'The Archipelago: A Balkan Passage'

"The Archipelago: A Balkan Passage" recounts Isenberg’s travels as he makes his way from Pittsburgh to the once-war-torn land of the former Yugoslavia.

Sometimes the need for escape is of a much more prosaic variety. A few days away from the office, a pleasant trip to a different time zone, the chance to relax afforded by a timely vacation are sometimes all that is required to recharge ourselves, to upend whatever rut we have fallen into.

Local playwright and journalist Robert Isenberg found himself in just such a grind: “[T]he year has been long. I’ve been riding the same buses and seeing the same walls … Not a breakdown. But I’m strained, wound up, tight fisted. The Pennsylvania winter was long and punishing.”

A chance encounter with an old acquaintance from high school on Facebook leads to an invitation to Sarajevo. The Archipelago: A Balkan Passage recounts Isenberg’s travels as he makes his way from Pittsburgh to the once-war-torn land of the former Yugoslavia.

Isenberg is a warm and witty travel companion. He is quick to chuckle at his own misadventures—such as being propositioned by a prostitute while winding his way back to the hotel one very late night in Athens.

But he is honest enough to depict himself in a sometimes unflattering light—as, for instance, when he is stopped at the border of Montenegro for not having the proper stamps on his passport and becomes inwardly indignant:

“This rubs me the wrong way—if only because the man at the computer has the round, pale look of an office drone, and the can-do American in me knows that I could dropkick him … I want to reply: ‘Your country is dotted with war criminals! And you’re worried about some clueless-looking guy in khaki cargo shorts?’”

The Archipelago: A Balkan Passage combines the best of the travel-writing, history and personal-memoir genres. It’s a journey not to be missed.


The Archipelago: A Balkan Passage by Robert Isenberg; Autumn House Press; $19.95.