Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars is a chronicle of poet and critic Christopher Merrill's ten war-time journeys to the Balkans from the years 1992 through 1996. At once a travelogue, a book of war reportage, and a biography of the imagination under siege, this beautifully written and personal narrative takes the reader along on the author's journeys to all the provinces and republics of the former Yugoslavia and surrounding countries. This literary meditation on war is a fascinating portrait of the poetry, politics and the people of the Balkans which will provide insight into the past, present, and future of those war-torn lands.
I do not know of a thing written on the Balkans that is so attentive and appreciative of those artists who have both absorbed and reflected on the troubles of their land-in theory, at least, their real job in life. Who else has even come so close to recording their observations? -- Kai Erikson, Yale University Only the Nails Remain is a beautiful, thoughtful, and surprising tour through the heart and soul of the Balkans at the end of the 20th century. Only a poet-journalist could accomplish this, and there's none better than Christopher Merrill. His first-hand experiences, compassionate insights, and unblinking eye for the telling detail make this book as fascinating as it is indispensable. -- Phil Alden Robinson, director of Field of Dreams and One Woman's Sarajevo An intelligent, incisive, and extremely well-written report from the Balkans which gives body and human dimension to the strange, terrible events of recent years. -- Peter Matthiessen, novelist and non-fiction writer, twice winner of the National Book Award Christopher Merrill has given us a deeply moving account of a poet's journey into the dark heart of the war that punctuates our most broken century. Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars is informative as history, instructive as geography, penetrating as political analysis-and ennobling as literature. Merrill illuminates the Balkan conflict by bringing to life the bearers of its particular names, the speakers of its unforgettable voices. Merrill leads like Virgil. Alas, his tragic vision proves to be prophetic. During and after Kosovo, this book is mandatory for Americans -- James Carroll, author of An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us, winner of the National Book Award There's no finer, more eloquent book written about the Balkans-its literature and cultures, its bloodsoaked history and deluded politics, and certainly its fascinating people-than Christopher Merrill's Only the Nails Remain. Equally compelling as both a storyteller and correspondent, Merrill is our own Ryszard Kapuscinski-the highest praise I can offer to an American writer trying to comprehend the events of our time; the forces that, even as you read this, sweep promiscuously across the world. -- Bob Shacochis, National Book Award winner and author of The Immaculate Invasion and Easy in the Islands With this extraordinary book, Merrill, a poet, author, and translator, has broadened the discussion to include not only politics and history, but culture and literature, too. Unlike many other books on the former Yugoslavia, Merrill's was not hastily written in the year after his duty in the war zone. Instead, it contains ripe reflections on his 10 journeys to Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia and Mecedonia... The beautifully written scenes from his travels are keenly observed and insightful. Like Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, this book might very well become a modern classic about what once again seems a painful and incomprehensible corner of Europe. Publishers Weekly An engrossing account of the Balkan wars ... also an informed account, for Merrill butresses his vignettes with numerous asides into Balkan history and politics. In addition, he provides the reader with fascinating profiles of heroes and villains, past and present, whose biographies explain, or help to explain, Yugoslavia's legacy of revenge, cruelty, and bloodshed... Anyone who wishes to understand the human tragedy that is Yugoslavia should read Only the Nails Remain. -- Donald P. Kommers, University of Notre Dame America: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture A poet who has journeyed, often on foot, through the Balkans, Merrill presents anecdotes from ordinary people encountered during his wanderings, as well as from friends in the arts and some political leaders... His wide-ranging cultural connections provide a clearer understanding of each ethnic group's triumphs and follies, underscoring the importance of language, literature and folklore in forging national identity. Merrill goes further... Merrill reveals both the complex hatreds and the darkly comical bickering between nationalities about their cultures. San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle In the line of fire. Only the Nails Remain works on a myriad of different levels... [It] does not flinch when presenting the war, but then it will just as adeptly switch gears and recount a snippet of medieval history or a quirky character sketch. The latter abound. Life goes on. Which, more than anything, is the underlying theme of Only the Nails Remain-the perverse endurance of the human spirit. The Seattle Times Apowerful and enigmatic account... A valuable book, especially for its portrait of the less-known Slovene literary life. Highly recommended for all academic and larger libraries. Library Journal Only the Nails Remain, Christopher Merrill's eloquent depiction of his journeys through the Balkans. Village Voice Literary Supplement [A] widely admired book. Worcester Telegram and Gazette A rich supplement to the otherwise dry diet of those academic texts that purport to analyse more systematically the causes and consequences of Balkan conflict. Political Studies Review It is a study uniquely sensitive to the rhythms and nuances of a place where writing poetry is sometimes considered a national profession and where art is valued in even its most outrageously experimental forms. Merrill captures the wild beauty and romance of the region and records its dangers and inconsistencies. MANOA This is a book of voices-of conversation, rumors, witticisms, grotesque legends and jokes... It is also a brilliant marriage of history and anecdote-a highly lucid travelogue through terrain as complex as it is dark. The New Mexican Merril's absorbing, beautifully written chronicle describes his ten trips to the Balkans during the Third Balkan War. Recommended enthusiastically for readers at all levels. CHOICE A beautifully written and visual book that stirs and engages all the senses of its reader. It is a travel book, which describes a journey less through the fragmenting space of the former Yugoslavia as through a crumbling humanity in the conditions of a protracted vicious and desensitizing war. It is a must for any scholar of the former Yugoslavia, and a magnificent addition to the library of any reader. Balkan Academic News Not many books have been written with both passionate energy and respect for the facts; Only the Nails is one of them. It is recommended not only to students of psychohistory but to anyone interested in contemporary Europe. Canadian Slavonic Papers