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A Partisan's Daughter (Vintage International)by Louis de Bernieres
"[A] largely unsatisfying exploration of loneliness buoyed only by moments of poignancy or humor, as well as an admittedly haunting ending....[T]he author comes off as showy and given to gratuitous displays of geo-historical knowledge." Rayyan Al-Shawaf, San Antonio Express-News (read the entire Express-News review)
Synopses & Reviews
Set in North London during the Winter of Discontent, A Partisan's Daughter features the relationship between Chris, an unhappily married, middle-aged Englishman and Roza, a young Serbian woman who has recently moved to London.
While driving through Archway in the course of his job as a medical rep, Chris is captivated by a young woman on a street corner. Clumsily, he engages her in conversation, and he secures an invitation to return one day for a coffee.
His visits become more frequent and Roza starts to tell him the story of her life, drawing him increasingly into her world — from her childhood as a daughter of one of Tito's Partisans through her journey to England and on to her more recent colourful and dangerous past in London.
A Partisan's Daughter is about the power of storytelling. It is also a beautifully wrought and unlikely love story which is both compelling and moving to read. Here is another wonderful novel from the author of the bestselling Birds Without Wings and Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
"De Bernires (Corelli's Mandolin) delivers an oddball love story of two spiritually displaced would-be lovers. During a dreary late 1970s London winter, stolid and discontented Chris is drawn to seedy and mysterious Roza, a Yugoslav migre he initially believes is a prostitute. She isn't (though she claims to have been), and soon the two embark on an awkward friendship (Chris would like to imagine it as a romance) in which Roza spins her life's stories for her nondescript, erstwhile suitor. Roza, whose father supported Tito, moved to London for opportunity but instead found a school of hard knocks, and she's all too happy to dole out the lessons she learned to the slavering Chris. The questions of whether Roza will fall for Chris and whether Chris will leave his wife (he calls her 'the Great White Loaf') carry the reader along, as the reliability of Chris and Roza, who trade off narration duties, is called into question — sometimes to less than ideal effect. The conclusion is crushing, and Chris's scorching regret burns brightly to the last line." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Back in the day, just getting over the Great Depression, I suppose, my mother and aunt would break into the cheap brown liquor they so loved to drink and then sit down and play piano duets: "Nola" was a favorite, and "Kitten on the Keys." It was a miracle when they hit a right note — you might say they were the unreliable narrators of those little tunes — but the general effect was often jaunty and... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) full of a bleak kind of joy. They were alive, after all, they were filling in the time, they weren't dead yet. Two unreliable narrators perform a discordant but appealing duet in "A Partisan's Daughter," a new short novel by Louis de Bernieres, author of "Birds Without Wings." One of them, Roza, a native of the former Yugoslavia, has long been missing; the other, Chris, a mopey old Englishman, reciting his story 30 years after the fact, comes under the heading of "not dead yet." He's had one great adventure in his life, and he tells the reader about it in the mopiest of tones. Life has more than passed him by. You might say that life has lapped him many times in the boring marathon of existence. But yes, just once, for a limited time, he fell under the thrall of a modern Scheherazade who (to quote the Beatles) "filled his head with notions, seemingly." The storyteller was Roza, and as he listened to her, his excruciatingly dull life was redeemed by the enchantment of narrative — and the thought of future sex. Here I've got to stop and say that, for the second time in a month, I'm not sure whether I'm being conned by a wily author who wants to see how hard he can pull the leg of a credulous reader. In Chris, Bernieres gives us a middle-age English married man, utterly without energy or personality, aimlessly wandering the streets of a gutted, potholed, rubbish-strewn, tenement-filled England. (I wonder, except for the fact that this Chris is straight and married, if he isn't a homage to "Chris," the narrator of Isherwood's "Berlin Stories," both men being like "a camera, with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking," taking in stories that will be thought about, developed and given meaning much later on.) This particular Chris drives around in his car in the 1970s, "during the Winter of Discontent. The streets were heaped with rubbish, you couldn't buy bread or the Sunday Times, and in Liverpool no one would bury the dead. You couldn't get heating oil, and even if you had cancer you were lucky to get into hospital." On top of that, Chris' wife doesn't understand him. He calls her the "Great White Loaf." "She was one of those insipid Englishwomen with skimmed milk in her veins, and she was perfectly content to be like that." Then, voila! Chris sees from his car window what he thinks is a whore on the sidewalk with "a fluffy white fur jacket. ... she was like a light glowing in the fog." Feeling "a buzzing in my groin," he stops the car, and asks her if she's working. She's not a prostitute, or she says she's not, but takes him