A life less ordinary

<strong>Partisan's Daughter</strong>

Louis de Bernières <em>Harvill Secker, 212pp, £16.99</em>

This novel, set in London during the Winter of Discontent, is about the power that stories, and their telling, hold over people.

Chris is fascinated with Roza from the moment they meet. He is trapped in an unhappy marriage, to a woman he describes as having skimmed milk in her veins, and Roza is everything his wife isn't: exotic, attractive, passionate. Though they do not become lovers, he still finds himself visiting Roza’s grubby flat regularly, eager to hear the next instalment in her eventful life story.

She is a Serb from what was then Yugoslavia, the daughter of a one-eyed partisan. She describes her journey from being a university student in Zagreb to working in a gentlemen’s club in Soho, revealing a little more of herself each time they meet.

The chapters alternate between those written in Chris's voice and those written in Roza's. In this way, it is made subtly apparent that not everything she talks about may have happened, or at least not quite in the way she tells it. But Chris has fallen all the same for the woman in these stories. Roza’s past is romantic, sometimes violent, and wholly alien to him.

Even if the reader is never really allowed to know her, this is still a striking and wise novel, deceptively slight yet emotionally profound.

This article first appeared in the 07 April 2008 issue of the New Statesman, British jihad