How to be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill

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How to be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Em Richardson
Reviewed by Em Richardson
Summary: A brilliant, must-read book, telling us what it's like to be a woman in one of the world's youngest, but most traditional, countries.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Salt Publishing
ISBN: 978-1784630959

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How to be a Kosovan Bride recounts tales of two women, who are of a similar age and live in Kosovo, one of the world's youngest and most unstable countries, in the aftermath of the Balkan war. The first girl, the Kosovan Wife, follows the archaic, traditional path that has long been the norm for women from her country - she marries before she is twenty, and soon produces children. The second girl follows a starkly different path - returned to her parents after a disastrous wedding night, and thus labelled the Returned Girl, she scorns tradition, and studies endlessly until she is accepted into university, where she discovers the distinctly modern, Western world of political activism. The girls' stories are interwoven with both Kosovan folk tales and memories of the recent war, really giving readers a feel of what it is like to call such an unstable place home. This is undoubtedly a political book, with distinctly feminist undertones, but it is also thoroughly enjoyable, and beautifully written to boot.

One thing some readers may find odd is that Hamill only addresses each of her protagonists by name once, but I believe that to complain about this is to misinterpret the entire point of the novel. These characters aren't characters at all - they're stereotypes. The Kosovan Wife and the Returned Girl don't represent individual women who we should get to know intimately; instead, they are simply universal stereotypes intended to suggest that there are two types of women in Kosovo: those who are traditional, and those who rebel. We know little about them because we aren't meant to assign identities to them - Hamill intends for us to see them as generalised representations of Kosovan women, with the events of their lives probably being applicable to many other Kosovan women.

This brings us to the political and feminist aspects of the book. The politics side is fairly distinct, as Hamill uses accounts of public protests and examples of Kosovo's very conservative, traditional beliefs to show us both that the country is still very politically unstable, and that it still harbours some very archaic beliefs. As these beliefs mostly effect women and how they are expected to live their lives, showing them in a negative light adds to the idea that this is a book intended to empower women, with even the Kosovan Wife showing there is life outside the traditional 'feminine' role by having the audacity to tell her husband when she feels unhappy. It would, however, be wrong to say that the whole purpose of this book is to broadcast a political message, as Hamill deals with the issues in question sensitively, implicitly showing her disdain for the Kosovan regime throughout the book, rather than allowing her prose to become a political rant.

In fact, Hamill's writing is nothing short of extra-ordinary. She writes in a style scarcely encountered in fiction, addressing the reader as 'you' throughout the novel, and thus managing to make us feel unnerved that we have not done more to liberate women like the Returned Girl and the Kosovan Wife. This guilt adds to the sympathy we already feel for the protagonists, with their lack of names and characteristics failing to stop us connecting with them. The stories of the recent war are equally harrowing, and once again, the lack of the specific names of those they feature only serves to make them more moving, as we realise they could have been experienced by almost anyone who suffered through the conflict.

Having described the way it handles such serious issues, it would be easy to think I found this a hard-going, or depressing book. That definitely wasn't the case! The Kosovan folk tales interwoven thought the novel provided moments of light relief, and I found it fascinating to learn about a culture so fundamentally different to my own. Hamill is clearly extremely knowledgeable about the subject matter, and this allows her to also convey the passion she clearly feels about helping and educating women in her characters' position. One gets the sense she would like to educate women in Kosovan Wife's role about alternatives to the conventional Kosovan married life, and to educate Kosovo at large about the importance of accepting strong, intellectual young women like the Returned Girl. Overall, I found this to be a thoroughly thought-provoking novel, and one that anyone who has ever questioned the need for the liberation of women should read. Above all, it will leave readers with a sense of gratitude that they are not the ones in such a situation.

For further reading, I'd suggest anyone who enjoys this novel might also like I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, another book that makes the reader sympathise with girls who must grow up in less forward thinking countries than our own, and makes the reader realise the importance of education.

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Buy How to be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill at


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