It’s much easier to read a book about something you already know something about; harder when you are ignorant and so have to simultaneously read and store new information all the time. Knowing nothing about Thrace (Bulgarian, Greek, Turkish) I thought I would find this book hard, but most of the time it is very readable and at times moving. I struggled a bit with the constantly changing cast of characters.
In the most general terms it is a book about how people find it hard to get on with their neighbours, and quite often are forced to reject them even against their wishes, and how borders end up not just fortified with leylandii but barbed wire and machine gun posts. It’s also a book about how easy it is to turn young men into killers.
In this context a wonderful chapter about a hopelessly ecumenical Greek orthodox priest (a cadre not noted for ecumenism) is both beautifully written and deeply moving:
“ ‘Thrace without borders. Just as it should be,’ Father Alexander said when I first visited them at home, dropping in without notice. I hoped they didn’t mind, I said.
‘Mind?’ Alexander said and bit into a cheese pastry. ‘We only like guests who drop in without notice’” (page 154)
I can see how it merited its shortlistings and prize. I was a bit surprised to find a number of repetitions which are not stylistic but failed copy and pasting – something which an editor should have picked up.