The premise of this book is that it is culled from a series of journal extracts and emails written by Paula Huntley during her yearlong stay in Kosovo where she travelled with her husband, teaching English at the University in Pristina Indeed Paula herself calls this an accidental book, and whilst the diary format has no doubt undergone a degree of rewriting prior to publication, the format does give an immediacy and honesty to the narrative: Paula questions her own innermost motivations in journeying to Kosovo: as well as making interesting parallels of the prejudice she sees around her with her own previous racial intolerance whilst growing up in 1960s America.However, this is not an introspective work, and indeed one of the most effective elements of this book are her vivid descriptions of a wartorn Kosovo desparately trying to get back to normal within the artificial confines of UN administration The physical descriptions are particularly telling:Prishtina is a city of fragments There are few whole things here few intact surfaces, few complete buildings, few functional systems Concrete sidewalks are split and buckled, stuccoed walls are crazed and stained, roads are gullied and pocked with holes big enough to swallow a small car, steps are crumbling, raggededged Turbid, smelly graywater seeps from every crack and pit And everywhere, everywhere, garbage.Defying these grim conditions are the key characters: the Kosovan students who attend her English lessons and the titular Book Club These students provide fascinating insights into the psyche of this region, and their optimisim and fortitude is universally humbling given that they are effectively suffering a double tragedy a scarred past of death and displacement at the hands of Serbian paramilitaries; and an uncertain future in a country still devastated by war and reliant upon the fickle Western powers for support All see themselves as 'lucky' (they are, after all, still alive) and see the learning of English as a ticket to a better future Whilst some achieve their dreams of escaping their situations, to varying degrees, Paula is acutely aware that she may well be raising unrealistic expectations among her students; a heartbreaking prospect for both writer and reader.Paula herself proves to be an insightful guide into Kosovo here she is always aware that her views of the country are tempered by a Western/US perspective and she shows a rare sensitivity in her actions for instance, whilst attempting to encourage her Kosovo Albanian students to acknowledge that not all Serbians are murderers and aggressors, she wisely retreats in the face of obvious confusion and even anger These individuals' wounds are simply too recent and too deep, although by the end of the book there are signs of hope here tooas Paula says in a recent interview Kosovo will be judged by how well the Albanian majority of some 90 per cent protects the Serbs, Roma and other minority groups Are they up to this? I hope so Everything depends upon it.Ultimately, this is a story of a country and a people scarred and traumatised by recent war, who desperately require an autonomy and stake in their own future which they are unlikely to attain whilst they remain under international governance a situation which remains nearly a decade after this book was written As of 2010, the status of Kosovo remains unclear of the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council the US, UK and France acknowledged a declaration of Kosovan independence in 2008, yet this has not been formalised due to the resistance of China and Russia.On a personal note, I must admit to being shamefully unaware of the details of the Kosovan crisis and the Balkan conflict of the 1990s as a twentysomething living in the UK at the time, I was aware of the conflict from the nightly news reports of NATO bombings and I recall being appalled at the UN's failure to prevent the Srebenica massacre in 1995, but the details never really struck home To me, this was a conflict happening elsewhere, to other people, and I never really engaged with it As a final thought, I have to say I would welcome an update from Paula Huntley on how these various individuals are doing, almost a decade on from her book's events. This book has been sitting on my shelf for the better part of a decade, and I’m feeling a bit stupid now that I only just got around to it Huntley’s short memoir, comprised of various outtakes from a journal she kept during her time in postwar Kosovo, relates both humbling humanity and almost unthinkable savagery I remember only vaguely hearing about the Balkan conflicts when they were happening I was only a freshman in high school in 1999, and it struck me in much the way the Rwandan conflict had Which is to say with a Midwestern tsktsking reproachfulness that, yes, they would do that to one another over there, wouldn’t they I had no idea what an ethnic Albanian was or why it was so difficult for the Serbs to simply get on with them in the manner of normal civilized people And then September 11th happened, and nobody talked about the Balkans ever again As it turns out, the answer to why the Serbs began murdering, raping, and forcibly removing their Albanian neighbors from Kosovo is about as straightforward as the reasons why the Israelis and Palestinians can’t sort their issues out History, history, andhistory I feel, after reading this book, that America is primarily blessed by a lack of history We came here a couple hundred years ago, wiped out the only other people with a claim to this land when there were no cameras or international human rights watchdogs to make us feel bad about it, and got down to the business of making money Our lives are very simple Not all that ethically superior, but simple Besides the obvious heartwarming charm of the resilient Albanian survivors who populate her English class, the thing I liked best about the author’s writing is the way she poses questions, but doesn’t necessarily argue an answer for them She lets her observations speak for themselves, and lets the reader follow her thoughts to their various troubling conclusions Did the Albanians have a cultural capacity for tolerating a multiethnic society where the rights of minorities are protected? Is nonviolent protest basically futile in awakening international interest in a conflict? Were the lovely, kindhearted people she met, or indeed her own family, really any different than the murderous Serbs, or was brutality largely a matter of opportunity and motivation? Human nature never looks all that good under that particular microscope Awesome book I feel like I need to grab a modern history of the Balkans and learn . No, with killing and bombings and trash dumped in the street and racial hatred, Kosovo doesn't sound like a great place to visit But when Paula Huntley's husband was sent to Kosovo to help establish a legal system, Huntley impulsively decides to accompany him and later jumps into teaching a group of Kosovo Albanians English Unexpectedly, Huntley falls in lovewith the country, with its people Yes, I'd heard of Kosovo, but I doubt I'd have been able to write a coherent essay