One Oregon Standoff, 2 Books

You know how Hollywood simultaneously launches “twin movies”? Think:

  • Tombstone vs. Wyatt Earp
  • Mirror Mirror vs Snow White & the Huntsman
  • The Prestige vs. The Illusionist 

Well, the book industry is no different. Late June/early July 2019 heralds the release of two different takes on recent Pacific Northwest history. The blurbs on the back seem to indicate that one is a more serious, scholarly and in-depth examination of the events and the other is its sexier, more dramatic (possibly overdramatic) good-times twin. I will let you decide which you think is which. They both look interesting:

ShadowlandsTales of the Bundy Family

Shadowlands: Fear and Freedom at the Oregon Standoff
A Western Tale of America in Crisis
Anthony McCann
On street: July 2 / Hardback, $19.49

“In 2016, a group of armed, divinely inspired right-wing protestors led by Ammon Bundy occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the high desert of eastern Oregon. Encamped in the shadowlands of the republic, insisting that the federal government had no right to own public land, the occupiers were seen by a divided country as either dangerous extremists dressed up as cowboys, or heroes insisting on restoring the rule of the Constitution.”

Anthony McCann is a resident of the Mojave Desert and teaches creative writing at the University of California, Riverside and at the California Institute of the Arts.

Up.jpgUp in Arms: How the Bundy Family Hijacked Public Lands, Outfoxed the Federal Government, and Ignited America’s Patriot Militia Movement
John Temple
On street: June 25 / Hardback, $24.95

“’It’s time! They have my cattle, and now they have one of my boys. Range war begins tomorrow at Bundy Ranch.’”

“These words, pounded out on a laptop at Cliven Bundy’s besieged Nevada ranch on April 6, 2014, ignited a new American revolution. Across the country, a certain type of citizen snapped to attention: this was the flashpoint they’d been waiting for, a chance to help a fellow American stand up to a tyrannical and corrupt federal government.”

John Temple is the author of American Pain: How a Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic. He is also a journalism professor at West Virginia University.


The Dog Days of Reading

Today’s featured ARCs come from HMH (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Forge Books (Macmillan).

WhereWhere the Lost Dogs Go
by Susannah Charleson
Hardback, $27
On street: June 4, 2019 / HMH Books

One in six dogs will go missing during his or her lifetime. Of course their human companions feel heartbroken and helpless. Meet Ace,  a plucky Maltese who wound up in a shelter after wandering around lost for months, an experience he barely survived. After the author and her senior search and rescue dog Puzzle adopt Ace, he and Susannah begin searching for lost pets. Ace seems to have a nose for it.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

*****For dog lovers, it’s heartwarming, hopeful, and instructive.

*****The author moves easily from the personal to the universal, delving into animal behavior, search and rescue tactics, social media strategies to use when looking for a beloved pet, and the psychology of loss.

*****The story packs an extra punch when a tornado threatens the Rowlett/Garnet area of Texas where the author’s mother lives–and refuses to evacuate without her four cats, who have run away. It is one thing to do what you do, but quite another to have to do it for family.

Note: The author’s first memoir, The Scent of Memory talks about how she got into the search and rescue field after the Oklahoma City bombing when she saw one of the rescuers crying into his dog’s fur at the end of an exhausting day. She is a pilot who now trains search and detection K9s, service dogs for the disabled, and comfort dogs that serve the community. Her fur and leather menagerie at home includes a paralyzed pup on wheels named Ruff Draft.

HeartHeart of Barkness
Spencer Quinn
Hardback, $25.99
On Street:  July 2, 2019 / Forge Books

Mystery Series
Chet the mutt and his human, Bernie the PI, both love a good steak. They also love music, so when an old-school country singer turns up at a local bar, they drive out to catch her act. Bernie’s surprised to see someone who was once so big performing in such a dive, and drops a C-note the Little Detective Agency can’t afford to part with into the tip jar. The C-note is stolen right from under their noses – even from under Chet’s, the nose that misses nothing – and before the night is over, it’s stolen again. Soon Chet and Bernie find themselves sucked into a real-life murder ballad where there is no one to trust but each other.

