Beyond The Mountains Of The Damned available in Hardcover
- Pub. Date:
- New York University Press
Winner, Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2002, Non-Fiction
For every survivor of a crime, there is a criminal who forces his way into the victim's thoughts long after the act has been committed.
Reporters weren’t allowed into Kosovo during the war without the permission of the Yugoslavian government but Matthew McAllester went anyway. In Beyond the Mountains of the Damned he tells the story of Pec, Kosovo’s most destroyed city and the site of the earliest and worst atrocities of the war, through the lives of two men—one Serb and one Kosovar. They had known each other, and been neighbors for years before one visited tragedy on the other. With a journalist’s eye for detail McAllester asks the great question of war: What kind of men could devastate an entire city, killing whole families, and feel no sense of guilt? The answer lies in the culture of gangsterism and ethnic hatred that began with the collapse of Yugoslavia.
In March of 1999, the world watched thousands of Albanian refugees pour out of Kosovo, carrying stories of the terror that drove them from their homes. To Isa Bala and his family, Albanian Muslims who stayed in Pec during the NATO bombardment, the war in Kosovo was not about cruise missiles and geopolitics. It was about tiptoeing between survival and death in the town that saw the fiercest destruction, the most thorough eviction of the Albanian population and killings whose brutality demands explanation. To Nebojsa Minic and other Serb militiamen who ruled with murder, the conflict was about the exercise of power. Today they are alive and well in the new Yugoslavia. So unconcerned are they over the prospect of ever being held accountable for their crimes that they were willing to sit down over coffee after the war and discuss in detail their brief, brutal reign.
|Publisher:||New York University Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 9.00(d)|
About the Author
Matthew McAllester is the United Nations Bureau Chief for Newsday. He has covered the turmoil between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the war in Afghanistan, and the American-led war in Iraq. He shared a Pulitzer in 1997 for his coverage of the crash of TWA flight 800.
Read an Excerpt
Beyond the Mountains of the DamnedThe War Inside Kosovo
By Matthew McAllester
New York University PressCopyright © 2003 Matthew McAllester
All right reserved.
One Town, Two Lives
It is just past seven in the morning when Isa Bala arrives at the cattle market outside Pristina. The fog that lay a few feet above the plains of central Kosovo has gone, burned off by a marigold sun. Isa gets out of the car, takes a pee by the side of the road, and goes to work, the right-hand pocket of his jeans stuffed full of twelve thousand deutsche marks.
Isa is a butcher. He's here to buy cows that he will sell later in his shop in Pec, sliced into steaks, ground and rolled into chippolata-sized morsels called cebob, or mixed up and stuffed into sausage skins in a spicy recipe he swears he'll never reveal to anyone but his son.
Kosovo's cow population, like its human population, has decreased dramatically in recent months. Isa estimates that there are now 20 percent fewer cows than there were before the eleven-week war in Kosovo. Some were shot by Serbs, some were stolen and taken to Serbia, some just died from neglect. But at this time, eight weeks after the war has ended, everyone needs money. So there are plenty of cows for sale at the market and plenty of eager sellers.
"Isa, Isa, look at my cows," calls out a dealer as soon as the heavy-boned butcher ploughs between the first row of horned brown and white cows. The animals are tethered by ropes and chains to the rusty metal barriers that form parallel lines down the center of the field where the market takes place early every Tuesday morning.
"Ees, Ees," shouts another seller like a whining child desperate to attract his father's attention. The man tilts his head to one side, his eyebrows so pleading that they're almost touching above his nose. No one allows himself to be robbed in the Pristina cow market. Everyone's looking for a deal. Everyone's an actor and no one's a fool.
"Isa, Isa, stop, stop. How much will you give me for this one?"
Isa's in no hurry. In the car on the way to Pristina he was unexcited about the prospects at the market. "I'll buy four, five, maybe six cows," he mumbled from under his thick, teak-colored mustache with its few strands of gray. "We'll see. It depends on the price."
