Touchstone (Simon & Schuster), 1999, trade 2002
ISBN: 0-684-86953-5 (trade)
David Fromkin’s Kosovo Crossing is the sort of book that makes you wonder if jacket copy writers read their memos. True, he does examine the "clash between American ideals and Balkan realities on the battlefields of Kosovo." Mr. Fromkin’s leisurely examination, however, does not impose itself on this 196 page text until page 149. Scattered elsewhere are brief references to U.S. foreign policy in the twentieth century that, when considered together, serve only as an pellucid frame for what is more properly a history of general foreign intervention in the Balkans’ many conflicts.
         Not to be overly negative, Kosovo Crossing does present a number of novel and important topics, such as the transitory nature of friend and foe in the former Yugoslavia, and the consequences of America’s ultimately shortsighted view of its own power and worth. Mr. Fromkin pays his respects to the inimitable Rebecca West and uses some of her experiences to broadcast his own insightful perspective.
         In honesty, however, though pleased with the author’s self-aware and meticulous use of language and the obvious amount of research that went into what amounts to a minor history of Kosovo, I was disenchanted. The book is an example of "almost" played to perfection–almost a history; almost an editorial; almost complete, unique, and edifying. One wonders if Kosovo Crossing is the product of an editor’s bright idea, or perhaps the result of an expanded essay for a news magazine. In contradiction to the cover’s assertion, it certainly is not a "history" in any meaningful sense of the word, for the events discussed are of occasionally debatable import when the kaleidoscope of options is considered, and those that are unquestionably pivotal are discussed in an almost cursory manner. In other areas, the contents run to opinion and conjecture.
         Mr. Fromkin issues a number of dubious assertions that clog the text. One example: "If Americans don’t care enough about a country or die for it, then they shouldn't be there." In support of such pronouncements he offers neither a foundation nor elaboration. This is unfortunate, as what arguments he does present are generally logical and well formed, and do not sacrifice meaning for sentiment and inscrutable political high-mindedness. Mr. Fromkin is clearly blessed with a powerful mind and a gift for analyses that are multifaceted and potentially portentous.
         The failings described above should not deter readers interested in Balkan history, U.S. policy from the time of the Great White Fleet to present, or the real-world ethics behind ‘altruistic’ political decisions. But readers are advised to make use of Mr. Fromkin’s kindly provided bibliography, and to read several included books concurrently with Kosovo Crossing as a means of fleshing out the tale and absorbing conflicting points of view. An expanded edition of Kosovo Crossing would be a welcome edition to this reviewer’s personal library.