Girl of Kosovo

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. 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.

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From Publishers 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.

Alice Mead, author of the much-lauded Adem’s Cross, continues to draw attention to the horrific Serbian-Albanian conflict with Girl of Kosovo. Brutal and moving, this novel is sure to stir the activist that lives in the heart of every teen and propel young readers to a greater understanding of race, war, and politics. (Ages 10 and older) –Jennifer Hubert Amazon Reader
From School Library Journal

Gr 5-8-The power of childhood friendships and generous spirits to overcome ethnic hatred is the theme of this moving story of an 11-year-old Albanian victim of the civil war in Kosovo. As Zana Dugolli and her family attempt to escape an attack, her father and two brothers are killed, and Zana is severely wounded. Hospitalized in Belgrade for three months, the terrified child encounters kindness on the part of a Serbian surgeon and, helped by the Red Cross, returns home on crutches. Her recovery is complicated by recurring infections, but the attentions of a British doctor and the revival of a friendship with Lena, the Serbian girl next door, help the healing process. When infection flares up, her mother convinces Lena’s father to take her back to a hospital where she waits out the NATO bombing. In the end, she is reunited with the family she thought she had lost. When the villagers, including her older brother, want to take revenge on Lena’s family, Zana saves their lives by standing with them. The contrasts in the protagonist’s world are clear. Their television plays Venezuelan soap operas but food is cooked on a wood stove and water pumped by hand, outside. However, there is little to anchor this story in a specific setting or culture. Zana could be an American child, Lena is not developed at all, and readers never witness their former friendship. Mead’s sympathy for children caught in adult conflicts is evident, and readers will likely come to share that sympathy but are unlikely to develop a better understanding of the complexities of the Balkan world.–Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC

From Booklist

Gr. 5-10. Based on the experience of one Albanian family caught up in the ethnic wars in Kosovo, this moving novel tells the story through the eyes of a young girl, Zana Dugolli, 11, who sees her father and two of her brothers killed in an attack on her village. Her foot is smashed, and she spends months alone in the hospital, shocked and depressed. When she returns home, she sees killers round up people in her schoolyard. Her enraged older brother joins the terrorist underground, but Zana hears her father’s voice in her head: “Don’t let them fill your heart with hate.” There’s no exploitation of the brutality, but the facts are devastating. Mead provides a historical introduction about the conflict as well as an afterword about her own 1999 visits to refugee camps. But readers will see that Zana can’t make out the politics–she doesn’t care about Serbs or Albanians or NATO. She knows that in war everyone becomes an enemy. The power in the story is the personal drama, especially Zana’s enduring bond with her Serbian best friend and neighbor. There’s much to talk about. Add this to the Holocaust curriculum.
–Hazel Rochman

Each of my books about kids in other countries–Iran, the Balkans, Sudan–was created when I got to know kids from other cultures who finally had been resettled in my town of Portland, Maine. They are now American kids, my neighbors and yours, who came from poverty and war.

Read about other parts of the world and take a journey there through the eyes of other kids your age. Travel by stories!