Farewell to Kosovo by Omer Ertur is a historical novel set in the Balkans in 1909 as the Serbians are driving the Turks out. Ertur was born and raised in Istanbul and educated in the United States. He was a professor of community and regional planning at Iowa State University which allowed him to work with various United Nations and various international organizations in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Work in Khartoum laid the foundation for another historical novel Bones in the Nile.
Kosovo was in the news at the turn of the previous two centuries. At the end of the 20th century, most Americans will remember the war in the Balkans where ethnic Albanians fought for great autonomy and a free state state against the Serbians. Most Americans will probably remember this as a Christian/Muslim war. The cause is much deeper as some of the participants hold grudges dating back from the 14th century. The causes of the centuries long conflict are more than religious. There are also nationalistic and anti-empire. Over the centuries an intermixing of religions and nationalities added to the complexity of the situation. There has never been an easy answer and like the American Civil War many times it was friends or family fighting friends and family.
Farewell to Kosovo is historical fiction based on the author’s family stories. His mother is portrayed in the story as well as his infant mother. His Father is an Ottoman fighting the Serbian Nationalists. The accounts of the book are his grandparent’s experiences in January 1910. The characters are well developed and complex. Burhan, for example, a Serbian Nationalist whose girl friend was raped and killed by Ottoman irregulars plays the role of a a compassionate character among the other Serbians. The Serbians are shown to be violent and cruel. Killing all the men in villages and capturing women and killing them the next morning. Executions are carried out with bayonet charges because it does not cost any bullets. Unlike other Serbians, Burhan does not kill women and children and does his best to save them. He is our eye into the Serbian camp. Lt. Arvi and his wife are our view into the Ottoman camp and are the author’s grandparents (in a fictionalized role).
The book is well worth the read and goes a long way into explaining the historical problems in the Balkans as well as the major players then and now. The aggressiveness of a Serbian nationalists will, again come to bring attention to the Balkans in 1914 and again in the 1990s. Ertur does an excellent job of putting a human face on the parties in the conflict. Although only covering a three week period, the book opens the reader to a long history.