I recently made the acquaintance of Marija Bulatovic and read her childhood memoirs in Fantastical: Tales of Bears, Beer and Hemophilia. The book is a collection of vignettes from her youth, growing up in a Yugoslavian village in the 1980’s.
For inveterate travelers, the immense value of this book is that it moves past the guidebooks and histories right into the very heart of the Balkan countries that have remained since the break-up of Yugoslavia. These stories are about real people, leading everyday lives, told in an authentic voice. The fact that the voice is also a child adds the charming drama of innocence and emotion.
Most travel experiences are limited to primary attractions and significant sites, monuments, and museums. I know I have often wished to understand better the “real lives” of the people whose countries I have been visiting. For anyone touring the Balkans, Fantastical: Tales of Bears, Beer and Hemophilia takes you into these colorful lives. It introduces you to principle characters whose roles have hardly changed in two hundred years.
You’ll meet the Orthodox priest and his role model wife, as well as the “My home is my castle” grandfather and the “understanding” grandmother. There are teachers and suitors, soldiers and gypsies, parents and siblings. The stories are all very different, yet they provide a glimpse into the society and the pride of these people. You sense that they are all looking to lead the best life they can with the resources they have and the traditions they know.
The political history of Yugoslavia doesn’t play a meaningful role in the book. Though the stories officially took place in Yugoslavia in the 1980’s, there is little question that life in the villages represented by the tales probably still hasn’t changed much since the country dissolved. As a cruiser, you will encounter this culture in Adriatic ports like Dubrovnik and Split. Get into the countryside and you will meet the people of this book.
That’s what makes Fantastical: Tales of Bears, Beer and Hemophilia so unique. It is a real and authentic introduction to the people of the Balkans.