Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West
Originally published in 1941

There have been many editions of this book since it was published in 1941, so instead of a cover, I'm just going to reproduce this striking photo of Rebecca West by Madame Yévonde.

If you couldn't tell by her expression in this photo, West is smart and fierce. I'd previously known her from her fiction, but Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is her nonfiction account of the trips to Yugoslavia that she took with her husband, Henry Maxwell Andrews, between 1936 and 1938. I'm reading the book because I'm about to take my own trip to that region, and it will be interesting to see how many of West's observations remain true today. Such as her description of the traditional female costume in Mostar, which sounds striking to say the least!

It consists of a man's coat, made in black or blue cloth, immensely too large for the woman who is going to wear it. It is cut with a stiff military collar, very high, perhaps as much as eight or ten inches, which is embroidered inside, not outside, with gold thread. It is never worn as a coat. The woman slips it over her, drawing the shoulders above her head, so that the stiff collar falls forward and projects in front of her like a visor, and she can hide her face if she clutches the edges together, so that she need not wear a veil. The sleeves are allowed to hang loose or are stitched together at the back, but nothing can be done with the skirts, which drag on the ground.

Whether or not times have changed, any armchair traveler will delight in West's vivid descriptions and insightful commentary on one of the world's most fascinating regions.

What are you reading this week?

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