“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...

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