Balkan Smoke: Tobacco and the making of modern Bulgaria by Mary C. Neuburger

By Mary C. Neuburger

In Balkan Smoke, Mary Neuburger leads readers alongside the Bulgarian-Ottoman caravan routes and into the coffeehouses of Istanbul and Sofia. She unearths how a distant state used to be drawn into international monetary networks via tobacco construction and intake and within the technique turned glossy. In writing the lifetime of tobacco in Bulgaria from the past due Ottoman interval over the years of Communist rule, Neuburger provides us even more than the cultural heritage of a commodity; she presents a clean standpoint at the genesis of recent Bulgaria itself.

The tobacco alternate involves form so much of Bulgaria's diplomacy; it drew Bulgaria into its fateful alliance with Nazi Germany and within the postwar interval Bulgaria was once the first provider of smokes (the famed Bulgarian Gold) for the USSR and its satellites. by way of the overdue Sixties Bulgaria was once the #1 exporter of tobacco on the earth, with approximately one 8th of its inhabitants concerned with production.

Through the pages of this booklet we stopover at the locations the place tobacco is grown and meet the retailers, the employees, and the peasant growers, such a lot of whom are Muslim by means of the postwar interval. alongside the way in which, we learn the way smoking and anti-smoking impulses prompted perceptions of luxurious and necessity, questions of novelty, imitation, worth, style, and gender-based respectability. whereas the scope is frequently international, Neuburger additionally explores the politics of tobacco inside of Bulgaria. one of the book's surprises are the ways that conflicts over the tobacco (and smoking) aid to explain the forbidding quagmire of Bulgarian politics.

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Ethnic interaction, even intimacy, is also revealed in the novel in relation to the kafene setting. Through the character of the young revolutionary hero, Ivan Kralich, the reader is invited to experience the inside of a Turkish coffeehouse in a neighboring village. Kralich, a character based on the Bulgarian nationalist hero Vasil Levski, is wanted by the Ottoman authorities for his seditious activities. In one scene he journeys incognito as a “common Turk” through a snowy winter evening, when he is forced by inclement weather to stop for the night at a small inn in a Turkish-populated village.

Levski, after all, was CO F F E E H O U SE B A B B L E 33 mythologized to such a degree that his moralistic practices could be justifiably ignored by mere mortals. He was the monklike—even saintlike—figure to respect and worship. Very few could actually follow in his footsteps. Indeed, by the time of the 1876 April Uprising, smoking would have been a fairly pervasive practice in both the Bulgarian kru˘chma (and bakal) and the kafene. It would complement both the drunken revelries and the sober musings of the new Bulgarian intelligentsia.

They were squatting on straw-mats, their shoes off, pipes in hand. A dense fog of smoke filled the room. ” he said sternly to the host. ”105 Although the Ottoman-Turks are depicted as “phlegmatic” and ultimately out for blood, Kralich’s intimacy with their “habits and language” is striking. ” As part of his disguise as a common “Turk,” Kralich 32 C H A PT E R 1 wears a pipe tucked into his “greasy belt” along with a pistol and a dagger. In fact, it seems as if he smokes in this scene only in order to pass.

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