'How to be a Kosovan Bride' is Hamill's debut novel, in it she follows the lives of two teenage girls from the same village; the Kosovan Bride of the title who marries into a family as traditionally minded as her own, and the Returned Girl, sent back to her family on her wedding night when her new husband suspects she isn't a virgin.
The Kosovan Bride moves into a house with her in laws, soon finds herself pregnant, and with a future fully mapped out for her. The Returned girl is in relatively unchartered territory and seizes the opportunities that her new set of choices bring her.
Hamill's knowledge of Kosovo comes from the visits she's made there working with a U.K charity, the lingering legacy of the war, and the persecution of ethnic Albanians threads through the book both in the form of the early memories of the girls, and the stories they manage to get their families to share. This is all the more powerful for focusing on the everyday reality of life for very ordinary people in extraordinarily difficult circumstances - it's a stark portrayal of the reality of life as a fugitive or refugee.
For the Kosovan Bride the difficulty is in reconciling the hopes and expectations of a contemporary girl, familiar with social media, and images of a world far beyond her village, with the reality of a very traditional marriage and equally rigid expectations. It's a society that sets a very high value on honour and where blood feuds and a general threat of violence are not just a possibility, but a very real threat. Hamill makes it easy to understand why that tradition is so important to the generation that made it through the conflicts of the late 1990's, and to their children as well. She also makes it clear that that tradition is quite a burden for bright young women to accommodate.
For the Returned girl there's the chance to turn her back on some of those traditions, she finishes School, goes to university, plans a different life for herself, meets men on her own terms, starts to write the stories she hears of the past, and finds her own ways to reconcile what she wants with respect for her family's traditions.
The book has the rhythm of a set of fairy tales, and actually also incorporates a traditional fairy tale within it. It's sparse, and effectivley repetitive delivery is both utterly compelling and powerful. It also made me realise that despite knowing some Albanian refugees back around 2000, I know woefully little about this part of recent history. Altogether a remarkable book.