In Balkan Smoke, Mary Neuburger leads readers along the
Bulgarian-Ottoman caravan routes and into the coffeehouses of
Istanbul and Sofia. She reveals how a remote country was drawn into
global economic networks through tobacco production and consumption
and in the process became modern. In writing the life of tobacco in
Bulgaria from the late Ottoman period through the years of
Communist rule, Neuburger gives us much more than the cultural
history of a commodity; she provides a fresh perspective on the
genesis of modern Bulgaria itself.
The tobacco trade comes to shape most of Bulgaria's
international relations; it drew Bulgaria into its fateful alliance
with Nazi Germany and in the postwar period Bulgaria was the
primary supplier of smokes (the famed Bulgarian Gold) for the USSR
and its satellites. By the late 1960s Bulgaria was the number one
exporter of tobacco in the world, with roughly one eighth of its
population involved in production.
Through the pages of this book we visit the places where tobacco
is grown and meet the merchants, the workers, and the peasant
growers, most of whom are Muslim by the postwar period. Along the
way, we learn how smoking and anti-smoking impulses influenced
perceptions of luxury and necessity, questions of novelty,
imitation, value, taste, and gender-based respectability. While the
scope is often global, Neuburger also explores the politics of
tobacco within Bulgaria. Among the book's surprises are the ways in
which conflicts over the tobacco industry (and smoking) help to
clarify the forbidding quagmire of Bulgarian politics.
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