Girl of Kosovo

Girl of Kosovo

by Alice Mead

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A child's perspective on war.

In 1998 the Serb military intensifies its efforts to expel Albanians from Kosovo. Ethnic cleansing forces many families to seek safety in the surrounding hills and mountains. The Kosovo Liberation Army fights back guerrilla style, struggling for an independent Kosovo. Some Albanian villagers support the freedom fighters. Others


A child's perspective on war.

In 1998 the Serb military intensifies its efforts to expel Albanians from Kosovo. Ethnic cleansing forces many families to seek safety in the surrounding hills and mountains. The Kosovo Liberation Army fights back guerrilla style, struggling for an independent Kosovo. Some Albanian villagers support the freedom fighters. Others fear that armed resistance, which they have successfully avoided through long years of Serb repression, will only increase the death toll. And always there is terrible tension between Serbian and Albanian neighbors who once were friends. Eleven-year-old Zana Dugolli, an Albanian Kosovar, isn't sure what to think. She does know not to speak her language to Serbs. And every day she worries about her mother and father, her brothers, the farm, the apple orchard. Already she has lost her best friend, a Serb. Then Zana's village is shelled, and her worst nightmare is realized. Her father and two brothers are killed in the attack, and her leg is shattered by shrapnel. Alone in a Serb hospital, she remembers her father's words: "Don't let them fill your heart with hate."