Why it’s Worth Choosing
*****The narration. While Janet Evanovich’s Bob provides comic relief for Stephanie Plum and police officer/love interest Joe Morelli, Spencer Quinn’s Chet tells every story from his point of view. Not only is this endearing, charming, and funny, it can have a positive effect on the reader’s psyche. After I finished the first book, I had Chet’s voice in my head so strongly that I found myself seeing the world less like an anxiety-ridden human and more like a “what a great day!” dog.

******The series is mostly light detective fun in the cozy detective tradition of Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters. So for those of you who do not enjoy edgy thrillers with lots of blood and gore, you are barking up the right tree here.

For more books like these, check out the biography and mystery sections at indie bookstores like Aunties!


Non-Fiction Lovers Click Here

Let’s take a look at deer, food, and a constitutional cult, though not in the same book. This blog contains a memoir by a man from a hunting family, a look ahead at what we will eat in a bigger, smarter, hotter world, and the thin line between constitutional fidelity and fundamentalism.

DeerDeer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, a Family, and the Land that Healed Them
Dean Kuipers
Hardback, $28
On Street: May, 2019 / Bloomsbury

Bruce Kuipers was good at hunting and fishing, but bad at family life. Distant, angry, and a serial cheater, he destroyed his relationship with his wife, alienating his three sons. He distrusted people and clung to rural America as a place to hide. So when Bruce purchased a 100-acre hunting property as a way to reconnect with his sons, they resisted. The land was the perfect bait for the younger Kuipers: Joe, a brilliant but troubled fisherman; Brett, a crack woodsman; and even Dean, a journalist.

But reconciliation doesn’t just happen–it takes work. And none of the men knew how to be together as a family. Conflict arose over whether the land should be left alone or actively restored to its prior state as a farm. After a decade-long impasse, Bruce agreed to let his sons proceed with their restoration plan. What happened next was surprising, heartwarming and profound.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

  • The author has written extensively about the field of environmental politics and the human-nature relationship for decades in other contexts.
  • The man can write: His clips include pieces in the Los Angeles Times, Outside, Rolling Stone, and Men’s Journal.
  • This beautiful story about the restorative power of nature on a family in desperate need of healing will leave you feeling good.

FateThe Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World
Amanda Little
Hardback, $27
On Street: June, 2019 / Harmony Books

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the Earth is predicted to have 9 billion humans living on it by the middle of this century. With global crop production declining due to drought, heat, and flooding, and water supplies shrinking, how can we feed everyone? We are failing to feed all the people we have now, after all.

Vanderbilt University professor Amanda Little spent three years traveling through 12 countries and 12 US states in search of answers. The race to re-invent the global food system is on: We must solve the existing problems of industrial agriculture while also preparing for the pressures ahead.

In this fascinating and timely book, Little meets all kinds of players:

  • small permaculture farmers
  • “Big Food” executives
  • botanists studying ancient superfoods
  • Kenyan farmers growing the country’s first GMO corn
  • engineers at a California sewage plant
  • military personnel at a US Army research lab
  • experts studying a monsoon cloud above Mumbai

Why It’s Worth Choosing

Little treats her subject–and her readers with respect. Unafraid to ask the tough questions, she nonetheless manages to avoid giving you a “doom and gloom” outlook. The book balances nicely between presenting the threats posed by climate change honestly and providing a real sense of the author’s awe and optimism about the lessons of our past and the scope of human ingenuity.

CultCult of the Constitution
Mary Anne Franks
Hardback, $26
On Street: May 2019 / Stanford University Press

Does the US Constitution serve white male supremacy? This author thinks so, and is prepared to show you why, citing deep strains of fundamentalism in both conservative and liberal American thought. She further states that just as religious fundamentalists pick and choose from their sacred scriptures to further their agendas, so do constitutional fundamentalists read the Constitutions selectively and self-servingly. She cites:

  • the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment
    • enforced by groups like the NRA
  • the liberal fetish for the First Amendment
    • enforced by groups like the ACLU

And much, much more.  Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami , argues that the promise of equal protection found in the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits selective interpretation (and application) of the constitution. Guaranteed to provoke an argument around your Thanksgiving dinner table.

Why it’s Worth Choosing
Because who couldn’t use a little legal backup in their Facebook arguments? For liberals, conservatives and moderates.



