Your Balkan Reading List: Best Novels About The Balkans

One of my goals while travelling the last couple of years was to read books set in the countries we were travelling. Finding novels about the Balkans wasn’t as easy as some other areas (my India reading list could have gone on forever) but with the help of some other book-lovers, I managed to compile a list of great books to read before you travel to the Balkans (or during your trip).

Driving in Macedonia

Join me on a literary journey through the history of this conflicted area. While most of these books are fiction they are based on many true events and people from the area and provide a good insight into some of the things that have occurred in the distant and recent past.

If you have any other recommendations let us know in the comments, I’m always adding to my reading lists!


Travels Through Blood and Honey by Elizabeth Gowing – Kosovo

by Rohan from Travels of a Bookpacker

This is the story of Elizabeth, the wife of a British advisor sent to work for the prime minister of Kosovo over the period leading up to Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. During her time in Kosovo Elizabeth learns Albanian and makes friends with many locals and tells parts of their stories throughout her novel. She also learns new skills and is involved in several projects, the most prominent being her beekeeping endeavours. The book also includes recipes from all of the traditional Kosovan food she learnt about.


A Girl In Exile by Ismail Kadare – Albania

by Rohan from Travels of a Bookpacker

Ismail Kadre is Albania’s most celebrated author and has written many novels and poems about the Balkan region. Many of his earlier novels were banned in Albania and he was forced to seek political asylum in France.

I found this book a little difficult to follow but it was intriguing and gave small insights into life during the times of dictator Enver Hoxha. It follows a playwright, Rudian, as he tries to connect the dots and figure out why a girl named Linda B committed suicide. Linda B, from an elite Tirana family forced into exile never met the playwright but their stories are intertwined and some parts are slowly revealed while others are left for the reader to decide.

books about albania

Biografi by Lloyd Jones – Albania

by Rohan from Travels of a Bookpacker

This is a fictional story but rings eerily true and the publication of the novel wasn’t shrouded with mystery as people tried to figure out if there was any truth to the storyline. Either way the book is incredibly interesting and takes place across two of my favourite countries; New Zealand and Albania. The premise is a New Zealander who goes in search of a doctor who was hired as the double for dictator Enver Hoxha during his rule over Albania. A gripping and intriguing read with a bit of background into the situation in Albania during the times of Hoxha.

The book mentions lots of places you’ll visit on your trip to Albania including favourite holiday spots of Enver Hoxha and coastal areas such as Durres where people would escape by boat to Italy.


Logavina street - Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood by Barbara Demick - Bosnia and Herzegovina

by Kamila from Kami & The Rest Of The World

Logavina street is one of the must reads before visiting the Balkans and Sarajevo in particular. It shows the tragedy of living in the besieged city but instead of telling stories of random people it focuses on residents of one street in the center of the city - Logavina. Together with them we go through the siege, from the beginning that surprised the people of Sarajevo till the end almost 4 years later. Not all of the characters made it through the siege - some of them were lucky to escape the city, others lost their lives fighting for their home. Logavina street is one of the most touching books about the Balkan war, it really can give you the insight of those tragic times.

After you read the book one of the things to do in Sarajevo that you can't miss is visiting Logavina street, it's a short walk up from Bascarsija. You can see houses and other buildings mentioned in the book and who knows, maybe even meet some of the characters. While you are there don't miss the amazing "War Childhood Museum" that is located at the same street.


Skeleton Road by Val McDermid – Croatia

by Rohan from Travels of a Bookpacker

The majority of this novel is actually set in Scotland but the history of the characters and the crime lies firmly in the Balkans during the Balkan War. A body is found in an abandoned church in Edinburgh and sparks an investigation. Meanwhile men involved in war crimes during the Balkan wars are being murdered throughout Europe. This crime thriller will have you reading it in one sitting and also really bring home some of the atrocities that occurred in the region in the not so distant past.


Girl at War by Sara Novic - Croatia

by Maggi from The World Was Here First

Girl at War by Sara Nović is one of the best books to read if you're planning a trip to Croatia. Set in two time periods, the book follows Ana Jurić, both as a ten-year-old girl living in Zagreb in 1991 and as a university student in the USA some ten years later.

Girl at War expertly conveys the atrocities faced by Croatians during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990's and the subsequent recovery from the trauma years later. It brings to question what it means to be Croatian and American and provides excellent and gripping insight into the horrific war that Croatia faced less than 30 years ago.  

