Cover image for The fracture zone : a return to the Balkans
The fracture zone : a return to the Balkans
Winchester, Simon.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 255 pages : maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library DR16 .W56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Terrible things have been going on in the Balkans for centuries, and they are likely to go on for centuries more to come. It is an area of great contrasts -- geographically beautiful, yet the underlying crust of the region is cracked along great tectonic fault lines. These natural fault lines pale in comparison to the borders made by man, which have added further layers of complexity to a region where war is frequent, horrors are unspeakable, and history is unfathomable. It is not an area of the world that many would care to visit -- unless they had been there before.

Simon Winchester, a seasoned reporter, visited the region twenty years ago. During the recent Kosovo crisis, he remembered that first trip and the people he met, and he decided that parallel journeys might well be a device for explaining with sympathy the true nature of this fractured region. Two great capitals, Vienna and Istanbul, whose ceaseless imperial rivalries in the past played so profound a role in shaping the savage divisions of the region today, would anchor his second journey to the region.

With the war under way, he enlisted the aid of a linguist friend and set off from Vienna on a long, scimitar-shaped adventure through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, and Turkey, arriving at the Golden Horn just as the war was officially declared over. With luck, and through valuable personal contacts, Winchester managed to be in Macedonia on the day the NATO forces moved in to assume control of Kosovo -- and because the commanding general was an old friend, he rode in with the liberating columns of troops and armor.

This is not a book about the war, but rather an intimate portrait of the region painted while the war was going on. It is also an attempt to understand what has led this region to violence -- now, in the past, and inevitably again in the future. Written with a keen sense of time and place, The Fracture Zone is at once current and timeless. It goes behind the headlines and gives us a true picture of a region that has always been on the brink. Simon Winchester's remarkable journey puts all the elements together -- the faults, the fractures, and the chaos -- and makes sense out of a seemingly senseless place.

Author Notes

Simon Winchester was born in London, England on September 28, 1944. He read geology at St. Catherine's College, Oxford. After graduation in 1966, he joined a Canadian mining company and worked as field geologist in Uganda. The following year he decided to become a journalist. His first reporting job was for The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1969, he joined The Guardian and was named Britain's Journalist of the Year in 1971. He also worked for the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times before becoming a freelancer.

He is the author of numerous books including In Holy Terror, The River at the Center of the World, The Alice Behind Wonderland, and The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. In 2006, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to journalism and literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 BalkansÄfrom 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 KosovoÄhis 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

YA-In a field on the Macedonian frontier, Winchester saw what looked like a "surreal infestation of insects, like a plague of giant locusts, a shifting, pulsating, ululating mass of the most pathetic European people I think I had ever seen." Watching this haunting scene, he realized that this was the same field in which he had picnicked before the current borders existed. He decided to travel through the Balkans trying to understand the context, the history, and the geography of it all. He started in Vienna and moved through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and finally Turkey. At each point, he explains its history, picking out the poignant details that make each place separate and unique. He connects the histories of each ethnic group of the region to its present circumstances and brings clarity to this confusing vortex of history. A glossary and list of dramatic personae help to keep the names and places straight. Students who want to understand this "fracture zone" will find a good starting point here.-Jane S. Drabkin, Potomac Community Library, Woodbridge, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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