Based on a true story, Alice Mead's stark, affecting novel about a place and conflict she knows well will help young readers understand the war in Kosovo.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As in her Adem's Cross, Mead places a human face on the Kosovo crisis by focusing on an Albanian family ravaged by war. Even after her father and brothers are killed and her leg is gravely injured in a Serb attack, 11-year-old Zana, the narrator, struggles to heed her father's advice: "Don't let them fill your heart with hate. Whatever happens." Zana's friendship with a Serbian girl, Lena, and her trip behind enemy lines to a hospital in Belgrade provide Zana with evidence of kindness to weigh against the brutality in the Serb faction, while her cowardly KLA uncle Vizar illuminates weaknesses among the Albanians. Mead puts the war into a context that young readers will understand. The family watches sports on ESPN and Zana's brother plays Nintendo; at the same time, they bury guns and food and sleep in their clothes, poised to retreat. Through Zana, the author stresses the random cruelty of the war in Kosovo, and her anger stretches to include foreign journalists: "How was it that foreigners could come take pictures of us when we were dead, but couldn't come to help us stay alive? I wanted to let the air out of their fancy tires so they would be stuck here, trapped the way we were." The ending is a little convenient (Zana helps save Lena's family from the vengeful hatred of their Albanian neighbors), but most readers will find the story powerful and hard-hitting. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
PW called this story about the Kosovo crisis "powerful and hard-hitting"; it focuses on an Albanian family ravaged by war. Ages 10-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
How quickly the world's attention moves on...a few years ago we were focused on the plight of the Albanians in Kosovo. Yet, stories of children in war zones are horrific wherever war is happening: there is a universal quality to the suffering of children. Mead writes about Zana, a young Moslem girl from a village in Kosovo who sees her father and brothers killed by the Serbs. She is wounded in the attack, with painful shrapnel in her hip, but worse, serious injury to a foot. Her mother goes into a serious depression with these deaths, even when she gives birth to a new son; she is incapable of giving Zana the attention she needs. Kindly medical personnel arrange for Zana to travel to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, for a necessary operation. After months there, separated from all she knows, she returns to the village, still recuperating. A volunteer medical worker from Great Britain obtains the crucial antibiotics for Zana when an infection sets in, and his kindness gives them all some hope. As the book ends, the NATO troops are driving out the Serbs, but in the chaos Zana and her family are threatened once again. Zana appeals to her friend Lena, a Serbian girl who lives in the same village, and Lena and her family do help their Moslem neighbors before they themselves have to leave. Zana is just about 12 years old, but this works for younger YAs, and perhaps even for older ones who wonder how children feel who are trapped in wars. Zana understands the political issues, the oppression, and the reasons to fight; but because she is a child who needs the love of her parents and the stability of a family life and village friendships, her suffering is even more intense. Mead is excellent atwriting about children in crisis—see also the review of her recent hardcover book, Year of No Rain, in this issue of KLIATT. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Random House, Dell, Yearling, 113p.,
— Claire Rosser
This is the story of a girl during the war in Kosovo. Her brother and father die, her house is bombed, and she spends months in the hospital because her leg is wounded in the bombing. She then meets an English doctor who helps her family go to England after many mishaps. My twelve-year-old daughter observed: "A really good book—it opened my eyes to what really happened there." 2001, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., $16.00. Ages 10 to 12. Reviewer: A. Braga SOURCE: Parent Council, September 2001 (Vol. 9, No. 1)
Children's Literature
The harsh realities of ethnic cleansing are vividly portrayed in Zana Dugolli's account of life in her small Albanian village when Serb soldiers invade. A mortar shell explosion leaves her father and two of her brothers dead and her leg shattered by shrapnel. As her mother withdraws and her remaining brother threatens to join the freedom fighters, Zana is bewildered by all the hatred and confusion around her. Alone in a hospital, as she tries to make sense of the events that have turned her quiet life into a nightmare, Zana tries to believe in the words of her father—"Don't let them fill your heart with hate." But how can she not when her family is without food, when medicine is withheld because she is the enemy, and when her best friend, a Serb, turns her back on their friendship. Starkly told, this chronicle, based on a true story, is deeply moving. Not as taut as some of Mead's other writing, it does draw the reader in and creates an awareness for and understanding of this ongoing tragedy. 2001, Farrar, $16.00. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
Eleven-year-old Zana Dugolli loves her life in a small farming community in Kosovo, but existence in the late 1990s is becoming progressively more difficult as the dominant Serbs intensify efforts to expel Albanian Kosovars from their homes. Even Lena, Zana's Serbian best friend, is afraid to play with her. Injured in a Serbian attack that kills her father and two brothers, Zana finds herself in a Belgrade hospital, facing her worst fears alone. Can any semblance of a peaceful, normal life be restored to her beautiful, war-torn land? Mead effectively portrays what war might look like through the eyes of a young girl. Zana's account sometimes is disjointed, often self-centered. The hatred of former Serbian neighbors is inexplicable to her. Yet on both sides, acts of kindness occur, reminding her of her father's admonition: "Don't let them fill your heart with hate." Readers who devour accounts of World War II will see parallels in Zana's experience, a painful reminder that war is war in whatever time and place. Yesterday's events, however, do not have the glamour afforded by time and distance. With a dull title and rather grim cover adding to the challenge, this book will require "hand-selling." Mead is the award-winning author of Adem's Cross (Farrar, 1996/VOYA December 1996), also set in Kosovo. Her concern for the children of the conflict there shines through the sometimes-wooden prose of this title, and her efforts to put a human face on recent headlines are commendable. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M J (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Farrar StrausGiroux, 128p, Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Kathleen Beck SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
Kirkus Reviews
As in her novel Adem's Cross (1996), Mead portrays the horrors of the Balkan conflict, this time through the eyes of a young Albanian girl. There has always been the presence of the Serbian army in Zana's world, but in her 11th year, the real trouble begins. A neighboring farm is destroyed and the family massacred—and that is only the beginning. Shortly thereafter, there is a bombing and Zana's two youngest brothers and father are killed. Zana herself is badly wounded from the shrapnel, especially in her ankle and hip. The tale follows her through several hospitals, alone and terrified. She is finally united with her family, but the tragedy has left her mother with few coping skills. Inadequate medical care, sporadic visits from an English doctor who has befriended her, and little hope of recovery contribute to Zana's despondency. But when the village is destroyed and her neighbors threaten to attack Zana's good friend, who is Serbian, Zana finds the courage to defend her and stand against the vicious crowd. Her father's words "Don't let them fill your heart with hate" come back to her and she realizes that she has friends who are considered enemies. In an afterword, the author indicates that the story is based on a family she met when she visited the refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia; the forward gives a short history of the area and sets the scene. This difficult tale will give readers a sense of the sufferings of war and the emotional struggle needed to survive against a totalitarian state. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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135 KB
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Alice Mead is the author of several novels, including the Junebug books and another story of Kosovo, Adem's Cross, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. She lives in Maine.

