Diary detailing a charged and watchful year living in Kosovo directly after the Serbs’ retreat.
Huntley wasn’t along just for the ride when she accompanied her husband to Kosovo, where he worked to rebuild the legal system from the ground up. She wanted to be usefully engaged, and, judging by this journal of her year as an English teacher to a group of young Kosovars, she was. Huntley lived in Prishtina, which lacked phones and postal service and had only intermittent e-mail; the town was physically spared but “ethnically cleansed” of Albanians by Serbs. Living there required a high tolerance for chaos and filth (“the air is visible,” she reports), but she could hear the call to prayer through the cries of blackbirds and witness the return of a community from exile. (Not all the community, she is quick to point out: Serbs and Romas walked ever so softly if they dared to return at all—and most didn’t.) The author does a justifiable amount of intelligent hand-wringing over US intentions in Kosovo, which proved, as she expected, to be cut-and-run. Much of the narrative concerns the aspirations of her students, torn between the desire to be with their families and the longing to get away. Coming across most forcefully here are the everyday revelations of a land, history, and circumstance so different than any the author had ever known: the honor-bound blood feuds, the pervasive fear, the long memories so successfully exploited by ideologues, the organizational jockeying and international politicking amid the misery, the remarkable instinct to survive, but also the godawful crushing of that instinct when experiences are just too horrible to be absorbed. The Old Man and the Sea, with its portrait of persistence in the face of pain and suffering, naturally struck a chord with her students, who gave their book club its author’s name.
Powerful and bleak: Huntley doesn’t see much but bones for the Kosovars to be gnawing on in the near future.