of 20th century Europe, and questions if the Habsburg Empire lost the war for military and economic reasons rather than for political or ethnic ones. Introducing remarkable figures such as Mussolini, Tito, Hemingway, Rommel and the great maestro Tascanini, this book places the battle of Isonzo amongst the tragic Great War clashes alongside Verdun, the Somme, and Passchendaele.

Joze Plecnik (1872–1957): The Complete Works by Peter Krecic (art guide)

After an exhibition of his work at the Pompidou Centre in Paris in 1986, Joze Plecnik quickly gained recognition as one of the most important Slovene and Yugoslav artists in the world. Plecnik emerged

during the Slovene artistic movement of Moderna from the end of the 19th century to World War I, and also as a powerful representation of 20th century Modernism. This is the first comprehensive monograph of Plecnik’s work, based on more than fifteen years of research by author Peter Krecic. He examines the architect’s fundamental works, methodology, and design process with over 300 illustrations, including original drawings from Plecnik’s archives. The perfect read for art, history, and travel lovers alike, The Complete Works wonderfully documents the life of one of the Balkan’s biggest artists.

A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway (novel)

Written by the winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature, Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms offers a unique and unflinching view of the world through a love story of immense drama and uncompromising passion. In 1918, Hemingway volunteered for ambulance service in Italy during the ‘war to end all wars,’ an experience that undoubtedly inspired his masterpiece. In this unforgettable depiction of war, Hemingway recreates the fear, comradeship, and courage of young American volunteers and immortalises the men and women he encountered along the way.

The Land Between: A History of Slovenia by Oto Luthar (history)

The Land Between documents the history of Slovenia, from the Julian Alps in the North, to the Dinaric mountain area in the South. Coexisting alongside German and Romance neighbors for centuries, the Slovenes have lived in a unique melting pot of languages and cultures. For those looking to delve into the fascinating past of this nation, Oto Luthar offers a concise and complete history of the region, which eventually became an integral meeting point between the Balkans and Central Europe.

The Food and Cooking of Slovenia by Janez Bogataj (cookbook)

While Slovenia is a small country, it is full of dramatic contrasts. From lush forests in the Julian Alps to picturesque fishing villages along the western coastline near Italy, this inspirational book features 60 classic recipes celebrating the fusion of European and Slavic cuisines. Relish the smoky flavors of sweet-and-sour bean and sauerkraut hotpot, or the sweetness of prekmurje gibanica pie, a multi-layered apple, walnut and poppy seed strudel. Invite the wholesome tastes of the Balkans into your kitchen on your journey to understanding traditional Slovenian food.


Immigrant Daughter: Stories You Never Told Me by Catherine Kapphahn (novel)

Twenty-two-year-old Catherine knew little about her mother’s childhood, but when she dies of ovarian cancer, Catherine finds herself searching for clues of her mother’s elusive early life in Croatia. Through travel and memory, history and imagination, Catherine resurrects the relatives she’s never known and discovers her mother was orphaned during WWII, nearly died as a teenager, and escaped from Communist Yugoslavia. This lyrical narrative takes you on a journey through modern day Croatia and a young girl’s journey of self discovery as she gives voice to her immigrant mother’s unspoken history.

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West (travelogue)

Written on the brink of World War II, Rebecca West’s magnificent blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and historical insight, delves into the troubled history of the Balkans and the uneasy relationships among its ethnic groups. During a six-week trip to Yugoslavia in 1937, West introduces you to the heartache and resilience of the intriguing characters she meets. Regarded by many as one of the greatest travel novels of the 20th century, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia, is a timeless guide to the Balkans, containing priceless knowledge that is worth the 1,000 page journey.

Croatia: A Nation Forged in War by Marcus Tanner (history)

From the ashes of former Yugoslavia, Croatia rose as an independent state after thousands of years of political turbulence and wars. A victory tainted by bitter controversy and bloodshed, the end of the savage war between pro-independence forces and the Yugoslav army left about one-third of the country in ruins and forced a quarter of a million of the country’s Serbian minority to flee. This book brings an eyewitness account to the breakup of Yugoslavia, and gives a full account of the rise, fall, and rebirth of Croatia from its medieval origins to today’s peace. From the creation of the first Croatian State, to the catastrophic rule of the Ottoman Empire, the turbulence and drama of Croatia’s past is vigorously portrayed in this powerful story.

Chasing a Croation Girl: A Survivor’s Tale by Cody McClain Brown (novel)

After falling in love with a beautiful Croatian girl, American Cody McClain Brown moves to her lover’s hometown of Split, where the couple begin their life together. Chasing a Croation Girl is the lighthearted story of Cody’s struggle with the forceful grip of his matriarchal mother-in-law and the ubiquitous pillars of society. Cody humorously discovers the beauty of Croatia’s people and culture, and falls in love with this picturesque land of rugged coastlines. This insightful, comedic tale invites you into the lives of real Croatians living amongst the bloody history of wars gone by and is the perfect easy read for long travel days.

Tesla: Master of Lightning by Margaret Cheney and Robert Uth (biography)

This thoroughly researched biography documents one of the greatest minds the world has ever known; Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American inventor most famous for inventing the first alternating current (AC) motor and developing the AC generation and transmission technology. Including archival documents, excerpts from Tesla’s writings, diary entries, and 250 black-and-white photographs, this invaluable record illuminates the life and grand achievements of this eccentric wizard, from his youth in Croatia, until his final days in New York City.

General Balkans

Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History by Robert D. Kaplan (travelogue)

Chosen as one of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times, and considered as “the most insightful and timely work on the Balkans to date” by The Boston Globe, Kaplan’s enthralling and chilling political travelogue is already considered by many as a modern classic. From the fall of the Soviet Union, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and the wars that devastated former Yugoslavia, Kaplan reflects on the region’s fascinating history and shares many personal moments on a comprehensive journey through the Balkan’s rich history.



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