I was delighted to learn that my 2006 non-fiction book Another Fool in the Balkans is the subject of an amazing essay in a new collection called The Balkans in Travel Writing, edited by Marija Krivokapić (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), which
revisits images of the Balkans in the travel writing of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century from the perspective of recent developments in travel writing critical theory and in the humanities in general.
The introduction gives a flavour of editor Marija Krivokapić’s essay on Another Fool…
few books are so courageously acquiescent to the generic limitations of travel writing as is Tony White’s book [ …] he is acutely conscious of his privilege to be thus formatted as a traveller through Yugoslavia […] Yet he still calls himself “a fool” not only because he hopes he could reach the yet indiscernible truth about the region, or how it reflects contemporary Europe, but maybe more because he still hopes his own writing can escape the theorizing urgency of international academia. Finally, he produces a book that is less an account of travel than a meditation on the possibilities of travel, but mostly an essay on the nature of art.
Another Fool in the Balkans is currently out of print, although there are a few second hand copies around. Frustratingly, the publisher was taken over and its non-fiction list discontinued just as the first edition sold out and a reprint might have been considered. At around the same time I had an unexpected phone call from the author Geoff Dyer, who was calling to tell me—in turn—that John Berger had just phoned him, to ask Geoff if he ‘had read this excellent little book called Another Fool in the Balkans?’ (That’s me quoting Geoff paraphrasing John.)
Earlier this year I did a quite in-depth interview with Marija, for issue #10 of Folia linguistica et litteraria: Časopis za nauku o jeziku i književnosti (tr. Journal of Language and Literary Studies), (Filozofski fakultet, Nikšić), which is published by the Institute of Language and Literature of the University of Montenegro.
Here is a short extract:
What are your thoughts on other western writers on the Balkans?
I continue to be fascinated by all writings about the region, although I should note that as a writer one is almost by definition something of a dilettante, obsessively exhausting a subject while one is writing the book and promoting it, and then forgetting it immediately and moving on to the next obsession, the next book.
The title of my book, Another Fool… was not simply intended as a description of myself, nor as a ‘get-out clause’ (i.e. a way of making allowances for my own inevitable mistakes), but as a slow-burning, bibliographical joke about precisely those other western writers, particularly the more pompous and opinionated ones. If I am merely the latest in a long line of fools, then what are they—the authors of the titles that my book might find itself listed alongside—if not fools too? This was a joke that I thought might manifest in other people’s citations, or on the shelves of bookshops. By the time I was finishing the book, the body of literature that I was most interested in was that produced by the proceedings at the ICTY.
Was Another Fool in the Balkans a difficult book for you to write? What was the whole process of writing the book? Did you take extensive notes, photographs, quotes, etc? Did you call back the friends and colleagues in the region to confirm on the events you witnessed? Or did you mostly rely on your memory?
My instinct and most of my literary experience is in the writing of fiction, so writing a non-fiction work was challenging. In writing fiction you can take a chance, make it up as you go along! Not so in non-fiction. Like Rebecca West I made several trips, to Belgrade, to Zagreb and Split, and to Istria (which of course had not been a part of Yugoslavia at the time of West’s visit), although my journeys were not paid for by the British Council as hers had been, and I did not have a government spin doctor for a guide as she had. Unlike West I did not attempt to meld my several journeys to create the illusion of a continuum, a single journey. Notwithstanding the subtitle of the Cadogan edition (‘in the footsteps of Rebecca West’), I also believed at the time that it would be impossible to reproduce West’s travels exactly, so I didn’t even try. However, in this I have since been proved wrong by the Dublin-based artist Dragana Jurisic, whose recent, extraordinary photography exhibition [and book] YU: The Lost Country documents her own attempt to do just that. She visited every location on West’s route and documented it photographically. It is amazing work. [Read More…]
Find out more about Marija Krivokapić (ed.) The Balkans in Travel Writing, (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015)