Scott brought home a library book I had requested, though my memory of doing so is fuzzy. Someone, somewhere, mentioned something about Rebecca West, and I looked her up and couldn’t find the book the someone was talking about (and I’ve since forgotten what it was), but there was this other book by West, and, well, you know how easy it is to click that “request a copy” box.
So here it is, a hulk of a book, approximately the size of my first car. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia. Will I read it? Seems unlikely that I’ll finish: if I do, it knocks my summer reading plans pretty well to smithereens. But I opened it, because it is here, and it feels like reading a letter from someone you like very much indeed, someone smart and perceptive and pleasantly obsessive.
“My dear,” she tells her husband in the prologue,
“I know I have inconvenienced you terribly by making you take your holiday now, and I know you did not really want to come to Yugoslavia at all. But when you get there you will see why it was so important that we should make this journey, and that we should make it now, at Easter. It will all be quite clear, once we are in Yugoslavia.”
These words are lost on her husband, who is asleep in his train berth. But she certainly has me at hello. And then this:
It was perhaps as well. I could not have gone on to justify my certainty that this train was taking us to a land where everything was comprehensible, where the mode of life was so honest that it put an end to perplexity.
About this, I must hear. Where the mode of life was so honest that it put an end to perplexity. She’s writing in 1940 (the book was first published in 1940 1941) about a journey undertaken in 1937, following a visit the previous year.
One the train from Salzburg (Austria) to Zagreb (Croatia), West and her husband share a car with two German couples, and the conversation turns to various difficulties the businessmen are suffering in the maze of new tax laws and red tape. One of the German women tells a story about her hairdresser’s assistant, who tearfully expresses a fear that she hasn’t passed an examination she was required to take in order to continue at her job:
She had said to the girl, “But I am sure you will pass your examination, for you are so very good at your work.” But the girl had answered, “Yes, I am good at my work. Shampooing can I do, and water-waving can I do, and marcelling can I do, and oil massage can I do, and hair-dyeing can I do, but keep from mixing up Goring’s and Goebbels’s birthday, that I cannot do.” They had all laughed at this, and then again fell silent.
The business man said, “But all the young people, they are solid for Hitler. For them all is done.”
The others said, “Ja, das ist so!” and the business woman began, “Yes, our sons,” and then stopped.
This is an 1150 page book. I need to read more of them.