In The Bend of The River: Book Review

10. September, 2011 Culture 3 comments

In The Bend of the River is the colourful and often amusing account of a British couple who took the unusual decision to up sticks and settle in the small ethnic-Hungarian village of Stara Moravica in Vojvodina. In almost equal parts memoir, travelogue and nature guide, this is the diary of their life less ordinary, clearly told with affection by two people who learned to live alongside unfamiliar people in a strange and foreign land.

In this book, Robert MacCurrach, a former soldier turned forester, photographer and avid nature lover, recalls his exposure to one of the lesser-known corners of Europe, after he and his wife Tricia settled in northern Serbia. Through their recollections and vivid descriptions of the ups and downs of a new life, we learn about the couple’s experiences and how they got to know, and be accepted by, the people they met there.

Sitting at the crossroads between central Europe and the Balkans, Vojvodina is a region of deep history and changing tenants thrown together by war, occupation and migration. It is inhabited by people whose background spans the Habsburg and Ottoman empires and who still wear those times etched in their faces and evident in their habits and ways.

This history has imbued it with a rich and varied culture, which is why so much money and effort is now going into promoting the region to international tourists. This book handles that history well, by touching on the background without over-doing it, and providing just enough detail for the casual reader to support the focus on the people, the place and its nature.

Robert shares his experiences of a simple place, where nature is woven into daily life in a manner that is often lost in less rural surroundings. He writes with richness and colour, bringing to life the couple’s anecdotes about the their time spent navigating culture and tradition in their new home. In clear and conversational prose, Robert vividly describes an apparent rural harmony, where sheep graze freely, birds hop on windowsills and bent-over women in headscarves still carry wood home on their backs.

Indeed, Robert has a thing for birds, almost a twitcher’s obsession, and he allows that passion to flit across every few pages as he records the comings and goings of this and that species of bird. His wife Tricia’s pen-sketch illustrations often picture the birds they see daily.

Inevitably, and to the benefit of the book, there is another side to this tranquility, and Robert is equally honest about their travails of battling with bureaucracy to set up home in a strange land. When Robert and Tricia settled in their tiny village, word got out and, unsurprisingly, some less scrupulous among the locals saw an opportunity to scalp the Brits with bulging pockets. Thankfully, though, they had help from some kind-hearted friends and they settled on buying and renovating a dilapidated cottage. An array of local people play their role in this story, with plenty of colourful characters to personalise the tales.

For Robert and Tricia, it was the removal from their comfort zone in the UK that gave wing to so many adventures and new-found freedoms that make their story so compelling. That they chose to relocate to a remote rural village makes the story all the more interesting. After all, the trials and tribulations of setting up home there can only make it a better read.

Somewhat inevitably, the project wound to a close and the couple returned to Britain a few years after their adventure began. They maintain close contact with Serbia, with many lifelong friends there. The are in the process of selling their village home in Vojvodina.

In The Bend of The River is a story that has been written with passion, rather than with a specific audience in mind. It is not easy to classify on the shelf. That is not to say it is a difficult or unsatisfactory read – far from it – as Robert’s appetite for wildlife and some witty anecdotes about their new neighbours carry the jaunty timeline from one episode to the next.

The book costs £10 within the UK and is available by contacting Tricia MacCurragh.

If you like it, please share it:
  1. Anonymous

    9 / 10 / 2011 4:42 pm

    Excellent, well done, could this go in Wannabe Magazine? Great for students of English and anybody getting a renewed perspective on there own country. Time for some appreciative visitors to Vojvodina!


  2. 9 / 10 / 2011 4:56 pm

    Don’t worry… There will be plenty of reports on Vojvodina early next month, when I attend the BlogOpen conference in Novi Sad and take a tour of the region. A journey of discovery!


  3. Anonymous

    9 / 20 / 2011 11:40 am

    A tour of the region without staying at the Village Farmhouse will be a lesser adventure. Please go there if only for a night or a meal. we can set it all up for your easily. Music, piglet baked in the maize stalk fired oven next door, or a Paprikas in a Kotlich cooked in the garden. Is Visit Serbia featuring in you plans. Bilja, the director, is a friend!





Your comment:

Add your comment