Albania is one of those countries that have a colourful history and is a place that was a bit of an anomaly to me. I know that it is publicly perceived as a poor backwater of Eastern Europe but I wanted to read this well-written book to glean further information. After the fall of the Ottomans in the Balkans, Albania came into being as an independent entity. This came out of the back of several Balkan conflicts. The Albanians are one of the rainbow of ethnic tribes in the region, with their own language, culture and religions. The new country was plunged into a period of turmoil, facing the brunt of two world wars as it attempted to establish itself. The ancient ways of Ottoman times left a great deal of difficulty for any ruling power to modernise and Albania seemed destined to become isolated and a haven for political extremes, reaching a zenith under the charismatic tutelage of the communist dictator Enver Hoxha. His forty year rule paved the way for Albania to develop in its own unique way, relying at different times on the patronage of Russia, China, Yugoslavia and Italy. With the fall of communism in the modern era, a new democratic age was heralded, though the much anticipated improvements were not quite so instant with the country facing many political crises, the collapse of pyramidal banking schemes, the rise of organised crime and ongoing disputes about the ethnic Albanians in neighbouring countries. I found this book particularly enlightening in helping me to understand the Kosovo situation and all that it entails. As we move into the twenty-first century Albania holds Kosovo’s hand and makes inroads into its own emergence as a balkan power. It is now a member of NATO and has high hopes of full EU accession. The region is an interesting one and to understand Albania and its peoples this book is heralded as the cornerstone text for English-speakers.
This is a well-written detailed study of Spain and the Spanish and in particular covers the period of change from Franco’s dictatorship into the modern Spanish democracy. The idiosyncrasies of Spain are examined in contrast with the rest of the EU and world. What makes Spain and its people tick? The history and culture are examined and I in particular enjoyed the accounts of the Basque region’s history. There is a lot of political detail, perhaps a bit too much, but it is all explained and leads well on for the author to make good valid points in summarising Spain’s current state. It’s rapid growth and development are apparent and its recent history combines with the desarrollo period to make Spain unique among its contemporaries. The attitudes of the Spanish to themselves and indeed foreigners can be quite eyeopening. I found the cultural chapters to be exceptional and in particular enjoyed the penultimate section which covered Flamenco and bull-fighting. The book is well-written and a student of castellano I found it to be very informative, relevant and enlightening. Anyone who has even the vaguest of interest in Spain should add this to their reading shelves.