Natalija: Life in the Balkan Powder Keg, 1880-1956

Natalija: Life in the Balkan Powder Keg, 1880-1956

Natalija: Life in the Balkan Powder Keg, 1880-1956

Natalija: Life in the Balkan Powder Keg, 1880-1956

Excerpt

This life story of a Serbian woman, preserved in memoirs, letters, and mostly diaries over a period of more than 70 years, recounts the triumphs and tragedies of a life that takes place against the backdrop of extraordinary turbulence in the Balkans. Natalija's diary is impressive in its scope; it covers more than half a century, five wars (including the two world wars), four ideologies, and numerous governments, all told from the perspective of a remarkable, well-educated middle-class woman, mother of six, twice widowed, but never cowed. This is a time of excitement in Serbia as its leaders carve an independent state out of the Ottoman Empire and attempt to modernize a largely rural and “backward” corner of Europe. It is a time of opportunity for many, like Natalija's husband Jova, who joins the effort to build the infrastructure of a modern economy, and for the growing number of middle-class families who send their children, in rare cases even girls, to the emerging system of state schools. It is, above all, a time of war, as the expanding Serbian state comes into conflict with its neighbors and, ultimately, the Great Powers of Europe. Through all of this, Natalija describes her struggles to receive an education, to raise her children and keep her family together, to be “a good Serb,” and sometimes simply to survive the horrors of war.

Natalija's story begins during a relatively quiet period of Balkan history in the late nineteenth century. Natalija grew up in middle-class, though financially precarious, circumstances in the small town of Arandjelovac, in an area of central Serbia known as Šumadija. Her father was a manager of a large water-bottling plant, later turned merchant, who was not very capable when it came to managing the family's money. This became increasingly problematic when he left salaried employment and the family had to depend upon the revenue from his ventures in fruit and hog trading; the family was ultimately reduced to living for . . .

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