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11 Best Books About The Balkans To Inspire & Educate
Written by Lousia from the Epic Book Society
The Balkans is a historically significant and diverse region that has long fascinated writers across the globe.
Reading books about The Balkans is the best way to gain an understanding of the region’s vast history, culture, and unique way of life.
It’s a way for readers to appreciate the diversity that comes from each of the countries in the Balkans and see how they are vastly different but also united.
Whether you’re getting excited about a future Balkans trip, or you’re just trying to get a better understanding of the people and the history of The Balkans countries, these books set in the Balkans are the perfect resource for learning about this fascinating region.
Non-Fiction Books About The Balkans
Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History by Robert D. Kaplan
For those looking for an in-depth insight into the Balkan’s History, you won’t find a more in-depth book about The Balkans than Balkans Ghosts.
In this book, Robert D. Kaplan brings the Balkan history from the 20th century to life, revealing how key events triggered World War I, and how the war in Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia came to be.
Balkans history is as exciting as it is long, but this in-depth account focuses solely on the past 100 years.
It was picked as one of The New York Times, Best Books of the Year in 1993 and has been widely regarded as an insightful and chilling political travelogue.
Lonely Planet Western Balkans
For anyone looking for a guidebook on The Balkans, the most up-to-date and in-depth guidebook is by Lonely Planet.
In the Western Balkans guidebook, it offers practical advice and tips for visiting countries in the Western region, including Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Not only does it reveal the best attractions in these places, but it also offers colored maps, detailed itineraries, advice on ways to save money and get around, tips on how to avoid crowds, and places to avoid.
They also have honest reviews on places to eat, sleep, and shop, written by travelers who have visited and verified these places.
It’s the number one resource to take with you when traveling in The Balkans.
The Fall of Yugoslavia by Misha Glenny
Not many people in today’s society know about or have heard of, Yugoslavia. And that’s because it no longer exists.
The reasons why are thoroughly detailed in The Fall of Yugoslavia by Misha Glenny.
She expertly writes the true story of how Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, which resulted in a bloody and savage war that spread across The Balkans.
What caused the war? What were the key events? And where does each country stand now?
The Fall of Yugoslavia answers all these questions in an insightful and captivating way.
Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic
For those who want to gain greater insight into the life of people in The Balkans, specifically around the Yugoslavia war, you’ll find great insight into the mindset of the people from Zlata’s Diary.
Zlata’s Diary is a true story about an eleven-year-old girl growing up in war-torn Sarajevo. At the time of its original publication, it was during the height of the Bosnian conflict, which led it to become an immediate international bestseller.
It tells of the day-to-day life of a typical young girl who was more preoccupied with piano lessons and birthday parties than the oncoming war.
Soon, she learns about food shortages and the loss of friends and loved ones. She waits out bombings in a neighbor’s cellar and witnesses atrocities that no child should ever see.
It’s powerful, emotive, and chilling.
Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova
If you want to better understand the people of The Balkans, then this travelogue by Kapla Kassabova, a Bulgarian who emigrated as a girl, but returns to her home 25 years later.
In Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe, Kapka reports on life sharing a border with Turkey and Greece.
As a child, she heard that the border zone was the easiest crossing to the West, and was swarming with soldiers and spies.
She recounts how she remembers playing on the beach, only miles from an electrified fence to keep the citizens of the totalitarian regime from crossing over.
As an adult, she learns about how the country has been shaped by successive forces of the Soviet and Ottoman empires.
In this intimate and immersive travel book, Kapka recounts her first-hand experience of growing up in the shadow of the Cold War and of her views of the migration crisis in Europe.
Fiction Books About The Balkans
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Inspired by a true story, The Cellist of Sarajevo is a historical fiction book that captures the heart of humanity as it fights to survive in war-torn Sarajevo.
The story follows four people who are living in Sarajevo whilst it’s under siege.
It begins when a cellist witnesses 22 of his friends waiting in a breadline from his window. In an instant, they are killed by a mortar attack.
As an act of defiance, he picks up his cello and plays on the site of their death for 22 days, to honor their memory.
Meanwhile, a young man goes to collect drinking water for his family and is faced with the decision of being selfish, or generous.
At the same time, another man goes in search of food but instead runs into a former friend who reminds him of all he lost.