home anyway, to a ghastly, falling-down slum, where she's a squatter, along with a roommate who calls himself Bob Dylan. (Nothing is what it seems, get it?) She's Roza, the partisan's daughter, and early on she says she doesn't offer sex for money, but if she did, the price would be 500 pounds. Chris is such an innocent that he takes her at her word. Over the next months, as he visits her in her rotting digs, she regales him with stories of her life, and he, stuck in his loveless, sexless match with the Great White Loaf, pensively begins to save money for a once-in-a-lifetime one-night stand. If he's the bass in this duet, she's way up there, improvising somewhere near the trembly treble clef. Her life in the former Yugoslavia was very hard. Her father, in particular, was a tough nut to crack. (As an anti-Axis partisan, he would be.) He pitched drunken fits and had sex with his daughter. No, he didn't seduce or rape her; she seduced him, because she loved him. (You can imagine what this revelation does to the faint-hearted Chris, who has never met a hot-blooded woman in his life.) This girl has been living life to the fullest, but then she confides to the reader that it's fun to tell poor Chris stories like that. Back in Yugoslavia, even bus rides were fun. "It was like a picnic, and everybody brought too much food, and it got shared around. Some people had wine, and they were talking too loud and telling jokes." Poor Chris! There goes Life, passing him by again, in the great cosmic track meet of existence. Roza even had fun getting to England as an illegal immigrant. She sailed from the Mediterranean on a luxury yacht, having sex until her eyes rolled back in her head. She worked as a dance-hall girl, then got kidnapped and raped and came to this place, where she can offer Chris a cup of tea and pass the time by telling him stories. Now is any of this to be believed? I don't think we're supposed to trust either Chris or Roza. These may be just stories told to pass the time and illustrate the book's epigraph, from Camus: that bourgeois marriage puts us in slippers and then right next to death's door. But married or not, this novel suggests, man and woman will never succeed in playing in the same key. "The Partisan's Daughter" ends with suffering and confusion all around, and our only comfort may come from the fact that none of it is meant to be "true." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"[A] sad, quiet novel about missed opportunities owing to lack of honest communication. Although more introspective than de Bernières's other works, this latest novel is no less skillful." Library Journal
"A provocative and artful analyst of the human psyche, de Bernieres vividly celebrates the tantalizing strength of stories to transform individual lives through their eternal and universal appeal." Booklist
"Louis de Bernières delights in taking peripheral episodes of European history and viewing them on a human scale, moulding political events to the shape of ordinary lives....Like Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, A Partisan's Daughter is a retrospective lament for all that could have been, had one moment in the past turned out differently....It is also a story about the power of storytelling." The Observer
England, late 1970s. Forty-something Chris is trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage. Roza, in her twenties, the daughter of one of Tito's partisans, has only recently moved to London from Yugoslavia. One evening, Chris mistakes her for a prostitute and propositions her. Instead of being offended, she gets into his car.
Over the next months Roza tells Chris stories of her past. She's a fast-talking, wily Scheherazade, saving her own life as she retells it — and Chris is rapt. This deeply moving novel of their unlikely love is also a brilliantly subtle commentary on the seductive power of storytelling.
From the acclaimed author of Corellis Mandolin and Birds Without Wings (“de Bernières has reached heights that few modern novelists ever attempt” —The Washington Post Book World) comes an intimate new novel, a love story at once raw and sweetly funny, wry and heartbreakingly sad.
Hes Chris: bored, lonely, trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage. In his forties, hes a stranger inside the youth culture of London in the late 1970s, a stranger to himself on the night he invites a hooker into his car.
Shes Roza: Yugoslavian, recently moved to London, the daughter of one of Titos partisans. Shes in her twenties but has already lived a life filled with danger, misadventure, romance, and tragedy. And although shes not a hooker, when shes propositioned by Chris, she gets into his car anyway.
Over the next months Roza tells Chris the stories of her past. Shes a fast-talking, wily Scheherazade, saving her own life by telling it to Chris. And he takes in her tales as if they were oxygen in an otherwise airless world. But is Roza telling the truth? Does Chris hear the stories through the filter of his own need? Does it even matter?
This deeply moving novel of their unlikely love—narrated both in the moment and in recollection, each of their voices deftly realized—is also a brilliantly subtle commentary on storytelling: its seductions and powers, and its ultimately unavoidable dangers.
About the Author
Louis de Bernières was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book Eurasia Region in 1991 and 1992, and for Best Book in 1995. He was selected by Granta as one of the twenty Best of Young British Novelists in 1993, and lives in Norfolk, East Anglia.
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