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The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo.



By Paula Huntley. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003. 236 pp. including appendix. Hardcover. $22.95.

As his keynote address keynote address
n.
An opening address, as at a political convention, that outlines the issues to be considered. Also called keynote speech.

Noun 1.
 to the International Hemingway Society conference in Stresa in June 2002, the writer Tobias Wolff gave a reading from a work in progress, a richly comic novel A comic novel is a work of fiction in which the writer seeks to amuse the reader: sometimes with subtlety and as part of a carefully woven narrative, sometimes above all other considerations.

One of the most notable British comic novelists is P.G.
 about a young man at a fictional prep school visited by both Ayn Rand Noun 1. Ayn Rand - United States writer (born in Russia) noted for her polemical novels and political conservativism (1905-1982)
Rand
 and Ernest Hemingway Noun 1. Ernest Hemingway - an American writer of fiction who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1954 (1899-1961)
Hemingway
. Torn between two writers he admires, the young man ultimately decides that he prefers Hemingway because of Hemingway's compassion for human suffering. It is that compassion for human suffering that makes Hemingway's work so attractive to the students in the Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo, an informal gathering of ethnically Albanian students learning English in the city of Prishtina. (The author notes, incidentally, that the students prefer the Albanian spelling of Kosova for their native country.)

Paula Huntley, the author of this memoir, is a 56-year-old Californian and self-professed "ordinary American woman" (213) who travels to Prishtina with her husband, an American attorney who, as part of the American Bar Association's Central and Eastern European Law Initiative, is in Kosovo to create a modern legal system and teach attorneys and judges about the rule of law. At loose ends, Huntley agrees to teach an intermediate class for students learning English as a second language at the Cambridge School. Her memoir is written as a journal, with entries running from 23 August 2000, three days before their departure from the U.S., through 18 June 2001, almost two months after their return home (plus an epilogue written in 2002). Altogether, she spent about eight months in Kosovo. The book apparently evolved almost accidentally from observations she made during her stay there; as she explains in a prefatory pref·a·to·ry  
adj.
Of, relating to, or constituting a preface; introductory. See Synonyms at preliminary.



[From Latin praef
 note,
   Throughout those eight months, I kept a journal and
   e-mailed parts of it occasionally to friends and family. When I
   returned to the U.S. I found that my journal had spread through
   e-mail and had captured the interest and imagination of many
   Americans I didn't even know. Soon, to my astonishment, I had
   a book offer. (ix)


While not exactly like Hemingway's (and it is not intended to be), her prose does have the merits of being relatively simple, direct, and emotionally spare; she shows us what she sees and does not impose her interpretations too excessively, except, perhaps, in the book's epilogue.

Occasionally the book slips into an annoying alphabet soup of acronyms denoting the various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in reconstructing Kosovo--including ABA-CEELI, KFOR KFOR Kosovo Peacekeeping Force
KFOR Kosovo Forces (NATO) 
, UNMIK UNMIK United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo , OSCE OSCE Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe
OSCE Organisation Pour la Sécurité et la Coopération en Europe (French: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe)
OSCE Objective Structured Clinical Examination
, and CIVPOL CIVPOL Civilian Police
CIVPOL United Nations Civilian Police in Kosovo
. While these are probably unavoidable for anyone living in a country that is being rebuilt and rehabilitated, the reader is advised to either pay very close attention or start a running list to keep track of which acronym is which. But the book also offers some intriguing extras, including an appendix of international volunteer opportunities; the review copy's back cover indicates that a special reading group guide is available for the book (published online at <http://www.penguinputnam.com/static/ rguides/us/hemingway book_club_kosovo.html>), and there is a separate website for the book at <http://www.hemingwaybookclubofkosovo.com/>.