A children's writer has the unusual task of developing a unique voice coupled with evoking the so-called magic of childhood. But is childhood truly a magical kingdom?

I do know that childhood is a time so deeply and purely felt that adulthood can rarely match it. It is a time of great heroism, dashed hopes, leaps of joy, steadfast friendships, explosive frustration, utter hilarity, the shame of betrayal. Certain smells, certain words elicit powerful memories of childhood. For me, the smell of boiled brussels sprouts even now makes me feel utter revulsion. The smell of ethyl alcohol and the words "tetanus booster"cause sheer terror. The clap of an old, dusty book snapped shut and the words "hidden staircase" fill me with wonder. Where? Where? Tell me! How could I not write about childhood?

When I was seven and eight, my family lived in postwar England, in an industrial Yorkshire city that still showed the devastation of World War II and the Nazi bombings. This left a lasting impression on me. The journey there, by ocean liner across the Atlantic, and my later poking about deserted misty castles and the dank Yorkshire moors, and smelling pungent coal fires, all created an unusual and not always pleasant adventure filled with questions. Was Robin Hood real? Was that truly King Arthur's castle? And had I really snapped a photo of the Loch Ness monster? The long, snaky streak still shows plainly in my faded photo.

Back in the United States, I grew up during the Cold War, at the height of the nuclear arms race. I studied Russian for six years, or tried to, endlessly curious about the countries behind the Iron Curtain. And when I was eighteen, there was the Vietnam War. There were antiwar protests, Woodstock, flower children. I went to a Quaker college. I wanted to major in art, but there was no art department, so I majored in English. I started attending Quaker meetings.

One summer, when I was twenty, I worked as an art counselor at a Fresh Air camp for inner-city kids. Watching their sheer delight in using paint and clay, I was hooked. I became an art teacher. I felt privileged to be with kids, to make my classroom a safe place where they could explore their own creativity.

In the meantime, I married and had two sons, both of whom are now in college. One is studying economics and one physics. My husband and I have two dogs, and used to have the occasional rabbit, chameleon, hamster, and goldfish as visitors.

My life was going along smoothly until I was forced to leave teaching because of a chronic illness. I had to rest a lot. That gave me time to work harder on my writing. I began writing a storybook about nature called "Tales of the Maine Woods." Although editors seemed to like the stories, they weren't willing to publish them. Eventually I gave the stories a grandmother, and then I gave the grandmother a granddaughter named Rayanne. Two of those original tales are part of my first book, Crossing the Starlight Bridge.

For two years I watched the war in Bosnia, formerly part of Yugoslavia. In another part of this region, one million Albanian children are among the brutally oppressed. Even under these harsh conditions, they struggle to live in peace and dignity. The family bonds in their culture are extraordinary. I wrote about these children in Adem's Cross. Each day for the past four years, I have worked to help them, and all Balkan people, regain their freedom and human rights.

Recently, other Quaker values besides non-violence became more meaningful to me. These are simplicity and self-reflection. My husband and I moved to a small house near a cliff overlooking the islands in Casco Bay, Maine. I have a flower garden that my dogs like to dig up. When I am stuck writing a story, I can go and sit on the rocks and watch the water for a while, something I have enjoyed doing through my whole life.

Alice Mead was born in 1952 and attended Bryn Mawr College. She received a master's degree in education, and later a B.S. in art education. She founded two preschools for mainstreaming handicapped preschoolers, and taught art at the junior-high-school level for a number of years. She played the flute and piccolo for twenty-eight years, and now she paints, and enjoys gardening and writing--especially about a little boy named Junebug.

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