Soon, all the men come together as they hear the sound of cello music.
The Cellist of Sarajevo is a powerful and important book that highlights how humanity changes in the face of war. It’s a story of determination, defiance, and tragedy.
Death and the Dervish by Meša Selimović, Translated by Stephen M. Dickey
Another hugely successful book about The Balkans is Death and the Dervish by Bosnian writer, Mesa Selimovic.
It is the story of Sheikh Nuruddin, a dervish who lives in an Islamic monastery in Sarajevo during the 18th century. At the time, the Ottoman Turks held power over The Balkans.
After his brother is arrested, Sheikh must become part of the Ottoman authorities to find out what happened to his brother.
The story is written in the first person and is almost biographical. It’s not just about one man’s search for his brother, but a story of self-discovery and finding one’s place in the world.
This classic novel was made into a feature-length film in 1974.
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
Set in the days after the war, a young doctor named Natalia arrives at an orphanage to inoculate the children there.
Soon, Natalia and her friend Zóra feel the presence of secrets swarming around her. She believes these secrets involve the strange family she’s seen digging for something in the surrounding vineyards.
But that’s not the only secret she uncovers. She also must find out what happened to her beloved grandfather, who told her grandmother he was on his way to see her, only winds up dead in a ramshackle settlement no one in her family had ever heard of.
Stricken with grief and desperate for answers, she looks for clues in the stories he told her as a child.
Her quest for answers opens up more questions, in this spellbinding mystery book written with elegance and poise.
The Tiger’s Wife was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award in 2011 for Best Fiction Book.
Broken April by Ismail Kadare
Ismail Kadare is one of the most famous Albanian authors and his novel, Broken April, is one of his finest works.
The story follows the tale of two destinies. One of which belongs to Gjorg, a young mountaineer who has just killed a man in order to avenge his older brother.
In return for his crime, he expects to be killed himself, as that is the code in the highlands. Gjorg hangs up the bloody shirt of his victim, awaiting the avenger to take his turn with a rifle shot.
Meanwhile, a young couple on their honeymoon is also about to find their destiny. They find themselves in the middle of this blood feud and are shocked by the cycle of obligatory murder.
When the bride comes face to face with Gjorg wandering the countryside, waiting for the truce to end, the sight of him invokes a violent act that she must carry for the rest of her life.
This fictional story is set in the early twentieth century on the high plateaus of Albania and tells a story of an age-old custom coming into conflict with tourism.
Children’s Books About The Balkans
Adem and The Magic Fenjer: A Moving Story About Refugee Families (Mighty Balkan Kids) by Selma Bacevac and Neira Pekmez
Adem and The Magic Fenjer is about a young Balkan refugee who emigrates to America and questions why other children have a different way of life from him.
He questions why no one else at school eats burek, and so his mother takes explains to him where he is from; the beautiful land of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Adem learns about why he had to leave Bosnia and come to America, and why only his family knows about burek.
It’s a heartwarming and educational story about Balkans culture and a way to explain the uniqueness of the Bosnian lifestyle to children.
It was written with the intention of helping Bosnian-American children learn about their own history and heritage, but it’s also a great way for any children to learn about the culture of Bosnia and how it differs from others.
The ‘Orrible Ottomans (The Horrible Histories Collection) by Terry Deary
The Horrible Histories books have been much-loved 2nd-grade children’s chapter books for generations. Not only are these books funny and witty, with fun illustrations and humorous facts, but they are also educational.
The Ottoman Empire was once one of the biggest empires in the world, occupying many countries across The Balkans.
In ‘Orrible Ottomans, children can learn about how this great empire came to be, learn about the former Ottoman Sultans and what made them special, and how the Ottomans took down Constantinople.
Those looking for something educational and enjoyable for their kids will want to add this book to their bookshelf.
Final Word On Books About The Balkans
By reading books about The Balkans, readers can appreciate the diversity within this part of Europe and how it has shaped our world today.
Hopefully, these books about The Balkans will offer some inspiration before any trip to the Balkans countries, as well as be a valuable resource for anyone looking to broaden their knowledge about this important part of the world.
About the author: Louisa is the Founder and Editor of Epic Book Society, a book blog dedicated to sharing the best book recommendations and resources for readers. She is also a travel writer and has visited more than 53 countries, including Turkey, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania.Share