Hands of old friends grab Isa's as he walks over the pebbles, dirt, and cow dung of the field. "How are you, Isa?" sellers ask. "How's business?" They avoid the customary Albanian politeness of asking how his family is.
The hands that grab Isa's are more than hands of friendship. More than ever, the market is about making money in lean times. Once the first seller succeeds in keeping Isa's T-bone-sized hand in his own the seller pulls the butcher, quite roughly, toward his cows. Isa leans his body back as if in a gentle tug of war and his poker face takes on a look of reluctance. "Jo, jo, jo," he says, pronouncing the j as a y. "No, no, no." But he lets himself be led between the dung-smeared rears of dozens of cows to a medium-sized brown and white. Isa's first rule of buying: Never look in the mildest bit enthusiastic about a cow, even a bargain on four legs. It's like knowing how to react when you're dealt a royal flush.
Between his thumb and fingers, Isa squeezes a flap of flesh next to the cow's anus. He steps round and pinches the side of the cow, testing for fat content, something he's been doing since he bought and slaughtered his first cow at the age of eleven. There's a step-on weighing scale in the market that has a long line of cows and bulls waiting beside it but Isa never uses the scale. He knows how much a cow weighs and how old it is just by looking at it. And he knows how much fat it's carrying by giving it a good feel.
"Nine," says the man, referring to the asking price, nine hundred marks.
"Come on, eight point five," barks the man, still holding Isa's hand, refusing to let go.
Isa walks away. The man won't let go of Isa's limp hand and Isa has to yank it away and still the man comes after him and grabs his hand again, calling out his name, "Isa, Isa" But the butcher breaks away and the seller gives up. Isa had no intention of buying the cow. He's just showing his mettle to the crowd that swarms around him at all times.
Two bigger cows idle next to each other in the next row. One of the half dozen small boys selling cigarettes--counterfeit Marlboros and Winstons from neighboring Montenegro and Macedonia, cigarette-smuggling centers of the Balkans--pops up beside the cows. Isa doesn't smoke and wags his index finger at the boy, the silent Albanian way of saying no.
"Both of these, twenty-two," the seller, a wiry, middle-aged man in a black beret tells Isa. Twenty-two hundred marks. One of the cows starts to low forlornly as the men haggle over its fate. Slobber drips from its mouth onto the earth, rolling into dust-covered balls. Someone kicks it hard in the side to get it to shut up. Again, Isa walks when he doesn't get his price and has to wrench his hand away from the owner of the two cows. Perhaps his pessimism in the car was justified and the prices today are too high.
"You're shaving us, Isa," another seller calls out to Isa, using an Albanian expression to complain of Isa's firm grip on those twelve thousand marks in his pocket. "You're putting your razor right up against our skin."
A single black and white is the next to have its rear end squeezed. Its owner slaps Isa's hand with a smack.
The seller yanks Isa's arm up and down in a wild handshake and the two men raise their voices, facing off against each other, bellowing out numbers, persuasions, and refusals, and other men surround them, encouraging the deal, suggesting compromises, and still the exaggerated and aggressive handshake continues until suddenly Isa's arm tenses and after a final downward movement of the now gripped hands the men cast their arms wildly apart and it's a deal. Eight. For the first time since he entered the market, Isa pulls out his wad of marks and flips over eight blue one hundred mark bills to the now impassive seller. The butcher unwinds the dirty rope and leads the cow away.
It turns out he's just getting started. As a flock of pigeons arcs around the nearby field of golden sunflowers and the smell of dung floats on a slow wind, Isa stomps around the market and an hour and a half after arriving he's bought nineteen cows and four calves. He's arranged for a friend to take them back to Pec in a truck.
On the way home, Isa's voice fills the car. He nearly always talks fast and loudly and slightly slurs his S's as if his tongue is slightly too big for his mouth. He's delighted. He hadn't expected the cattle to be so cheap and that's why he spent every mark he had and took some cows on credit. Isa's the type who won't allow any hard-up soul he knows to go hungry when he has meat left in his shop at the end of the day. But first and foremost, he's a businessman. "When you do business, do it for profit or don't do it at all," Isa says. "We have a proverb: It's bad to be a cat for a thousand years and not catch a mouse."
