The Partisan’s Daughter

April 22, 2008

Written by: Louis De Bernieres

Read by: Sian Thomas and Jeff Rawle

Published by: Random House Audiobooks

We’re introduced to Roza, a Serbian ex prostitute, at the beginning of the book as she stands on a dark street in Archway near her derelict house. She’s not really waiting for a ‘client’, she’s having a laugh; a fact that made me immediately cynical of her ingenuous personality from the off. Her need to tell stories is compelling; i was constantly waiting for the ‘truth’.

The unfortunate who drives past Roza that night is the dull, shy Chris, a travelling salesman in his mid-forties and married to ‘the great white loaf’. He propositions Roza in a moment of madness, and begins a snowball of unrequited love.

I must add that my disquiet was further stirred by the smooth, Audrey Hepburn-esq voice of actress Sian Thomas, I was expecting a Serbian lilt. What’s more, the first-person narrative of Roza is fluent, very different from the broken English of her initial dialogue.

Jeff Rawles’ voice filled my car with the heavy tedium that was Chris. His was a voice that would be unremarkable say, in a short conversation in a pub over the advantages of blackcurrant in Guinness. But for the short time that he was mulling over his Balkan anomaly (we don’t even know if Roza is her real name) I sympathised with Chris and his bland ‘Englishness’.

Roza spends her days drinking coffee, smoking, and telling stories from her past to shock Chris. Her tale of sleeping with her father, her time at a hostess bar where she was abducted and gang-raped for days by a rogue client and his friend seemed specifically told to hurt Chris.

He’s a bland and dogged character in comparison, and he complains of her obliviousness to his feelings. Although it wasn’t the story of Roza’s upbringing as the daughter of a decorated partisan in Tito’s Yugoslavia that intrigued, it was her telling of it. But, why does Roza need to read up on Yugoslavian history at the library?

Chris’s visits become less about the prospect of sex (her quote was £500 which he saves throughout the months in a brown envelope) and more about his infatuation. He wants to sit and listen to her tales, because he needs an excuse to be near her.

The question I put to my car stereo was; is she repelling him so that he never asks her for sex? And although Louis De Berniere’s artful tale kept me riveted, I’ve not drawn a conclusion from the ending; just a sense of pointless loss.

Nicely done.

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