explaining much about the conflict there prior to reading this book I recommend this book In some ways, it reminded me of Reading Lolita in Tehran But can we selfcentered Americans ever read too much about areas of the world where people don't spend most of their day at the mall or playing Nintendo? This is the ideal book, really easy and entertaining to read, but also insightful and thoughtprovoking It is basically a memoir of a middleaged American woman who lives in Kosovo for eight months, shortly after NATO drove the Serbs out, while her husband tried to help establish a system to create and enforce the rule of law The author, Paula Huntley, teaches a group of young people English in part by leading a reading discussion book based on the book The Old Man and the Sea As I read this book, I was reminded so many times of the people I met while visiting or living in Gaza The Kosovars were oppressed and desperate for independence just as are the Palestinians I just hope the progress seen in Kosovo will someday come to Palestine What impressed me about the author is that she was able to step back and crucially question the role of the United States, as well as to feel compassion for the small numbers of Serbs (and Roma) who were still trying to live in Kosovo In other words, she didn't so totally buy into one narrative that she couldn't see the humanity in those on the other side A lesson for us all I wish I had kept a diary while in Gaza so that I could have written my own book! A book that shakes up one's perspective on life We are so blessed in this country with freedom, affluence and comfort it is easy to forget most of the world doesn't live that way.Favorite quotations: In Kosovo, parents constantly hug and stroke and caress their children Children, teenagers, love their fathers and mothers They do not feel entitled to demand, to misbehave, to argue with or terrorize their parents What are we Americans doing wrong? p 148 the isolation, the ignorance of Americans We are, by the world's standards, wealthy, and we have virtually unlimited access to news and books and magazines We can travel, we can learn But we are an island, cut off from the rest of the world not so much by geography as by complacency, by a lack of curiosity, by arrogance, perhaps We are worldly, but we know little of the world p 158 I chose this book to gain a better understanding of the Kosovo (ethnic Albanian) side of the Balkans conflict(s) Mission accomplished, but only at a very shallow level The book reads like the author's personal journal, perhaps a 5th grade reading level? I feel bad being critical, but the writing is elementary and the analysis and expression of insight and experiences is equally elementary (and repetitive) I'm quite disappointed But, I have to admit that it's interesting enough for me to finish it I've learned about the Kosovar/Albanian side of the conflict a bit (or at least their perceptions of it, through the interpretation of the American author).Conclusion: only read if you have a specific interest in the region and can't find any other books on the topic in your local used bookstore What can I say except this was an absolutely excellent book with so much historical information interwoven into the narrative A good friend of ours just returned from a 2year Peace Corps stint in Macedonia Now I want to talk with him indepth about his experiences; I feel as if I have a better understanding of that area Well, actually, to be honest, I now have a bit of KNOWLEDGE and thereby understanding (Whereas before, I simply had no knowledge!) I am so grateful Huntley shared her experiences and I want to investigate her website, www.hemingwaybookclubofkosovo.com Now I want to read all the history books she mentioned! Yikes!! This was such an inspirational experience And, I agree, that realistically, all we can do is what we can do to help any such situation But we can always do , can't we? And we should I probably would have never read this book if it wouldn't have been chosen by the book club that I recently joined, but I am really glad I read this As Paula mentions several times in the book, Kosovars don't know a lot about the world outside of Kosovo, but Americans should know Unfortunately, a lot of Americans don't know, and I am one of them This book was very eye opening to the struggles that people face It also shows that ethnic problems exist just about everywhere It is amazing that things that happened in the Balkan region in the late 90's and early 00's could happen in today's times I highly recommend this book, it will change your thinking about a lot of things Great job Mrs Huntley, and thank you for writing about your time in Kosovo. Gripping, heartbreaking readingThe interweaving of Hemingway's story, the students' narratives of terror and Huntley's own tales of discovery make for a book that is stirring and nearly impossible to put downIn August , Paula Huntley's husband took a leave of absence from his teaching post at a law school, and she resigned from her marketing job of thirteen years Huntley's husband had signed on with the American Bar Association to help rebuild Kosovo's legal system Not quite sure how she could be of any service in a country that had suffered so much, Huntley found a position at a private school teaching English to a group of Kosovo Albanians In this inspiring diary of her experiences in Kosovo, Huntley describes the deep friendships she formed with her students and the remarkable book club that they created One day in a bookstore in Prishtina, Huntley stumbled upon a copy of Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea andjudging that it was just the right reading level and lengthshe made copies of it for the group Despite lingering concerns that this quintessential American writer so notorious for his machismo might not resonate, the story of the old man's struggle to bring in his big fish touched them deeply So deeply in fact that, though the group went on to read other great American writers, a name for their club was born: The Hemingway Book Club of KosovaThis book reveals both the fragility and strength of the human spirit Neither a journalist nor a historian, Huntley describes her students' experiences during the war and the intimacy of the bond that she formed with them with a rare purity and directness A vision of great hope, The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo reveals the power of human connection to bring about healing in even the most wartorn circumstances Better than Reading Lolita in Tehran (or at least I liked it better), focusingon the people and culture of the time and less on drawing stretchedout parallels with overbaked literary analysis My one critique of the author, not the book itself is that in spite of living in Kosova for over a year, she apparently never learnedthan a word or two of Albanian, which is a) annoyingly typical American and b) makes me raise an eyebrow toward her capability for cultural analysis, but since most of the book focuses on individuals and individuallevel interactions/reactions rather than a lot of broader sociological commentary, so I can give her a slight pass.