A Partisan’s Daughter is the latest novel by Louis de Bernieres, the first since Birds Without Wings. It is a very small novel, almost a novella. Set in the late 70s and early 80s, it is the story of a young Serbian woman, Roza, who is living illegally in Britain and Chris, a middle-aged traveling salesman who has become besotted with her. He visits her whenever he can (he’s unhappily married) and they drink tea while she tells him stories of her life.
He is a milquetoast, kindly but dull, afraid of adventure and hardship, without passion, and completely unsure of himself. He thinks he is in love with Roza, but makes no move towards her, other than to visit and to listen to her stories. She is intelligent, top of her class, but left University after one year because she was dumped by her boyfriend. She ran away to England hoping for a different life.
This is a very low-key novel. It leaves you with a sense of sadness and loss, but doesn’t strike very deeply. The constant motif in the story is that small mistakes in judgment, or sometimes just plain chance and misfortune, lead to terrible consequences.
It is brilliantly written, and well worth reading.