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Beyond the Mountains of the Damned: The War Inside Kosovo

3.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0814756607
ISBN-10: 0814756603
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"The only defense is in offence, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves." This quote, occurring toward the end of this horrifying and deeply moving account of Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, comes not from Slobodon Milosevic but from Stanley Baldwin, later a British prime minister, in a 1932 speech and serves as a historical frame for the action covered here. While most Americans saw the air strikes on television, McAllester claims that "the unseen war, the war inside Kosovo, has remained largely untold." Defying the Yugoslavian government's ban on unescorted foreign reporters, McAllester, who shared a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the TWA flight 800, went in 2001 to Pec, Kosovo's most ravaged city during the 78 days of NATO bombing. McAllester carefully charts the larger historical and political framework: the history of Pec, the longstanding animosity between the ethnic Albanians and the Serbs, the complicated position of regular Serb soldiers caught between the KLA attacks and NATO bombing. But the main focus is on Isa Bala, an ethnic Albanian sausage maker and his family, and in particular their persecution by their Serb gangster neighbor, Nebojsa Minic, and on a persistent family feud. McAllester is a careful observer and as the story moves from the ordinary (everyday life; Isa selling Minic sausages; Isa wishing he had married earlier so that he could have more children) to the horrifying rape of his wife and brutal murder of most of his children, the story becomes nearly unbearable in its inevitability. McAllester's spare, understated prose ("The skull seemed to be the size of a child's," he notes, coming upon a local killing ground) is potent, as is his exploration of the human side of geopolitics and war. (Feb.)Forecast: As the "small" wars of the '90s involving Muslims come to seem more and more related (see review of A Dirty War, p. 58), journalistic books such as this will be sought out by readers trying to make sense of recent history. McAllester's excellent, heartbreaking work here is more relevant than ever.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

NATO's 1999 bombardment of Kosovo was intended to end ethnic cleansing in the province and is known in the West through the streams of refugees who fled across the border, telling horrific tales of the brutality they left behind. This account, in contrast, is about several families who remained in the Kosovar city of Pec and tried to survive. A Newsday correspondent and winner of a shared Pulitzer, McAllester crossed into Kosovo without official sanction or papers. He tells the story through two men, an Albanian Kosovar butcher and his extended family, and a Serb who had joined a paramilitary unit. The depth of hatred that each group expresses toward the other explains a lot of the revenge violence during the conflict and offers no hope of lasting peace anytime soon. None of the individuals introduced here emerges with completely clean hands, and none has been indicted for war crimes. This account is not of the "virtual war" that Westerners saw on their television screens but of the real effects on people who consider the ravaged area home. Informed readers will appreciate the perspective. Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (December 12, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814756603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814756607
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,084,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on February 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Beyond the MOuntains of the Damned" is a journalistic account of the 1999 war in Kosovo told through both the eyes of journalist Matthew McAllester as well as several of the victims. The senseless brutality wrought upon the Muslim majority by the Serbs is well chronicled. The Kosovo "ethnic clensing" effort lacked the systemic nature of the Nazi genocide or even the occasional grand scale of some of the atrocities committed in Bosnia, but it was no less horrific. Albnaians had their homes burned and their villiages destroyed and many were shot as the Serbs attempted to drive them out.
Most of the action in the book takes place in and around the city of Pec, in eastern Kosovo. It was among the hardest hit regions in the territory. McAllester spent the three month war infiltrating Kosovo around in this region, though he never made to Pec until after the war because he would certainly have been killed by the Serbs. Meanwhile in Pec, an ALbanian butcher named Isa Bala and his family tried to stay inconspicuous and wait out the killing. Thier fate ultimately gives this story its gravity.
The only knock against the book is that for the most part it lacks a broader perspective. The political events surrounding the war and the history that led to Kosovo's destruction get some mention, but not enough for the avearge reader. Also, the larger war outside the Pec region gets only superficial coverage. Nevertheless, this is still a disturbing account of modern genocide and of the banality of man's evil.
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Format: Hardcover
McAllester has told the story of the war in Kosovo from his own perspective, as a journalist moving around the province without official sanction, and from the perspective of several Kosovars living in the city of Pec, like most of Kosovo a formerly Serbian city which is now primarily Albanian.
This story is effective. The violent finale is one the reader will see coming, but it remains shocking and powerful - these are real people and not fictional characters. McAllester has done a good job in describing the nightmare for ordinary people trying to live through war and ethnic cleansing. His account of his own experiences is less gripping, but reasonably interesting.
What he hasn't done is give a broader perspective. This book will tell you little about the Kosovo war, it's historical background, the breakup of Yugoslavia, or the war's outcome and significance. For those who are looking for a broader history of these events, this book is entirely inadequate.
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By A Customer on March 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I followed the war in Kosovo by reading about it in the newspapers. Then, like the bulk of Americans, pretty much forgot about it once it was over. But thanks to McAllester's exquisite, journalistic eye for detail, I feel as if I was actually there, a witness somehow to the atrocities that took place.
I have never had a particular interest in, or understanding of, the Balkans. Now after reading Beyong the Mountains of the Damned I hunger to know as much as possible.
This is no ordinary historical account. It is compelling and it stays with you after you are done. It reads with the breeze of fiction. What is petrifying, however, is that the characters are real and so are their stories. Chapter 12, The Killing, may be the most powerful chapter I've ever read in any book of this kind. While reading alone, I gasped and cried out loud.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with a particular interest in Kosovo and Serbia. But it is not only for those with a specialized interest in the region. It is for anyone who appreciates good writing and courageous reporting.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great !
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Format: Hardcover
If you know anything about the region and recent events, this book will not enlighten you further. If you don't know anything about what went on in Kosovo, but would like to, "A Village Destroyed," by Fred Abrahms is a much better source. If you want to know what it's like to be a green newspaper reporter covering his first war this might be of some interest.
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