Alexander Billinis is an American with Greek parents and he is a very keen fan of Paddy’s writing. He has travelled and worked all over the Balkans and now lives with his family in Serbia, writing about the region, in particular the trials and tribulations of the Greeks. This review offers a very positive assessment of Alex’s latest book which is available from Amazon and all good booksellers
First published in Cape Cod Today.
Author Alexander Billinis’s subtitle to his book is, “Journeys through Byzantine Europe,” which he modestly describes as a “travelogue.” Billinis, an international banker, traveler, and writer-journalist, has essentially written a romance with the Balkans. His love of the diverse Balkan peoples and of their history is evident with every paragraph.
The “Eagle” of his title is the two-headed Byzantine eagle, reflecting an empire, with Constantinople as its capital, that looked eastward to Asia Minor and westward to the Balkans and Europe. The Byzantine Empire was the most advanced in the world, spreading knowledge and culture and prosperity until 1453, when Constantinople was ravaged by the Ottoman Turks and the whole empire thrown into its own dark ages for 500 cruel years.
It was not until the early 20th Century that the last of these lands, including Northern Greece, where my own parents were born, was freed from Ottoman rule. This left what are now the Balkan states 500 years behind the progress of the rest of Europe. Billinis’s travels take him and his wife through Greece and Bulgaria, Romania, Thrace, the region of Macedonia, to Serbia, the northern region of which fell under the Austro-Hungarian Empire rather than the Ottoman. Billinis’s father is from Hydra, an island near Athens, and his wife from northern Serbia. Their combined knowledge and impressions of the region give the book its unique flavor.
The book is liberally sprinkled with photographs reflecting the rich, different architectures of the various cultures that live in and have passed through the region. I’ve occasionally referred to the Balkans as “the dark region” of Europe because that area has been so eclipsed by Ottoman oppression that very little is known about its history and its own Christian empires compared with the rest of Europe. Billinis’s book sheds light on the darkness and brings the area and its people to life.
The book even addresses the Pontian Greeks of Russia and Greek-speaking enclaves that still exist in Italy.
For me, the book has been a Balkan primer and an enchanting read. It is essential reading if you want to round out your European history with 150 concise, but full, pages about Europe’s least known region written by one who has actually traveled its paths and tipped a glass of tsipouro with its people.