Cover image for Only the nails remain : scenes from the Balkan wars
Only the nails remain : scenes from the Balkan wars
Merrill, Christopher.
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Publication Information:
Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, [1999]

Physical Description:
xx, 401 pages : maps ; 24 cm
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DR1313.8 .M48 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars is a chronicle of poet and critic Christopher Merrill's ten war-time journeys to the Balkans from the years 1992 through 1996. At once a travelogue, a book of war reportage, and a biography of the imagination under siege, this beautifully written and personal narrative takes the reader along on the author's journeys to all the provinces and republics of the former Yugoslavia--Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and Vojvodina--as well as to Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, and Turkey. His journeys provide the narrative structure for an exploration of the roles and responsibility of intellectuals caught up in a decisive historical moment, many of whom either helped to incite the war or else bore eloquent witness to its carnage. What separates this book-the first non-native literary work on the conflict-from other collections of reportage, political analysis, and polemic, is its concern for capturing the texture of particular places in the midst of dramatic change-the sounds and sights and smells, the stories and observations of victim and perpetrator alike, the culture of war. Here is a literary meditation on war, a fascinating portrait of the poetry, politics and the people of the Balkans that will provide insight into the past, present, and future of those war-torn lands. Hear an interview with the author on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered, February 20th, "Balkan Poets."

Author Notes

Christopher Merrill is a poet and critic and author translator He holds the William H. Jenks Chair in Contemporary Letters at the College of the Holy Cross and lives in Connecticut.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Thus far, primarily journalists and diplomats have provided us with insiders' accounts of the devastating wars in the Balkans during the past decade. With this extraordinary book, Merrill, a poet, author and translator, has broadened the discussion to include not only politics and history, but culture and literature, too. Unlike many other books on the former Yugoslavia, Merrill's was not hastily written in the year after his duty in the war zone. Instead, it contains ripe reflections on his 10 journeys to the Balkans between 1992 and 1996. Traveling, often on foot, in Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia, Merrill sought out artists and literary types; he also spoke with a broad array of locals, encountered by chance or introduced to him by his contacts. The beautifully written scenes from his travels are keenly observed and insightful. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this collection is the authenticity of the voices Merrill records. Reported dialogues are uncannily familiar to anyone who knows the Balkans. (Says one Slovenian who returned home after years abroad: "After all the battles you fight for irrational reasons, you have no time left for rationality.") Like Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, this book might very well become a modern classic about what once again seems a painful and incomprehensible corner of Europe. But it does not suffer from West's crippling na‹vet‚ in accepting a single perspective on Balkan history and destiny. What distinguishes Merrill's sweeping account is his ability to present varying sides and a range of authentic voices. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Merrill, a poet and journalist, spent much of the past decade traveling through the Balkans; here, in a powerful and enigmatic account, he chronicles those travels. Taking the title for his book from a piece by Slovenia's best-known living poet, Tomaz salamun, he tells a story of the war-torn region through the lives of its literary and cultural communities. He conveys the passionate insights of salamun (as well as Montenegro's Slavko Perovic and the Sarajevian Serb Goran Simic) about the cruel absurdity infesting daily Balkan life. Were they able, he notes, they would live the Central European "dream of culture replacing politics." But Merrill also condemns the complicity of intellectuals and the senseless expulsion of non-Croats from the Croatian University of Mostar. Merrill's vignettes are reminiscent of other writing about the region and will be especially so for those familiar with his earlier work in periodicals. But this is a valuable book, especially for its portrait of the less-known Slovene literary life. Highly recommended for all academic and larger libraries.--Zachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ., Erie (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Merril's absorbing, beautifully written chronicle describes his ten trips to the Balkans during the Third Balkan War (1992-95). Readers are taken to all parts of former Yugoslavia and nearby lands to view the roles and reactions of intellectuals and political leaders to fratricidal conflicts. Merrill, an American poet and critic, graphically describes the literature, politics, and sufferings of Balkan peoples, starting in newly independent Slovenia in August 1992. An accompanying Slovenian writer, Ale%s Debeljak, blames the war on Serbian arrogance and Serb beliefs in dangerous myths described by their writers. Summarizing Marshal Tito's career, Merrill records much praise for that communist autocrat whose successors lacked his abilities, and describes the violent policies of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman against the Serbian minority in Croatia. The author deplores the destruction inflicted on Dubrovnik by the Serbian army. In Belgrade Merrill met Serbs who preached and practiced ethnic cleansing and many others who complained the whole world had risen against them. The author narrowly escaped death in the Serb shelling of Sarajevo and criticizes NATO and US policies as ineffective in the Balkan conflicts. Merrill is pessimistic about the Balkans' future. Useful maps, a glossary of names and terms, and English sources. Recommended enthusiastically for readers at all levels. D. MacKenzie; University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
A Note on Pronunciationp. xi
Mapsp. xii
Prologuep. xv
Part I August-September 1992
1 Journeyp. 3
2 Pohorjep. 17
3 Ljubljana Ip. 29
4 Triglavp. 49
5 Ljubljana IIp. 59
6 Venicep. 77
7 Vilenicap. 91
Part II December 1992-February 1993
8 Croatiap. 105
9 Dalmatiap. 137
10 Serbiap. 153
11 Montenegrop. 185
12 Macedoniap. 207
13 Kosovop. 225
14 Flightp. 237
Part III May 1993-April 1996
15 Sarajevo Ip. 259
16 Sarajevo IIp. 273
17 Mostarp. 293
18 Sarajevo IIIp. 303
19 Albaniap. 329
20 Expeditionp. 339
21 Barcelonap. 353
Epiloguep. 365
Glossary of Names and Termsp. 373
Select Bibliographyp. 375
Indexp. 000