Saturday, December 4, 2010
A Partisan's Daughter
My very pleasant experiences with novelist Louis de Bernières' books have led me to expect engaging, well upholstered stories with unforgettable characters. Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Birds Without Wings, etc. are all novels that dissect a community's history using romance, comedy, tragedy, war and global politics. In A Partisan's Daughter his cast is much smaller, tiny even, but he uses the same emotional touchstones.
Roza is a wily twenty something Yugoslavian refugee living in London in the 1970's. Her life so far has been an almost entirely joyless struggle to survive both in her homeland and in an unwelcoming London. Chris is in his forties. He is bored with himself, his work and is mourning his years spent in a loveless marriage. After a meeting based on misconceptions and self-delusion, Roza becomes his Scheherazade. What truths there may or not be in her tales do not matter. To Chris she is Life. He devours her seemingly biographical stories. The veracity of both is suspect. As Chris becomes more enslaved he thinks Roza will be his great romance and that will save him. What Roza feels and wants, like her past, is more of a mystery.
It's an odd courtship that slowly simmers through A Partisan's Daughter. Neither Chris nor Roza is seemingly capable of being honest with themselves or each other. de Bernières uses this and the shifts in the narrative from Chris to Roza and back again to keep your loyalties in flux. It also makes it harder to pin down the characters expectations.
While I did miss the large populations and humor of de Bernières other novels I did like A Partisan's Daughter quite a bit. Roza's efforts to change life with her stories says a lot I think regarding what this novel is about. As with every storyteller within the life of each tale she tells there is an opportunity for a different path to be chosen and maybe for happiness, not so for the teller.