He explains that he makes more money than other, less experienced butchers do, because he thinks about the seasons, the weather, and how people eat. He explains that he picked out the leaner, skinnier cows, leaving the heavier ones for another day. "In the summer people don't like eating fatty meat. In winter people want a bit more fat," he says.
Part of being an old hand at butchering is not caring in the slightest that you've just bought nearly two dozen animals for the purpose of slitting their throats and cutting them up for people to buy, cook, and eat. Some people work with pipes, drains, and taps, others with computers, Palm IIIs, and fax machines. Isa happens to work with knives, blood, and flesh. At the end of a day in the shop his short-sleeved cotton-nylon mix shirt and jeans are nearly always splashed and smeared with blood. Sometimes, little flecks of fat or muscle get caught in his short, spiky dark hair. Often, he wears the same shirt and pants for two or three days, the scarlet stains turning russet over time. It doesn't enter his mind that chopping up dead animals might be somehow unsavory. For him, it's not about death. It's about life, feeding people--especially his family.
Isa has recently gone into partnership with another butcher's shop in Pec and they look after the animals until they're needed in the shops. The other butchers do the slaughtering. Isa's forte is chatting up the customers, passing on the news, and being the trusty face on the business. He's also the master of the sausage and can find more meat in a brown and white than most. Isa makes one cow go a long way.
It's close to noon when he returns to Pec. He says he doesn't have time to stop at his house on Dushan Mugosha Street to say hello to his wife Halise or to grab a bite to eat and he accepts a ride right to the front door of his shop where he chops and sells until nine at night. The lettering on the glass door says the shop closes at eight. After he's wiped down the surfaces, mopped the floor, put the remaining meat away in the refrigerator, and locked the door, he sits outside with friends, playing cards on the steps of the apartments above his shop, chatting well into the night. Only when his friends clear off and go home to their families, when he's run out of excuses to stay at the shop, does he go home.
As he walks toward the house he glances up at the second-floor windows of his living room. It's dark but there they are, the bullet holes in the double glazing. His heavy shoulders sloping forward, Isa opens the metal gate in front of his house and walks up the concrete path to his front door in reluctant silence.
Like all Albanian business owners operating in the Serb-controlled Pec of the 1990s, Isa learned to be wary of Serbs who came into his shop, especially young men. Against these young men there was no recourse in the law. They were the law. So Isa made it a point to remember their faces.
Nebojsa Minic's face was long and wide, just like his body. He had dense black hair, naturally wavy but usually cut short, and furry black caterpillars for eyebrows. Narrow eyes sat on either side of a large, straight nose that made Minic look like he was leaning toward you even when he wasn't. Years of working out in prison had made his forearms and shoulders solid and powerful. While most Serbs tend to have pale, classically Slavic skin, Minic's face was light brown and leathery, his black stubble often noticeable.
Seven or eight years ago Minic came into Isa's shop a couple of times to buy Isa's famous sausages. He was polite, didn't say much, just asked for his sausages, paid, and left. Isa was flawlessly polite in return because Minic's large build had caught his eye. He took a mental snapshot and filed it away.
"I thought he looked like a criminal, a thief," Isa said.
On his identity card, Minic listed his profession as "laborer." But Isa was right. Minic was a criminal and a thief.
Born on March 1, 1964 in the village of Rosulje just to the east of Pec, Nebojsa Minic was a pretty normal kid for his first decade. His parents, Vojin and Gordana, moved the family to a small, single-story house at 22 Urosa Djurovica Street in the Brzenik neighborhood of Pec when he was an infant. The young Minic became good friends with the Albanian boys next door, Nuredin and Isuf Ramaj. Nuredin was three years older than Minic, Isuf three years younger than their Serb buddy.
