Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A problem from hell

Ever since I read The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo by Clea Koff (was it last summer? last year? I forget), I've wanted to learn more about the "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans, Rwanda, and other places.

In November, at the first meeting of a nonfiction book club that I'm in, we discussed Guns, Germs, and Steel and talked briefly about genocide. At that time I suggested The Bone Woman for a future book. Last week I hosted the meeting at which we discussed it, so over the last month or so I've been reading various books about Bosnia, Kosovo, the Balkans, Rwanda, and genocide in general. Almost all are from the local public library system.

The first one I started was The Balkans: A Short History -- and I'm still reading it. I got to about 1820 by the time of the book club meeting!

Alongside that, I started the one book that I actually bought (thank you, Half.com!): A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, by Samantha Power. WOW! After her hard-hitting intro, we are examining the Turks's actions against the Armenians in 1915-1916. This book will take me a while to get through, but I appreciate that the journey will also include the Holocaust, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, and Iraqi attacks on Kurdish populations, as well as Rwanda and Bosnian "ethnic cleansing." Gonna be a good, tough, frustrating read, I think.

Then I read Beyond the Mountains of the Damned: The War Inside Kosovo. A journalist's view of the story of the town of Pec/Peja and some of its inhabitants. Very focused on 1999. At nearly the end of the book, UN forensic anthropologists are in the town, examining those buried who had died during the Serb "cleansing" of the town in that spring of 1999. I sure did wonder whether Clea Koff was one of them!

After the book club met, I read some more of The Balkans and started Madness Visible: A Memoir of War. This book concerns the entire 1990s Balkan war, with a focus on that spring of 1999 in Kosovo, and somewhat on Bosnia and the siege of Sarajevo. I'm writing this while still barely knowing anything beyond these words I based on the Amazon reviews, sigh. I suspect by the end of this book I'll have a better grasp of what, where, when, and certainly how, and I hope I'll begin to get hints of why, as well.

I quickly got sidetracked when the library told me We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families: Stories from Rwanda was waiting for me. I picked that up and started reading it, too. I was feeling a bit Balkan-centric when that wasn't necessarily my intention. Probably at some point I'll start educating myself about the Sudan and Darfur.

I'm not sure why this topic has caught my interest to such an extent, and that's okay. I think I feel the need to fill in gaps in my education as well as to see if any of these writers has any explanations that I find compelling for (a) genocidal actions and (b) lack of response on the part of the world community. My best bet is Samantha Powers in her A Problem from Hell, I expect, but I really want glimpses of the individual areas' stories, as well.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

While on a slightly different topic, you comments remind me of a book. If you haven't read "Geek Love" by Dunn, it might be worth looking into, or so the whispers say.

The_Add_Knitter said...

Hello, I really like your blog alot. Have you read the "We wish to inform you.." book by Philip Gourevitch about the Rwandan genocide? It's fascinating and unbelievably disturbing.
On a more superficial note: how did you make the project completion tickers? Thanks!

hjm10@psu.edu