Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.)
"[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
"[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
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.
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.
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.
Reading Group Guide
1. What are the major themes of this novel? How does the idea of storytelling play into them?
2. How much did you know about Britain's Winter of Discontent (1978-79) before reading A Partisan's Daughter? Why do you think de Bernières chose this period for his setting?
3. We readers see Chris's wife (The Great White Loaf) only through his eyes. How do you imagine she would describe him?
4. Did you believe all of Roza's stories? Which, if any, strained your willingness to believe? Which one do you think is the centerpiece of the novel?
5. Discuss the notion of trust as it figures into the novel. Which characters are trustworthy? Do you trust either narrator?
6. What is the significance of the library scene? How did it change your understanding of Roza's actions?
7. Chris believes he's in love with Roza but acknowledges that his obsession is mostly sexual. Does Roza love Chris? Whose motives are clearer?
8. How does the narration, with its shifting time frames, contribute to your reading experience? Why do you think the author chose to allow both Chris and Roza to speak in Chapter Sixteen but kept their voices separate everywhere else?
9. In what ways are the novel's two father-daughter relationships similar, and how are they different? Which relationship seems stronger: the one between Roza and her father, or the one between Chris and his daughter?
10. Compare Alex, Francis, and Chris. How are their relationships with Roza similar, and how are they different? What does Roza expect or demand from each?
11. Along the same lines, compare Roza's relationship with Tasha with her relationship with Fatima. How do these two friendships shape Roza's personality?
12. On page 137, Chris finally tells a story of his own, about his uncle. What purpose does it serve? How does Roza's response show us how she feels about Chris?
13. What role does the Bob Dylan Upstairs play in the novel?
14. Why do you think Roza gave Chris and the Bob Dylan Upstairs different endings to the Big Bastard story? Which do you believe?
15. Discuss the last chapter of the novel. What were you expecting? What was most surprising to you? Were you satisfied with the ending?
"An urgent, spare novel of romantic obsession. . . . De Bernières [is] adept at juxtaposing brutality with episodes of high comedy or romance."
—The New York Times Book Review
The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Louis de Bernières's spellbinding new novel, A Partisan's Daughter.