"We never had problems with each other because we were Albanian and he was Serbian," Isuf remembers. "We didn't hate each other at all."
Minic was a tough kid, though. An old black-and-white photograph shows him at the age of about thirteen with his left arm slung over the shoulders of a friend as he stares sullenly into the camera. The Ramajs remember that as they grew older Minic used to rough up his big brother, Ljubisce. He would argue a lot with his older sister, Ljiljana. He got lousy grades in class.
He was eleven when he first got into trouble with the police. He had started to steal. It wasn't just Albanians who began to keep an eye out for young Minic. Serbs suffered his muggings, his theft, too.
The Ramaj family became wary of him but not wary enough. In 1985, they agreed to buy the Minic house. They paid Minic and his family the asking price but Minic, now twenty-one and the dominant force in the household, declined to move out. To this day they have the receipts. There was little the Ramajs could do except look forward to the many times that the police caught Minic and took him off to prison.
It was behind bars that Nebojsa Minic learned his flawless Albanian. With his dark complexion, you could easily mistake him for an Albanian when he spoke the language. What's more, his fellow inmates taught him how to play the two-stringed Albanian plucking instrument called the ciftelia. And he would impress his Albanian neighbors with his knowledge of their folk songs, including one that goes on for thirty minutes. Even most Albanians cannot sing the full song. He also came out of prison with a drinking problem.
"He is the kind, the type who cannot live without Albanians," Nuredin Ramaj remembers. "When he has no drink, no clothes, no cigarettes, he can even get down on his knees and cry. In a way he loved Albanians because only the Albanians would be with him. The Serbs rejected him."
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Minic began smuggling cigarettes and oil--such standard enterprises in Yugoslavia for many years that the current President of Montenegro, Mito Djukanovic, was one of his republic's best known cigarette smugglers. Minic's line of work took him to other European countries, including Germany and Austria, but he was never more than a bit player in the Yugoslav criminal world. But in the early 1990s, Minic took a step up the smuggler's hierarchy, according to a relative of his.
Minic graduated from oil and cigarettes; he started handling drug shipments. At that time, the drug trade in Kosovo was firmly in the control of Albanians, who only collaborated with Serbs because the Serbs could provide access to the large markets in Serbia, Montenegro, and beyond to other parts of central and Eastern Europe. The main contact among the Serbian underworld was a man called Darko Asanin, who is now dead. Asanin was a lieutenant of Zeljko Raznatovic, more commonly known as Arkan, the most famous--and most famously assassinated--paramilitary leader in Yugoslavia. It was not the last time that Minic would find himself under Arkan's ultimate control. But at that point, Minic was just another circuit in the complex machinery of the Albanians' and Asanin's drug business. Arkan himself had at this time almost certainly never heard of Minic.
Like many criminals in Serbia and Montenegro, especially those with links to Arkan's well-oiled organized crime concerns, Minic took a sabbatical in Bosnia, say his family, neighbors, and former paramilitary comrades. It was just his kind of war--profitable and easy. Bosnia was most rewarding to those who laughed at the laws of warfare. And no one worked as efficiently there as those who had always laughed at the laws of peacetime.
"He was fierce and out of his mind," recalled his relative, who heralds from the Minic family seat Podbisce, a village in the rocky north of Montenegro, where Serbian nationalism has become as instinctive as drinking a shot glass of throat-burning raki with breakfast. "He came a few times to Podbisce to see his cousins. He was showing us these photos of slaughtered Muslims and he was doing it with glee. He didn't spare anyone. My father started to hate him, as did many other relatives. After that he started making trouble everywhere in Montenegro--in Budva, Podgorica, Herceg Novi. He started so many fights in the cafes."
It was in Bosnia that Minic's violent side blossomed. He operated in a unit under the Bosnian Serb army, according to his comrades, who spoke after the war in Kosovo. One Kosovo paramilitary, "Tony" said that Minic was in the Drina Wolves unit and that there he met five or six guys who would later become key friends in Kosovo. The friends used to use the code word of Munje, Lightning, over their Motorola radios in the field. It was a name they liked and would resuscitate in Kosovo.