Soon to Be Science Fiction Favorites

Because who doesn’t enjoy asking yourself “What if..” and then letting your imagination run wild? This blog features a Fantastic Three:

TheaterTheater of Spies
SM Stirling 

Paperback, $16
On Street: May 7, 2019 / ACE Originals

Theater of Spies features good old Teddy roosevelt as president once again (instead of Woodrow Wilson) as World War I rages. On his side is the Black Chamber, a secret spy network watching America’s back. (Black Chamber is the first book in this series and Theater of Spies is the sequel.) After foiling a German plot to devastate America’s coastal cities, agent Luz O’Malley Arostegui and technical genius Ciara Whelan go to California to recuperate. But their well-deserved rest is cut short by the discovery of a diabolical new weapon that could give the German Imperial Navy command of the North Sea.

Luz and Ciara must now go deep undercover in Berlin, while trailed by the dangerous German agent code-named Imperial Sword, and a band of stormtroopers led by the killer Ernst Rohm.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • The Wall Street Journal thinks that as a spy thriller, this series stacks up against the old classics of Kipling and John Buchan, stating that “As sci-fi, it comes off as terribly plausible, with Tom-Clancy-like mastery of old weapons, and potential ones…”
  • For fans of Stirling’s fantastic alternate Nantucket series in which a mysterious event causes the island of Nantucket to be transported back in time to 1250 BC.

LastLast Day: A Novel
Domenica Ruta
Hardback: $27

On Street: May 28, 2019 / Spiegel & Grau

Set sometime in the future: Every May 28, humanity comes together to anticipate Earth’s demise–and celebrate as if the day were truly the last. Seemingly unconnected people will converge to make this ancient holiday celebration a fateful one: Sarah is a bookish teen infatuated with Kurt, the tattoo artist she met at her parents’ Last Day party last year. But Kurt is still haunted by guilt over his role in the death of his ex. Karen is a misfit who keeps getting into trouble, which only increases when she tries to find her long-lost brother. Karen and her friend Rosette end up at the Last Kingdom on Earth church for Last Day, after Rosette leaves the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Meanwhile, a group of international astronauts–one American, one Russian, and one Japanese–observe Last Day from space.

This profoundly original novel is described as sparkling with wit, verbal ingenuity, and wild imagination, a “dazzling, haunting love letter to humanity and to our planet.”

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • It has a fairly unique plot, at least in the details
  • For those who loved Station 11 and The Age of Miracles




The Title is Just Brilliant

BrilliantLiterally. The title of essayist Joel Golby’s latest is:

Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant
Hardback: $16.00
On Street: March 5, 2019
Anchor Books / Penguin Random House LLC

Staffer Joel Golby writes columns for Vice and is famous for his dry humor and naked self-reflection. (Did you notice that the “birthday candles” on his cake are actually cigarettes?)

To say these essays are funny is like saying koalas are furry. In the writing, he:

  • travels to Saudi Arabia and attends a “Westminster Dog Show for camels”
  • examines his frenemy, alcohol, an on-again-off-again relationship that he thinks of as “running along beside the wagon”
  • goes head to-head with the unpredictable, unpitying subspecies of Londoner known as the dread Landlord

Why It’s Worth Choosing

Because gosh darn it, sometimes you just have to laugh so you don’t cry. As in the essay called “Things You Only Know When Both Your Parents Are Dead”. Call it gallows humor, black humor, or whistling in the dark, if you’re Joel Golby’s people, you will know it.

Two Other Works of Brilliant Non-Fiction

NightNight in the American Village
by Akemi Johnson
Hardcover, $27.99
On Street: June 18, 2019 / The New Press

Most Americans know that after WWII, our troops were stationed in the countries of our former Axis foes. But unlike Germany–where those bases closed after the fall of the Berlin Wall–Japan still has American soldiers stationed in its country. And many Japanese aren’t happy about it.

In addition to the naval bases  in Yokohama, the US maintains  a vast complex of bases in Okinawa, and they have been in the news repeatedly when local women turn up missing–or dead.

In this thought-provoking look at the cultural and sexual politics of the American military empire, Fulbright scholar Johnson ventures deep into the Okinawan “border towns” surrounding the bases. She hears from:

  • Okinawans whose families survived WWII
  • protesters
  • women who date and marry American servicemen
    • and the groups that help them when trouble arises

Note: While considered by the nation of Japan to be a subgroup of the majority Yamato (Japanese) people, Okinawans’ DNA differs by 20%. And Okinawans have some commonalities with the Ainu, an indigenous group who lived on the islands before the Yamato arrived. Okinawan culture has some matriarchal elements, unique spiritual traditions, and an indigenous cuisine to which rice was a fairly late introduction (12th century).