With millions of tourists flocking to Croatia today, many forget the brutal war that a great portion of the Balkan region was entrenched in not long ago, which is why Girl at War is both an engaging and important novel to read in order to gain a more broad understanding of the complex history of this beautiful country

Prizren Kosovo.jpg

Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov - Bulgaria

by Stephanie from Sofia Adventures

Stork Mountain, Miroslav Penkov’s first novel explores many of the same themes he introduced in his short story collection East of the West. A Bulgarian who immigrated to America in his youth, his works typically centre around an American grappling with the mysterious old world and traditions of the land he left behind. In his novel, an American student, trapped in debt, returns to Bulgaria to find a grandfather who went missing. Upon finding him, he decides to stay and falls in love with a local Muslim girl who he is forbidden to see. The novel explores the world of the borders of the Balkans, where Bulgarians, Greeks, and Turks are mixed together, embroiled in centuries of turmoil. 

I read this novel after reading Penkov’s short stories as part of my quest to get to know Bulgarian culture. Since the author is a literature professor in Texas and spent decades in the United States, he is great at explaining Balkan culture to westerners not familiar with these traditions and ways of life. If you’re looking to explore Balkan culture, this is a great way to get introduced to a corner of Bulgaria where borders are fuzzy and the centuries of conflict between Bulgarians, Turks, and Greeks aren’t over yet.


Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West – Entire Balkan Peninsula

by Rohan from Travels of a Bookpacker

There are many non-fiction books attempting to tackle the controversial history of the Balkans and I must admit, I’m waiting until I have a lot of time to sit and read through this one. At over 1000 pages it is one of the most highly acclaimed books about the Balkans and is meant to be a brilliant way of immersing yourself in the history of the region before arrival.

It was written just before World War II and is partly travel writing and partly historical. Many of the issues that West writes about are still present today and the overview of cultural and historical events will give you an idea of some of the deeply entrenched conflicts and opinions within the region.


No Gun for Asmir by Christobel Mattingley – Bosnia and Herzegovina

by Rohan from Travels of a Bookpacker

My teacher read this book to my class when I was in primary school and I remember being so emotionally invested in Asmir’s story. Arriving in Sarajevo about 20 years later I felt really moved to by the story I had so vividly pictured taking place in the streets. The story is told from the perspective of a young boy (Asmir) whose family escape from the war in Bosnia to Belgrade and later to Vienna. The book is written for children but is a moving read even for adults and is beautifully written. It is followed by ‘Asmir in Vienna’ and ‘Escape from Sarajevo’.

balkans books

Kaya, Belgrade, and the Good American by Mirjana Đurđević - Serbia

by Stephanie from Sofia Adventures

I picked up Kaya, Belgrade, and the Good American while in Belgrade last summer, since Serbian literature isn’t widely available outside of the country. However, it’s a novel that’s stuck with me, and I find myself referencing it often when discussing Belgrade. Visiting the city, it’s hard to understand exactly how Belgrade transformed over the past hundred years, but this historical novel gave me a context through which to appreciate the massive changes the city and country went through between World War I and World War II. 

The protagonist of the novel is a spitfire of a woman, a rich aristocrat and fencing instructor, who has befriended the American ambassador. The ambassador, missing his own granddaughter back in America, has taken an interest in the success of a local Central Asian girl who moved to the country with her family to flee religious oppression from the ruling Soviet regime. The clash of cultures, religion, and politics in the novel bring early twentieth-century Belgrade to life. As Europe races towards World War II and the oncoming Nazi brutality in Belgrade looms overhead, the characters’ worlds are torn apart. Europe is changing, and Belgrade can never be the same romantic, carefree city it had been between the wars. 


Elergy for Kosovo by Ismail Kadare – Kosovo (historical)

by Rohan from Travels of a Bookpacker

This story begins on the Plains of Kosovo during the battle between the Ottoman empire and the Balkan armies. It’s a short and poetic novel with a strong message about the Balkan conflicts and the controversy that has plagued Kosovo not only in recent times of independence but throughout the history of the Balkan countries’ formation.


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Planning a trip to the Balkans? Here is some travel inspiration for you. A reading list of the best books set in the Balkans. A collection of interesting novels about the Balkans! #books #balkans #travel #travelinspiration