flame.gifA review by Uk Lushi

Writing is among the greatest inventions, perhaps the greatest invention, since it made history possible. Writing can be a witness, a testimony, evidence and even a symbolic as well as an official affidavit.
It is believed that inventions occur because of necessity and practicality. The result of writing is reading. It is also believed that in general writing may be very difficult and that reading is not as difficult. On the contrary, neither writing nor reading is easy. It is the “click” that a good piece of writing establishes with the reader that makes reading a real experience, a type of liberation and an “easy” thing.
Reading can be so pleasurable and painful at the same time that it can feel almost like one is not only reading but transforming and going through a metamorphosis of becoming one with the characters that one is reading about. In general, this is when it is said, “The writer and the reader click with each other.” Such an excellent piece of writing is “Children Of Kosova - Stories of Horror” by Albana Melyshi- Lifschin, published in 1999, in New York.
The title of the book is more than shocking. So is the content. One could ask, “Why Stories Of Horror? What does an educated reader think?” Horror is something defined as intense fear, dread or dismay. Stories are accounts of incidents or events; statements regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question. What are then the stories of Melyshi-Lifschin’s book exactly? Horror literature? Not quite true. The explanation to these questions is addressed in the author’s foreword and is completely discovered only when one has finished the book.
Mrs. Melyshi-Lifschin works at Fort Dix refugee camp. She runs a radio show for refugees, which broadcasts every night. At first impression, this is nothing extraordinary or nothing special. But wait, it is about to come- it is her audience, the most attentive listeners in the world who are the extraordinary and the special. It is the children of Kosova who are nightly guests on her program. They sing sad songs and recite heartbreaking poems. Many Americans who work with Mrs. Melyshi-Lifschin in Fort Dix want to know what the children’s songs and poems mean. Americans live in freedom and they can’t understand the great pain and sadness in the performance of the children. “ Much better that Americans don’t understand our language, or otherwise they would cry!” says one of the adults who is there as a refugee with the children. The language of these people is Albanian. They are Albanian kids, men and women who were forced by the Serbs to leave their country. Fortunately, they have come to the land of the free, to America, with the hope that, if they want, they will be able to go back.
The author recalls that despite their desperate and painful situation as refugees these kids never did cry. They sing for their heroes who are fighting the Serbian destructive war-machine that has ripped their freedom from them, closed their schools and jailed their beloved ones. It’s so tragic that the Serbian occupiers have taught these children words like war, prison, murder and massacre before they learned their fairy tales and the names of their toys.
In a book which describes her experiences as a Jew in wartime Albania, Irene Grunbaum writes about Albania of those days: “ Farewell Albania, I thought. You have given me friends, adventures, and so much, hospitality and refuge. Farewell Albania, one day I will tell the world how brave, fearless, strong and faithful your sons are, how death and the devil can’t frighten them. If necessary I’ll tell how they protected a refugee and wouldn’t allow her to be harmed even if it meant losing their lives. The gates of your small country remained open, Albania. Your authorities closed both eyes, when necessary, to give poor persecuted people another chance to survive the most horrible of all wars. Albania, we survived the siege because of your humanity. We thank you.”
Now it is the Albanians who are in need and it is the United States, the land of hope and fulfillment of dreams of millions of refugees and immigrants, which is accommodating the Albanian refugees.
The book goes on and as the reader gets deeper and deeper into the reading of the children’s stories, he or she gets closer and closer to the children and starts to feel like one of them. He or she gets into the very essence of the stories and the hopes of the children. “ I saw a dead body in front of our house. The man had been killed and his body was covered with blood and dirt… I didn’t know he was my uncle!” says Alban Berisha, a twelve-year-old boy from Fushe Kosova. “After we arrived in Blace, the Macedonian soldiers didn’t treat us much better. It was raining… we had to sleep outside in the mud…” continues another one, Shkabjan Hetemi, a fourteen-year-old boy from Prishtina, followed by Makbule Qerimi, a fourteen-year-old girl who adds, “There are a lot of talented people in United States. America really doesn’t need me. It is Kosova that needs me...”, or Mimoza Shaqiri, an eleven-year-old who so innocently describes the horror, “Once we got to Macedonia, we had to sleep outdoors for five days. They didn’t allow us inside the camp. Albanians who lived in Macedonia helped us. They brought us food to eat and blankets to keep us warm.”
These are just some of the cries of the children that give the reader goose bumps and remind him how evil human beings can be. But there are a lot of stories that make hope transparent in light of the horrific circumstances that the children were faced with on a daily basis. Faton Jakupi, a ten-year-old kid from Ferizaj remembers, “When NATO started to bomb the Serbians, we felt safe. We felt that NATO was there to help us…”
There are millions of words that have been and will be written about the Kosova war, but aren’t these words the most sincere, innocent and truthful words about this war? Taulant Berisha, a six-year-old says, “ I want to stay here in America because there are no Serb soldiers here.” One needs not to read further in order to understand how big the fear must be to make Taulant think he must abandon his country.
The second part of the book contains drawings from the children. Topics stretching from the American flag, Kosova Liberation Army soldier figures, burning houses underneath Serbian planes flying a smoke filled sky to a peace pigeon with a flower in his beak.
In addition to this part there is one of the most powerful parts of this book- the third part: Letters and Drawings from American Children. John Lipari from Londonderry (NH) writes, “Dear Friend… Welcome to America… In America people are free! Has your stay been enjoyable? It must be hard to know that you had to flee your home country. We Americans can only imagine… Only tough people can survive this so you must be tough! If you get through this you can survive anything. The thing is you must have faith that God will look over you and guide you through this horrible tragedy…” and his friend Patrick John O’Sullivan adds, “ Welcome to the United States of America! I am happy you and your family are here and are safe. We are trying our best to get you home as soon as possible. Have hope because 20 countries are helping. Until this is over, enjoy your stay. We will not give up trying to get you home”. Aren’t these statements of relief, understanding and beauty? Aren’t they the ultimate expectations that we aspire to achieve in our lives?
The poem that closes the second to last part is the Albanian National Anthem that symbolizes the undying pride and hope of the children:
For the Lord Himself has said
The Nations vanish from the earth
But Albania shall live on
Because for her, it is for her that we fight
Mrs. Melyshi-Lifschin lives in America since 1992. Her contribution for the community is remarkable, however, it must be said very clearly that this book is the best present that she could give to the children of Kosova and to any persecuted or suppressed child in the world
The author deserves respect for her effort to make the voices of the Kosova children be heard. By letting kids confess she depicts the most important part of human life- hope. And who reflects hope better than children?
Mrs. Melyshi-Lifschin’s book and kids message is simple. Albanians should forgive, but they should never forget. Albanians should forgive the Serbs for what they did to them, but they should never forget it and they should never forget to thank America for helping them. Albanian-Americans that do not have or do not try to acquire this book will miss a part of their own history, their own heritage and their own self.
In the end, one should go back to the beginning and realize that without writing there would be no reading. More importantly, without writing there would be no history. Mrs. Melyshi-Lifschin deserves the best of wishes and luck in every thing that she seeks to accomplish. She deserves a big thank you for her great book. She accomplished the mission. She has written a part of Albanian’s history. She merits a big BRAVO!
July 4, 2001
New York

© Albana Melyshi Lifschin  |  Last updated May 12, 2016 12 Noon
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