Why It’s Worth Choosing

  • It got good reviews from Anthony Swofford, the author of Jarhead
  • Johnson is a compelling storyteller, having written for NPR and The Nation, and she is a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop
  • You will be an interesting conversationalist at parties on this serious topic

BeautifulThe Beautiful No:
And Other Tales of Trial, Transcendence, and Transformation

by Sheri Salata
Hardback, $26.99 
On street: June 4, 2019 / Harper Wave, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers

How would you feel if you woke up one day and discovered that while you have had the career of your dreams, you don’t have the life of your dreams, and you are 57 years old. Is it too late? This author’s answer is a resounding NO.

The Career: For 20 years, Sheri Salata worked for a combination of:

  • the Oprah Winfrey Show
  • Harpo Studios
  • the OWN Network

And yes, you have sensed a theme.

The Dream: To have a loving partner and fulfilling relationship, to be happy with her body, and to have supporting and supportive friendships. Surely every woman on earth can identify with these goals (unless, of course, they are happy being single. Nothing wrong with that!) Sheri just wasn’t.

Follow her on her journey to a better life as she:

  • dries out in the desert (detoxing)
  • braves humiliation at Hollywood’s favorite fitness studio
  • grapples with losses and grief
  • reinvents friendships
  • bares her fears and hangups in sex therapy

Why It’s Worth Choosing

It’s hopeful and could be quite helpful for other women facing a mid-life or post-mid-life crisis. It is empowering; the book won the 2017 Feminist Press Power Award. And of course, it is totally relatable.





What Book Should I Read Next?

With Love, From Europe

From today’s Dublin Strand to the Ritz in 1940’s Paris; to a modern-day Dutch housing estate/isolated Scottish isle, these three novels will take you on a satisfying, if whirlwind, tour of Europe.

The one set in Ireland

LyingLying in Wait
by Liz Nugent
Paperback $16
On Street: February 2019
Scout Press / Simon & Schuster

Something’s rotten in the country of Ireland…it could be the dead body of Annie Doyle, a drug-addled prostitute, or it could be the creepy, overly-intimate relationship of the wife and son of the man who killed her.

Dad Andrew is a respected judge; he lives with his wealthy wife in Avalon, the five bedroom Georgian house in South County, Dublin, where she was raised. Son Laurence may be overweight, ungainly, and mercilessly bullied at school, but he’s more clever than he is given credit for, especially by his devoted mother. When Karen, the sister of the missing woman, crosses paths with Laurence, he already knows something is very wrong in his home–even if he doesn’t know about the body buried in the family’s tidy garden. Now he is determined to unearth the truth.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • In addition to creating a chilling psychological thriller, the author has written a detailed study of the sinister sociopathic mind.
  • Liz Nugent was named Irish Woman of the Year in Literature for 2017.
    • Her first novel, Unraveling Oliver, was named Crime Novel of the Year by the Irish Book Awards.

The One Set in France

MistressMistress of the Ritz
Melanie Benjamin
Hardback: $28
On Street: May 21 / Delacorte Press

Famous occupants of Paris’s Ritz Hotel:

  • George Balanchine
  • Coco Chanel
  • Marlene Dietrich
  • Doris Duke
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Cole Porter
  • the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Infamous occupants of Paris’s Ritz Hotel in March 1940:  Hermann Goering and his Nazi bullyboys. But Blanche, the manager’s Jewish American wife, isn’t about to give up without a fight. She and her patriotic husband join the Resistance, risking their marriage, their freedom, and ultimately their lives in the fight to liberate France.

Why it’s Worth Choosing
This novel is inspired by real WWII French Resistance heroes Blanche Auzello and her husband Claude. It is always a joy to read a novel in which a place like the luxurious Ritz Hotel, created in 1898, becomes a character. And nobody examines the complexities of women’s loves and lives like this author. For proof, read Melody Benjamin’s Swans of Fifth Avenue or The Aviator’s Wife.

