Summary and book reviews of The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo by Paula Huntley

The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo

By Paula Huntley

The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2003,
    237 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2004,
    272 pages.

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Book Summary

In August 2000, Paula Huntley's husband took a leave of absence from his teaching post at a law school, and she resigned from her marketing job of thirteen years. Huntley's husband had signed on with the American Bar Association to help rebuild Kosovo's legal system. Not quite sure how she could be of any service in a country that had suffered so much, Huntley found a position at a private school teaching English to a group of Kosovo Albanians. In this inspiring diary of her experiences in Kosovo, Huntley describes the deep friendships she formed with her students and the remarkable book club that they created . . .

One day in a bookstore in Prishtina, Huntley stumbled upon a copy of Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea and--judging that it was just the right reading level and length--she made copies of it for the group. Despite lingering concerns that this quintessential American writer so notorious for his machismo might not resonate, the story of the old man's struggle to bring in his big fish touched them deeply. So deeply in fact that, though the group went on to read other great American writers, a name for their club was born: The Hemingway Book Club of Kosova.

This book reveals both the fragility and strength of the human spirit. Neither a journalist nor a historian, Huntley describes her students' experiences during the war and the intimacy of the bond that she formed with them with a rare purity and directness. A vision of great hope, The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo reveals the power of human connection to bring about healing in even the most war-torn circumstances.


Wednesday, August 23, 2000 (two months earlier)
Bolinas, California

In three days we leave for Kosovo, and I am scared. Last night I awoke in the middle of the night and sat bolt upright, panicked. "What in God's name are we doing?"

I've had three months to get used to the idea. Ever since I came home from work the first of June to hear Ed say he'd been offered the chance to help build a modern legal system there. "Anywhere but Kosovo!" I protested. In Kosovo, where Slobodan Milosevic's bloody last-ditch effort to hang on to Serbian power in Yugoslavia ended only last year, the wounds are still fresh. Kosovo seemed, quite simply, too hard, too sad. But it is Kosovo that offers the greatest challenge for him, and now, for both of us, it is the plight, the courage of the Kosovars that touches our hearts.

So, despite my months of protest, we are going to Kosovo. I keep telling myself that it won't be the first time I have followed my heart into something new and scary. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Old Man and the Sea really touched Huntley's students and enabled them to talk about deeply personal and painful subjects. Did you ever read a book (with one or more other people) that became a vehicle for conversation about very personal and painful subjects? What was the book?

  2. Leonard, the Professor, and Huntley's other students demonstrated incredible hope and optimism despite terrible adversity. What in their lives or in their personalities made this possible? Can you imagine yourself, in the same circumstances, demonstrating such hope and optimism?

  3. Huntley tries to teach her students about the perils of stereotypingto avoid saying, "All Americans are this," "all Serbs are that," and so forth. Do you ever find ...
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Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Jon Fasman

Paula Huntley's surprisingly affecting memoir arrives at an opportune moment; it reminds us not merely that Kosovo exists but also of the importance of that Bush-Rovian bogeyman, nation-building . . . Nation-building requires not merely, not even primarily the commitment of government resources; it also requires brave ordinary Americans like Paula Huntley -- and one hopes, like some of her readers, who will perhaps be inspired by her stories -- to leave the comforts of home and see the world unmediated through television cameras or journalists' eyes.

Hope Magazine - Sara Terry

This unpretentious record is an all too rare thing --a memoir of the heart about a forsaken part of the world that blazed into headlines, grabbed its bloody fifteen minutes of fame, and then promptly fell off the West's radar screen once again . . . Huntley offers no solutions, no analysis. But what does light this book is her persistent faith in the power of connectedness, of nurturing the human spirit, of the obligations that we, as human beings, have to one another.

Rocky Mountain News

[Huntley] reminds readers that life-and effective writing-is not always about following the rules, but about following your heart.

Boston Globe - Michael Kenney

[Huntley's journal] is a glowing testament to why people in far-off countries about which we know little, and too often care even less, still admire, respect, and even love Americans.

The San Francisco Chronicle - Brad Newsham

[Huntley's] memoir is poignant, thoughtful, and humble -- and exactly the kind of story Americans need to hear right now.

Newsday - Daphne Uville

[Huntley] has ensured that anyone who reads her book will truly know and remember this forsaken Balkan land.

San Jose Mercury News - Jill Wolfson

This moving, painful and ultimately uplifting memoir began as a series of e-mails to friends at home, and the entries retain the casual, heartfelt wisdom of someone writing off the top of her head. Huntley is all the things a reader would want in a guide to a foreign land at times, angry, at times frustrated with politics, at times funny, but always homing in on the most telling, human experiences.

Ft. Worth Star Telegram - Lev Raphael

Gripping, heartbreaking reading . . . .The interweaving of Hemingway's story, the students' narratives of terror and Huntley's own tales of discovery make for a book that is stirring and nearly impossible to put down.

Publishers Weekly

Huntley's journal not only shares their stories, but reminds readers that by volunteering, people get back more than they give.

Kirkus Reviews

Coming across most forcefully here are the everyday revelations of a land, history, and circumstance so different than any the author had ever known the honor-bound blood feuds, the pervasive fear, the long memories so successfully exploited by ideologues, the organizational jockeying and international politicking amid the misery, the remarkable instinct to survive, but also the godawful crushing of that instinct when experiences are just too horrible to be absorbed.


Although she never intended for her journal to be published, its beautiful, soul-searching passages deserve to be embraced by the world.

Author Blurb Ambassador Richard Holbrooke
Sometimes a small story tells a far larger one. Such is the case with The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo. Paula Huntley shows us the common humanity that can heal even the most terrible wounds.

Author Blurb Jason Elliott, author of An Unexpected Light Travels in Afghanistan
This book is brave and heartfelt . . . I hope it will become an inspiration to many others.

Author Blurb Jeri Laber, a founder of Human Rights Watch and author of The Courage of Strangers
...engaging, compassionate and insipirational...Paula Huntley's loving involvement with her students went far beyond teaching she changed their lives...

Author Blurb Melanne Verveer, Chair, Vital Voices Global Partnership and former Chief of Staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton
Every American should read this absorbing book so they can better understand why the United States intervened in Kosovo...

Author Blurb Dr. Susan F. Beegel, editor, The Hemingway Review
This book is an important plea for Americans to become more involved in the wider world...

Author Blurb Terence Ward, author of Searching for Hassan
...shines a human light on the brave Kosovar Muslim Albanians.

Author Blurb Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia, Another Country, and The Middle of Everywhere
This wonderful book is a story of love and transformation. Huntley is an excellent storyteller....She writes with heart and intelligence, which is my definition of wisdom. Soon the reader is a member of The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo.

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