Huntley's students are Albanian, so she acknowledges that her perspective is biased; she herself concedes that her story is incomplete since she has not so much as met a single Serb during her stay in Kosovo. Although she occasionally alludes to atrocities committed by Albanians (such as the murder of a Rom, or gypsy, family for their supposed collaboration with the Serbs, or the bombing of a bus filled with Serbian families), she describes the sufferings of the Albanians at the hands of the Serbs in much more detail. It is difficult to argue with her perspective given the Serbians' choice to engage in "ethnic cleansing" of the Albanians and the fact that the Serbians held political power. Despite profound discouragement at the overwhelming odds against her students' success, she chooses to remain optimistic and decides, with her husband, that their most important role is to encourage the young people they are trying to help.

Although life-affirming, this book is not a sunny work, and sometimes it is self-accusatory, asking whether she really worried much about the sufferings of the Albanians in Kosovo The Albanians are the largest ethnic group in Kosovo, a Serbian province currently under UN administration. According to the 1991 census, boycotted by Albanians, there were 1,596,072 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo or 81.6% of population.  before she arrived and condemning Americans for their willed ignorance of much of the world. The book offers an informal crash course in the recent history of Kosovo This article or section needs copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone and/or spelling.
You can assist by [ editing it] now.
 and Serbia for those readers who have only a hazy understanding of the travails of Eastern Europe. Because it is written from the point of view of a compassionate teacher, it is perhaps more palatable than a dispassionate dis·pas·sion·ate  
adj.
Devoid of or unaffected by passion, emotion, or bias. See Synonyms at fair1.



dis·pas
 historical work and more accessible to those of us who also teach. In reflecting on her students' indiscriminate hatred of all Serbs, she recalls her own upbringing in a segregated small town in Arkansas in the 1950s. She concludes that she has outgrown many of the prejudices she was raised to hold and attributes much of that growth to a liberal education. While she admits that books can teach hate as well as understanding, she shares the idealism Of many teachers in believing that education is the best way to begin to combat racism and hatred.

Hemingway and his work do not feature nearly as prominently in this work as the title might suggest. Huntley does mention that she locates a stray copy of The Old Man and the Sea, which she duplicates for her students and assigns as reading. For the first time, she invites the students to come to her home, which seems to initiate a breakthrough in their willingness to learn from her and approach her with questions. As they discuss the work with her, she (like any teacher) explains the terms they find difficult and asks them questions to ensure that they comprehend what they are reading. But then she asks them whether they know anyone like Santiago in their own lives, whether they know anyone who has survived hardship and remained cheerful.
   I see light coming into their eyes as they begin to understand
   that the old man's struggle, his endurance, describe their own
   lives, the recent history of their country. Will they come to see
   that they are the heroes of their own stories? These young people
   know about "undefeated." They live it every day. (90)


Huntley shows her mostly teenaged students the 1958 film of The Old Man and the Sea, starring Spencer Tracy in his Oscar-nominated performance as Santiago. "I can imagine that many American kids would find it dated and boring," she says. But the students in her class are absorbed and find the film very moving. "They understand, as many students in my own country could not possibly understand, just what Hemingway is talking about" (167). She hopes, a little desperately, that her students will take courage from the old man's story.

Huntley finds parallels between Hemingway's prose and the short, simple sentences her students write about the violence of their lives:
   Leonard writes of seeing a television interview with
   local families whose sons/brothers/fathers/husbands are
   still missing--either dead or perhaps in Serbian jails
   somewhere. "I cried to listen them," he writes. "Their
   words attacked my heart." Granit 2 writes that the road
   in front of his house "looked like a snake, moving." When
   he and his family joined the exodus, he looked into houses
   along the way where he saw "people in the middle of
   fire." (153)


Huntley speculates that the simplicity of their language is owing partly to their inadequate vocabularies and partly to the utter impossibility of describing their horrific experiences in any words in any language. "There are times when we can only speak in fragments," she concludes. "People in the middle of fire. Simple, clear, vivid. Hemingwayesque" (153).

--Lisa Tyler, Sinclair Community College
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Author:Tyler, Lisa
Publication:The Hemingway Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2003
Words:1303
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