The one set in Holland/Scotland

DarknessThe Darkness That Divides Us
Renate Dorrestein
Paperback, $16.99
On Street: May 21, 2019 / World Editions

Living on an idyllic Dutch housing estate, Lucy used to be the most popular girl in elementary school. But when a bizarre crime rocked her world and sent her mother to prison, Lucy’s childhood exploded into an ordeal of constant, vicious bullying. Now her mother is out of prison, so they decide to make a clean start on a rugged Scottish isle. But escaping your past is never that easy.

Told in the alternating voices of Lucy and her bullies, this darkly atmospheric and emotionally spellbinding story is part family drama and part mystery.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • Award-winning author Dorrestein is known internationally for her unsentimental depiction of children and their flawed families.
  • Her wicked humor offsets the darkness of the subjects.
  • All the chapters have “Sue Grafton-inspired titles” (my observation) like A is for Abacus, B is for Beetles, C is for Crisis, etc. How fun is that?
  • It is translated from the Dutch, so we’re lucky to even be able to read it.



Now Let Us Discuss Famous Men

ChasingChasing Cosby: The Downfall of America’s Dad
by Nicole Weisensee Egan
Hardcover, $28.00 
On Street: April 23 / Seal Press / Hachette

Do you remember your favorite Bill Cosby comedy routine from the 1980s? Was it “Fat Albert” or “Noah and the Lord”, or maybe “Chocolate Cake”? You won’t hear many people quoting Cosby these days, and the author of this book is part of the reason why. In 2005, Egan was the first reporter to investigate Andrea Constand’s allegations that the Cos drugged and sexually assaulted her, and Egan has stayed on the case every since.  As an investigative journalist and senior writer, she has covered the trial for the Philadelphia Daily News, People magazine and The Daily Beast. She is also in development with ITV to make a documentary series about her reporting.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

  • This award-winning author is an expert who has spent years researching the case
  • Egan uses the narrowly-focused lens of the fall of one cultural icon to illuminate broader societal issues, such as:
    • media power
    • the criminal justice system
    • celebrity culture

Plus Two More Famous Men

I want to be clear that as far as I know, nobody has accused either Charles Darwin or Tom Hanks of sexual harassment. I was just looking for a theme for this post, and “Famous Men” seemed apropos.

The next two featured ARCs are novels:

DarwinThe Darwin Affair
by Tim Mason
Hardback, $27.95
On Street: June 11, 2019 / Algonquin / Workman Publishing

“The heat moved like a feral thing through the streets, fetid and inescapable.”

In 1860’s London, Chief Detective Inspector Charles Field must solve two simultaneous crimes: the gruesome murder of a petty thief, and an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. Among the questions swarming around him like pesky midges:

  • Was Her Majesty really the assassin’s target?
  • Are those closest to the Crown hiding something?
  • Who is the shadowy figure witnesses describe as having lifeless coal-black eyes?

Soon Field’s investigation has uncovered  a shocking conspiracy in which the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species sets off a string of murders, arson, kidnapping and the pursuit of a diabolical madman called the Chorister.

Who it’s Worth Choosing For
Anglophiles, mystery-thriller lovers, and folks who enjoy the works of Anne Perry, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. And also those readers who appreciate the detailed and well-researched period settings of Hilary Mantel. This debut novel is rich, witty and satisfying.

Waiting.jpgWaiting for Tom Hanks
by Kerry Winfrey
Paperback, $15.00

On Street: June 11, 2019 / Berkley Jove

Annie Cassidy dreams of being the next Nora Ephron. (One assume this is the younger Nora, before she reached the age of hating her neck.) Anyway, Annie spends her days writing screenplays, binge-watching Sleepless in Seattle, and waiting for her movie- perfect man. If only she could find her own Tom Hanks–a sweet, sensitive man who possibly owns a houseboat.

