This isn’t my usual social justice book, but it is indeed social justice in action: When Paula Huntley arrived in Prishtina, Kosovo in September 2000, the rubble from the NATO bombings still filled the streets, and the devastation caused by Slobodan Milosevic still tainted the minds and lives of its citizens. Huntley had only a vague idea of what she might do in Kosovo while her husband worked on helping to create a new legal system for the country. But when she was hired to teach English to a group of Kosovo Albanians, Huntley was immediately charmed by her students. They had lived through such dreadful times yet were filled with great optimism.
After finding an English language copy of Old Man and the Sea in a bookstore, Huntley began a book club with her students, and the “Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo” was born.
Huntley calls her book “an accidental book” since it began as a journal and series of e-mails she sent home. The book maintains the feel of a journal; dated entries describe her days in Kosovo, each entry building on the ones before. Because of this, the book is a little uneven — sometimes poetic, sometimes rather dry — but always engaging.
The book club gave Huntley an opportunity to learn about the lives of her students outside the classroom, and she records stories of the dire living conditions during the war and the bombings, and of the still harsh conditions of present-day Kosovo, especially during the cold, dull winter months. Other entries are more personal — Huntley’s reflections on her work and day-to-day life in Prishtina.
The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo is not just a memoir of an extraordinary time in Paula Huntley’s life; it is a history lesson and rumination on the collateral consequences of war, the capacity for human compassion and the power of hope.