Led by Radislav Krstic, a Bosnian Serb military leader who has been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Minic was one of the killers at the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the worst single atrocity committed in Europe since World War II. After seizing the town, designated a UN safe haven, Serb soldiers killed thousands of Muslim men.
"There were killing trucks" in Srebrenica, said the paramilitary Tony, who served under Arkan in the Pec region during the Kosovo war. Tony is a calm man with utter contempt for Minic, whom he still regularly encounters. "Minic was one of the men escorting the trucks to a site and executing the men. They would massacre them in the truck or as they were getting off the truck, one by one. They did seven to eight thousand in five days. Imagine--everyone must have individually done a lot of killing. Later he was boasting about how he was fucking girls there, too, exulting in how the girls scream as he was raping them. Killing was a kind of routine for him. The day after he forgets all he's done. He was quite well known, famous, for raping in Bosnia. Not only rape. He liked to physically abuse them, too, and he liked to boast about it. He isn't a normal guy."
When the war in Bosnia was over, Minic, with his pocket full of loot and horrific vacation photos, came to Montenegro arrogant and aggressive. It was hard to give up the power that came with being a paramilitary. But in Montenegro, he encountered an established criminal culture that had no patience with cocksure newcomers. One day, in the mid-1990s, under one of the awnings of the seafront cafes of Budva and Herceg Novi, Minic started one fight too many, this time crossing someone in the Montenegrin organized crime world. It was explained to him that he was no longer welcome in Montenegro. Driving quickly through the tunnels and gorges on the road north to Pec, he fled to his Albanian drug connections in Kosovo.
Back home, he suffered from the same problem. Neither he nor his fellow Kosovo Serbs were in charge of the criminal world, his world. The Albanian criminals weren't impressed by his new Bosnian resume. For sure, Belgrade ruled the town halls, industry, and the police stations of Kosovo by this time, but the Albanians were still the bosses of the drug trade. For a while, the Ramajs recall, their old playmate opened a small kiosk near the house and tried to go straight, selling newspapers and cigarettes. He was calm, polite. He had a new girlfriend and perhaps she and Minic were trying to settle down. It did not last long. Minic gained the confidence of the local Albanian drug kingpins. He set out to become a crucial distributor for them, opening up new routes in Europe and becoming the player he had sought to be for years. He had finally gained some respect.
Exactly what happened to split Minic from his Albanian partners is unclear. But several people, including his relative, say the bust-up came over a substantial heroin shipment to another country, probably Italy. Possibly the Albanians tried to cut their Serb friend out of the routes he had opened up and controlled. One large deal went wrong somehow and the man who came out feeling cheated was Minic. Already shunned by many local Serbs as a criminal, a lout, and a blockhead, Minic felt alienated by losing his Albanian friends.
"From then on, he hated, absolutely hated Albanians," said a Montenegrin man who worked as a paramilitary under Minic during the war in Kosovo.
Soon after Minic's split with the Albanian drug lords of Kosovo, he joined the Pec police force. That was in 1997 or 1998. He had had enough of working with anyone other than his own kind and at last he was happy in a job whose responsibilities perfectly matched his talents and experience.
Minic's career unfolded without the Albanians of Pec really noticing the changing stature of a man who was, to most of them, just another bigoted Serb to avoid on the street.
Minic lived just a short walk away from the Bala family, down Dushan Mugosha Street and right through some narrow dirt tracks of streets to what was renamed Dardania II Street after the war. The street is in a less well known part of Pec. Minic family's house was a cinderblock bungalow surrounded by an overgrown yard and a low brick wall. His girlfriend, a Bosnian Serb refugee named Rada, lived a few hundred yards from Isa's shop. A couple of Minic's friends who had similar views to him lived about a hundred yards away, back toward Dushan Mugosha Street. On the other side of town were another two of his good friends, Vitomir Shalipuri and Miljan Kaljevic. They were all becoming very close and were soon to be partners in the war.