When a movie starts filming in her neighborhood and Annie gets a job on set, it seems like a sign. But alas, the lead actor is a cocky prankster who couldn’t be less like Tom Hanks if he tried. Despite her initial reaction, Annie finds herself sharing some classic rom-com moments with Drew. You can probably write the rest of this script yourself, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be as satisfying as fresh peach ice cream on a summer day. It could be like coming home…to no home you’ve ever known. Kerry Winfrey, you had us at hello.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • The author is a die-hard rom-com nut, with a romance obsession that easily qualifies her for Bachelor Nation
  • An entire scene in this book was inspired by the author’s friend Alicia’s “never-ending hatred for Billy Joel’s Pina Colada Song”
  • There are at least 3 real-life indie bookstores that serve as this novel’s inspiration:
    • Cover to Cover in Columbus, Ohio
    • Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Ohio
    • The Book Loft  in Columbus, Ohio
      • 32 rooms in a pre-Civil war-era building




ARCs, mysteries

Nordic Noir and Glass Keys

Long before Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo won a Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel, Auntie’s Bookstore (where I work) was accumulating Scandinavian mysteries faster than snow in February. The Glass Key is named for the famous noir novel by Dashiell Hammett, and is an actual glass key given out every year by the Crime Writers of Scandinavia.

Note: All of Scandinavia is represented by the celebrated mysteries below—except Finland. Unfortunately, the only Finnish writer to ever receive the Glass Key has not been translated into English. That author is Matti Ronka, who was chosen in 2007 for their thriller Friends Far Away.


Glass Key Winners

  • Henning Mankell 1992
    • Sweden
      In this series, Detective Kurt Wallender is a passionate opera fan with a drinking problem whose personal and family struggles–especially with his daughter–as pronounced as his brilliance on the job.
  • Peter Hoeg 1993
    • Denmark
      Hoeg didn’t write a series, but his haunting mystery Smilla’s Sense of Snow, in which a young Inuit boy is murdered, was made into an evocative movie. It is set in Greenland. Dorothy Parker, widely praised for elevating the crime genre in her day, would have approved of Hoeg’s lyrical literary style.
  • Karin Fossum 1997
    • Norway
      Inspecter Sejur is a mild-mannered man who is comforted by order, authority and justice, and desires to understand the criminal mind. He also has a sweet Somalii grandson.
  • Jo Nesbo 1998
    • Norway
      Inspector Harry Hole is a tough and troubled detective who stars in dark, multi-layered and violent stories like The Snowman, which often feature women in peril.
  • Arnaldur Indridason 2002 & 2003
    • Iceland
      Brooding Reykjavik Detective Erlendur is as enigmatic as they come, and Jar City is now a popular movie. Fun fact: Indridason also wrote two thrillers set in Iceland during WWII.
  • Jussi Adler-Olson 2010
    • Denmark
      In Department Q, Chief Detective Carl Morck is haunted by the murder of two of his fellow homicide detectives—in which he personally took a bullet but didn’t draw his gun.
  • Camille Grebe 2018
    • Sweden
      Once a valued police asset, insightful psychological profiler Hanne Lagerlind-Schön runs into personal and professional trouble after becoming a crime victim herself.

The Scandinavian Flags and the Countries They Represent

  1. Denmark
  2. Sweden
  3. Iceland
    1. Iceland is an autonomous country which declared independence from Denmark in 1944. Previously it was part of the kingdom of Denmark-Norway.
  4. Finland
  5. Norway
  6. Greenland
    1. Greenland is currently an “autonomous country of the Kingdom of Denmark”, although it has a large indigenous Inuit population. Independence is desired by many inhabitants including political parties and advocacy groups.

A Short History of Kosovo (Kosovo)

kosovo map

by Noel Malcolm

If you want to learn about the history of the Balkans, this is an enjoyable though very slow way to go. That’s not a criticism of the writer, by the way–there is a lot to get through here.

Note: The country of Kosovo was created when it declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

The first two chapters of this history are a glorious, confused dream for linguist nerds like me as they list all the tribes who passed through and lived in the area, and all the languages spoken there. I wanted to roll in the pages like a dog in dead fish. (However, they really could have used a few maps on facing pages plus an Indo-European language tree like the one I’ve imported into this blog. You’re welcome. 😉

Serbian Bosnia and Albanian language tree

But back to the tribes: Since Kosovo is just a short sea away from Italy, many groups in the area spoke Latin as a gift from the Roman Empire; others were Greek speakers from Byzantine days. The Serbs and the Croats spoke basically the same Slavic language but wrote it differently; Serbian uses the Cyrillic alphabet and Croatian uses the Roman. The book also notes that although the two ethnicities were once subject to the Pope, most Croats are now Roman Catholic, and most Serbs are Serbian Orthodox, from the Greek Orthodox. (See my blog on the Holy See for the split, which happened in the 11th century.)

