“Hey, Croat!” shouts Rebecca West’s driver Dragutin to a young Yugoslav soldier posted in Serbia, in an exchange that is bound to strike the reader as prophetic: “‘You’re a brave fellow. How do you like us Serbs?’ ‘Very well, very well!’ he answered smiling. ‘Everybody is kind to me here, and I had thought you were my enemies.’ ‘Eyah!’ said Dragutin, twisting the lobe of the boy’s ear, ‘We’ll kill you all some day.’ The boy wriggled and laughed . . .”

The ironies resonate forward to 1992, when what has been called Yugoslavia (Land of the Southern Slavs) for just over sixty years is dismembering itself in a civil war in which both sides have blood on their hands, and backward as far as the thirteenth century, when Dragutin was a minor Serbian monarch struggling to define his kingdom against the claims of (to name only the most...


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