Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Hemingway Bookclub Of Kosovo

I didn't decide that I liked this book until the very last few pages. I thought the title was misleading as most of the book had very little to do with the author, Paula Huntley, teaching Hemingway and a lot to do with her own personal thoughts about the pollution, Kosovar's view of Americans, whether or not they had electricity that day etc.

The title comes from a name she gives a group of students she is teaching English to. She only has one Hemingway book, The Old Man and the Sea, which she copies for her entire class. Huntley mentions teaching the book briefly, but it isn't until the very end of this book, that she ties in the great Hemingway story and returns to Kosovo with t-shirts emblazoned with this logo, that I felt like this little book club really existed. It's not obvious and her writing is much more broad in scope than this one classroom experience.

In her defense, Huntley describes this book as accidental. It really is made up of her journal entries that she wrote without any intention of publishing. It wasn't until those receiving her emails initiated the book idea, and she was made an offer from a publisher, that she considered sharing her thoughts with the world. The result is a mixture of mundane, uncensored thought with truthful, personal insight.

I am ashamed to admit that I had to research online about the Kosovo/Serb/Albanian conflict. Of course, I had heard about Milosivec and his war crimes, but I didn't know how the Kosovo conflict related to Bosnia and Sarajevo and that entire region that I was more familiar with. Truthfully, it's complicated and I still don't understand the entire Balkan War. It is about ethnic cleansing and old grudges. It is hard for me to imagine, as a multi-generational American, how such intolerance and ignorance can exist in this day and age when the world is so much smaller and we have access to so much information. How can people still believe that races, or ethnicities, or religions as a whole, actually produce an inferior and worthless human being? This happened seven years ago, and they are still talking with so much generalizations! ALL Serbs, ALL Albanians, ALL Americans etc. Anytime a sentence begins with or contains an "ALL" I bristle. This kind of tragedy is what happens when we fail to see the individual spirit.

Essentially, that is what Huntley much teach these young Kosovar Albanians. That while they have been oppressed and persecuted, they must adjust their thinking. And to accomplish that change, they must have the VOCABULARY to communicate with the world without violence.

The book didn't have much to do with a Hemingway bookclub and I would have loved a more in-depth look at their discussion of the book and the parallels that Huntley ultimately draws from it, but I did end up rooting for Leonard and the Professor and her other students, which is why Huntley decided to go ahead and publish. She wanted us to know these individuals and understand the beauty of the Kosovar soul. I'm glad I got a glimpse

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