Kosovo's National Library
Kosovo’s National Library

The tribes:

  • Arnaut (proto-Albanians)
  • Avars (Turikik tribe)
  • Bessi (Thracian Bulgars)
  • Bulgars (Turkik tribe)
  • Cams
  • Gegs (Northern Albanians)
  • Goths (Germanic tribe)
  • Huns (Mongolian and proto-Hungarian)
  • Ilyrians (Western Balkans)
    • –Extinct, as is their language
  • Labs
  • Thracians (Eastern Balkans)
    • –Extinct, but bits of their language were preserved in the formal liturgy of the Serbian Orthodox Church from approximately AD 500
  • Tosks (Southern Albanians)
  • Slavs (proto-Serbs and proto-Croats)
  • Vlachs (Aromanians/Romanians)

Men of the Mountains

This bridge in Prizren was built in the 1300s, long before America was even a twinkle in Amerigo Vespucci's eye
This bridge in Prizren was built in the 1300s, long before America was even a twinkle in Amerigo Vespucci’s eye

The fascinating facts just keep on coming in this book, and the next part starts with the notion that the word “Albania” comes from the Indo-European “Alb”, meaning “Alp.” The author then draws a parallel between the Highland people of Scotland–“Albainn” in Gaelic–and the ethnic Albanians and Kosovars. He claims a similarity of isolation, pastoral warrior culture, and the independence of mind referred to as being particular to mountain tribes. For example, in mountain culture, women often become fierce fighters along with their men. For another example, historically speaking, the Kosovans were known for giving their Ottoman Turkish overlords hell, whenever the latter tried to seize the former’s weapons. In Kosovar culture, a man’s weapons represent his honor and prying them out of his living hands can lead to blood feuds like those in the novels of excellent Albanian writer Ishmael Kadare. (In a blood feud, you can kill ANY member of the offender’s family, even if they have done nothing to you and yours. It is estimated that a single blood feud could wipe out up to 600 people!)

One of the flags Kosovo has had over the decades...Hm, sure looks like the flag of Albania.
One of the flags Kosovo has had over the decades…Hm, sure looks like the flag of Albania.

Kosovo: The Empire Years

The middle chapters of this book took forever to read, being as crammed with dates and battles and ethnic groups as a Tokyo subway at rush hour. Fortunately there is only one crucial date to remember: The Battle of Kosovo in 1389, when the Ottoman Turks defeated an army led by the Serbian prince making assimilation inevitable. From there the book sweeps you into the Empire years: and first into the formation of the soldiers called Janissaries. Standard operating procedure for Ottoman soldiers was to take 50 young boys from the villages in conquered areas and send them to Istanbul to be trained to fight for their invaders. The author makes the case that it wasn’t as bad as it sounds to American ears, since the peasants actually had it better under the Ottomans than under the medieval Serbian kingdom. And the peasants in Kosovo weren’t alone: you can find Turkish Baths and Mughal doors all over Eastern Europe and all the way to Vienna.

But no Empire lasts forever.  I next read about the revolt of the Young Turks in the 1800s. About the growing mismanagement of the empire, and the massacre of the Armenians. This slaughter may have had its root in religious differences, since the Armenians had been majority Christian since the year 300.

Revisionist History
I appreciated that the author, being neither Kosovo Albanian nor Kosovo Serb, didn’t have a dog in this fight–the fight to interpret history through our modern lens. Everyone does it, of course. According to the author, the modern majority Serb narrative is one of continuous oppression by the Turks, while the story the Albanians tell is much different. Yet, as the author points out, nationalism is really a modern concept that you can’t apply backwards to history. He does have an opinion on the war in the former Yugoslavia that took place between Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia, and that opinion is that the Serbs were definitely in the wrong.

Sometimes when an author states his strong opinion as fact, I question his judgment. But in this case, I agreed. He presented so many facts. So many true facts. I found myself wishing I had had this book as an exchange student to Pecs, Hungary, in 1991 during the war. Like many, or dare I even say most Americans at that time I didn’t understand why these white Europeans were fighting each other. Well, I do now.

Book Rating: Five stars over the Balkans.