Sunday, May 06, 2007

Traveling & Perspectives

I think that as a rule; and with exceptions of course; most people in the US have an uninformed and perhaps misleading view of the Balkans and Bosnia. Part of this is because most mainstream papers only cover Balkan related news when something bad happens; or something that has an effect on US relations and policy. I'm not arguing at all that we should view Bosnia, or any country for that matter, through rose colored glasses; and that we should stay away from those accounts; but that just reading about Bosnia through the "Google News" tends to give a skewed view of the country.
While actually traveling and living there is perhaps the best way to learn more about a country; that is not possible option for everyone. To that end; other forms such as blogs and travel guides are helpful. Of course, not all travel guides are created alike. But, when it comes to a "good" travel book; Bradt's Bosnia and Herzegovina by Tim Clancy* is worth taking a look at.

The book stands out for two primary reasons; one it is one of the few travel books dedicated solely to Bosnia. Most travel guides cover the former Yugoslav states; or the larger Balkan region. This often causes Bosnia to get lost in the shuffle amongst Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia. When this happens; what usually results; is a minuscule portion of the book dedicated to Bosnia; with all of the focus on Sarajevo (I read one travel book to the area; and Tuzla wasn't even mentioned in passing). By focusing the entire book on Bosnia; we get a much more complex and complete view of the country. Including focusing on towns, that are not usually seen at typical tourist spots; as well as urban and rural tourism.
The second reason why this book stands out is the author. This again, is where perspective plays a role. Like many in the west his first major involvement in Bosnia was doing the war; where he worked for an NGO; and which influenced his perspective. Throughout the book he understandably occasionally mentions the war; including at times his own experience and the understandable effect the war on the country today. But this book goes beyond offering the perspective of an aid worker; who while however well meaning, may still have a limited understanding of a country. From the book, Clancy really appeared to be someone who enjoyed all of the complex and nuanced layers of the country. And most importantly, he is very knowledgeable. And he is able to see the country as much more than just a place of a horrific war; although he wisely is very mindful of how the war has impacted the country. All in all, he really seems to love the culture, architecture and most of all people in Bosnia; without a patronizing attitude that sometimes colors other books. The book offers a view of Bosnia not seen in the the often dismal perspectives covered in the papers; or the glossed over version of tour books; but instead the 'good, bad, ugly and beautiful' of Bosnia.

* If that name sounds somewhat familiar, it is because Clancy helped form Greenvisions; the eco-tourist organization in Bosnia.


Kirk Johnson said...

Shaina, great review. I own the 2004 edition of the book, and I've looked at the updated second edition. They're attractively packaged as well as informative.

Shaina said...

Thanks for your comment. The second edition was just published in January 2007. It is a really interesting book; I hope to do more on it before I have to return it the library.

che said...

I appreciate the kind words on the Bradt guide book. Although far from hit the nail on the head. I love this country and its people -- and am honoured to have had the opportunity to shed some brighter light on this little central Balkan state. peace tim