Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans


"If the underlying crust of the earth in the Balkans is cracked and shifting along great tectonic fault lines, so the people on the Balkan surface are affected by the faulty lines made by man."
-- From The Fracture Zone

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 ...

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"If the underlying crust of the earth in the Balkans is cracked and shifting along great tectonic fault lines, so the people on the Balkan surface are affected by the faulty lines made by man."
-- From The Fracture Zone

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 inMacedonia 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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 Balkans--from 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 Kosovo--his 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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
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 Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641511905
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/20/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.43 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Winchester

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa. Those books were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006, Mr. Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by her Majesty the Queen. He lives in Manhattan and in western Massachusetts.


One of the leading practitioners of the offbeat, narrative nonfiction genre The New York Times affectionately calls "cocktail-party science," Simon Winchester studied geology at Oxford, worked on offshore oil rigs, and traveled extensively before settling into a writing career. For twenty years, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Guardian, augmenting his income by writing articles and well-written but little-read travel books. Then, an obscure footnote in a book he was reading for sheer recreation sparked the idea of a lifetime.

The book in question was Jonathon Green's Chasing the Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made, and the footnote read, "Readers will of course be familiar with the story of W.C. Minor, the convicted, deranged, American lunatic murderer, contributor to the OED." Immediately, Winchester knew he had stumbled on a real story, one filled with drama, intrigue, and human interest. Published in 1998, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Oxford English Dictionary was an overnight success, garnering rave reviews on both sides of the pond, and remained on The New York Times hardcover bestseller list for more than a year.

Fueled by curiosity, passion, and a journalist's instinct for what makes "good copy," Winchester has gone on to explore the obscure, arcane, and idiosyncratic in blockbusters like The Map that Changed the World, Krakatoa, and The Man Who Loved China. Coincidentally, his subjects have placed him squarely in the forefront of the new wave of nonfiction so popular at the start of the 21st century. In an interview with Atlantic Monthly, Winchester explained the phenomenon thusly: ""It shows, I think, that there is deep, deep down -- but underserved for a long time -- an eagerness for real stories, real narratives, about rich and interesting things. We -- writers, editors -- just ignored this, by passed this. Now we are tapping into it again."

Good To Know

Winchester once spent three months looking at whirlpools on assignment for Smithsonian magazine.

He once wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times to correct a factual error in an article about where the millennium would first hit land on the morning of Jan. 1, 2000. (It was the island of Tafahi, not the coral atoll Kirabati.)

He reportedly loves the words "butterfly" and "dawn."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York; Massachusetts; Scotland
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 28, 1944
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      M.A., St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, 1966
    2. Website:

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