Isa heard things about Nebojsa Minic. Isa's shop is one of Pec's gossip salons. When people come into Isa's shop, they tell him the latest and he passes it on to others. The meat costs but the gossip is free. There were quite a few rumors about Minic and none suggested that he was the kind of guy who would be a good neighbor to an Albanian. So, like most Albanians who knew about Minic, Isa tried to keep his distance from the big Serb.
Around 1997 or 1998, he noticed Minic walking and driving around the streets of Brzenik in a blue camouflage police uniform. The drug smuggler and veteran killer from Bosnia had joined the police. He was now doing his duty for Belgrade. And it wasn't to serve and protect.
Fifty-two-year-old Myrteza Vokshi owned a kiosk on Dushan Mugosha Street, about half-way between the Bala and Minic households. One day he sat inside on a rickety chair, the back door of his shop open for ventilation during the summer. A quiet man with a young family, he sold newspapers, candy, stickers of Yugoslav soccer stars, and cigarettes. It was early afternoon. Minic walked past and stuck his big nose and narrow eyes in through the low rectangle from which Vokshi handed out his change and goods. Minic bought something, Vokshi can't remember what. But he remembers what Minic said, apropos of nothing. "I'd kill you for ten marks," he told the Albanian kiosk owner.
This time, Minic walked away.
"My father was a butcher, my grandfather was a butcher, my great-grandfather was a butcher, my great-great-grandfather was a butcher. The Balas have been butchers for a thousand years."
Isa's paternal grandfather Musa Bala was indeed a butcher but he was not a great businessman. He drank too much and partly as a result of that he lived in Pec but had a shop in the nearby village of Vitomirica, where the rent was cheaper.
His son, Isa's father, Shaip Bala, didn't fare much better. He too lived in Pec but ran a shop in Klina. He took the train to work.
"My father became mentally ill. I was only fourteen when my father died. We were living in Pec but when my father got ill when I was six we had to close the shop in Klina."
The Bala family had very little money. Like his father before him, Shaip Bala had a weakness: He played and lost at poker. When he was at home with his madness, he would sometimes curse at his family, then fall into dark, silent depressions. His big butcher's hands never went to work with a cleaver and a carcass again after the shop closed. He knew only one trade and so the Balas' income dried up almost completely.
Excerpted from Beyond the Mountains of the Damned by Matthew McAllester Copyright © 2003 by Matthew McAllester. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. One Town, Two Lives
2. The Ghosts of Kula Pass
3. Staying Behind
4. The Serbian Canterbury
5. The Friendly Lion and the KLA
6. In the Trunk of a Gray BMW
7. Coffee with Zejnepe
10. The Illyrian Wolves
11. A Silent Town
12. The Killing
13. A White Plastic Bag in the Long Grass
14. New Roofs,New Coffins
15. The Butcher’s Business
About the Author
What People are Saying About This
“To write this book, Matt McAllester walked through mountains covered with snow and hatred with rifle shots aimed at him from above. He wrote it with extraordinary talent that is equal to his bravery.”
“Matthew McAllester's Beyond the Mountains of the Damned tells the searing and disturbing story of the war in Kosovo. He explains clearly, as few have, what happened and why, and why it matters. His powerful narrative takes us down roads, past checkpoints, and into battle zones, and it plunges us into strange, sad, scarred places where no other reporter has gone. The book has a drive and a momentum that keep you reading even when the sheer horror and stupidity of events is painful. A human as well as a historic tale, told with an eye and an ear for the personal, the individual, the intimate.”
-Amy Wilentz,author of Martyrs’ Crossing and The Rainy Season: Haiti since Duvalier
“Beyond the Mountains of the Damned is about how war destroys society at its most basic level. I read this and understood what happened to ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances during those dark and desperate days in Kosovo. It is a book I will not forget.”
-Janine di Giovanni,special correspondent, Vanity Fair and the Times of London
“A heart-rending tale of the execution of innocents, told with eloquence and compassion by a brilliant and courageous young journalist. What is astonishing about this story of death in Pec is that it actually took place in the last year of the twentieth century and in supposedly civilized Europe. Through the life of Isa the butcher, Matt McAllester graphically depicts the precariousness of life in Kosovo under Slobodan Milosevic, and the compromises and indignities imposed upon anyone who through the accident of birth had an Albanian ethnic identity. What makes this a path-breaking account is the author's drive to find the sadistic killers who shot children in cold blood, and his insistence that they explain their crime. The story is unforgettable.”
-Roy Gutman,Pulitzer Prize winner and author of A Witness toGenocide, Newsweek diplomatic correspondent
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In this fast-paced account of the most violent and widespread European war since 1945, Matthew McAllester offers a gritty and historically valuable glimpse into the mostly unseen conflict inside Kosovo during the 78 days of NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. The author offers a clear and well-defined thesis in the opening passages of the book. Offered within the context of a model for future wars, the author contended that the ¿world did not see this war and so it is a view of the war inside that offer in this book (McAllester 3).¿ Much of author¿s paradigm of the Kosovo conflict is based upon his affinity for the work of Michael Ignatieff. Specifically, McAllester cites Igantief¿s book, Virtual War, as a basis for understanding the meaning of the conflict inside Kosovo. This strange endorsement of another book while opening the first chapter of his own book will leave the reader wondering if the book now being read is a book in itself, or, perhaps, a book about another book. This awkward juxtaposition that opens McAllester¿s book is soon clarified and the author is soon revealing only his own voice and ideas. An aspect of the author¿s opening chapter most commendable is found in his summarization of the basic conflict then enveloping Kosovo. The author articulates a chain of events that not only informs the reader about necessary background material, it does so quickly and does not overpower the essential content of the book. In a general sense, this book is not a history of Kosovo, it is a glimpse into the heart of the ground war that NATO powers were unwilling to look closely at or to even clearly acknowledge. It would be difficult for any writer to offer an explanation of what happened in Kosovo in 1999. The wide-spread mass executions, lootings, murders, and criminal acts perpetrated against Albanians living inside Kosovo during this period, chills the blood of the reader and raises many more questions than could be answered in such a small book. The author understands that the topic is far more complex than what could be `explained.¿ McAllester directs his attention at telling the story and letting the events speak for themselves. This writing strategy, although clear in voice and form, lacks an element of analysis, which would only have strengthened an otherwise brilliant contribution to the historical record of Kosovo. McAllester offers the reader two semi-parallel story lines. Along one line of exploration, the author reveals the life of Isa Bala. Bala, an Albanian living in the city of Pec during the conflict, provides an element of tension which runs through the entire book. Bala, unwilling to leave his home and business, decides to stay in Kosovo while most of his Albanian neighbors, afraid for their lives, flee into Montenegro, Albania, and Macedonia as refugees. The author explains some of Isa Bala¿s reasoning for this fateful decision. On one hand, traveling with an invalid mother into the mountains in winter-time would be extremely hazardous to the entire family, remaining in a city where Albanian homes were looted and burned seemed strangely more dangerous. This decision to remain is latter explained and offers little on the side of respect for Isa Bala and his suffering and impending emotional destitution. Running parallel to Isa Bala and his family is the story line of Nebosja Minic. Throughout the author¿s discussion of conditions of Kosovo, vignettes are sprinkled through his narrative offering larger and more disturbing glimpses at Minic. As leader of a paramilitary organization, Minic is seen as a form of middle manager in a brutality apparatus unleashed on Albanians living inside the Serbian province of Kosovo. Not limited to murder, looting, kidnapping, extortion, or gratuitous rape, paramilitary organizations that spread over Kosovo during this period were held back by only the competition of other paramilitary organizations fighting for their own turf. Thrown into this m