on 15 September 2012
Sadly I have to say that this really does not match up to his usual level of writing.
It is a compelling story with a thread running through that keeps you reading, but with a cruel, taunting lead character, and not as exciting or imaginitive as his usual prose.
Bring back Don Emanuel!
on 10 August 2015
Adore Louis de Bernieres' writing but I found this one just did not hit the right spot for me. I couldn't engage with the main protagonists at all as they seemed very two dimensional. "Chris" is, intentionally I suppose, boring Mr Suburbia and he states several times that he is boring and I quite agree. "Bob Dylan Upstairs" I felt had lots of potential but simply wasn't fleshed out enough in my opinion. I have given this two stars because, as ever with de Bernieres there are some wonderful observations on human nature which are little gems. He also gives very credible background details which show that his research is thorough as usual. On the whole I wouldn't recommend this book but would suggest that the reader goes straight to the South American trilogy which is absolutely stunning.
on 3 January 2010
It can be crippling for a writer when one of their books becomes a worldwide sensation, and with a read like Captain Corelli's Mandolin it was seen as inevitable, however, after reading A Partisans Daughter it doesn't seem as if he has fallen into this category. This book is not only engaging and captivating but also unexpected.
Looking in hindsight at the first few pages, it's misleading. De Bernières introduction provokes a tonal feeling of sexual deviancy and promiscuity due to his prolific referencing to prostitution. The story starts with Chris, a middle-aged man who is trapped in a burnt out marriage. Chris recounts the story of a friend who has told of his experiences with a prostitute. From here De Bernières moves onto Chris' own `experience'. However, Chris' encounter is far from the stories of his friend. He befriends Roza, a Serbian Partisan's Daughter mistaken to be a prostitute, who, instead of having sex with Chris, takes him on a different journey every time they meet. De Bernières descriptive approach enables the reader to fully engage with the story due to his ability to sparingly flesh-out the story, leaving enough for the reader to apply their own unique subjective imagery. Over a long period of time, and with each visit, Roza tells Chris her life story. However, one is never sure whether Chris is there for the stories or there to see Roza; and as the story progresses, it becomes transparent that Chris isn't sure either.
A Partisan's Daughter is written in the form of memoirs, and interchanges from narrator to narrator. De Bernières personal approach lets the reader make their own decision on the characters, rather than an overt third person narrative that can cause detachment, it feels as if the narrators are talking directly to the reader. A Partisan's Daughter takes you all over the world with different stories relating to different emotions and raising different Eastern European political issues, all from the tiny dilapidated shack the story is set in. It is thanks to this vast scope that enables the novel to captivate such a wide audience, and because of the different worldly scenarios that De Bernières creates, it can relate to many people's own experiences. Because of the love, hate and just the emotions people feel, the book hooks the reader's emotional side and reflects their own feelings letting you see them in a different context through Roza's recollections. However, there is one flaw that is persistent, the inconsistent language from Roza. At some points, the English seems fluent; however, at the beginning of the story her English language seems basic. `Oh, you think I'm bad girl'. If this is noticed early on, it can become irritating.
If someone asked me whether they should read this book, my answer would be yes. Because of the diverse topics and experiences in the story, it doesn't let you get bored. To describe this book into one sentence it would be `100 stories rolled into one'.
on 27 July 2015
I love de Bernières' writing style; it flows beautifully and leaves me completely engrossed.
Chris is stuck in a mundane existence and the exotic and alluring Roza proves too tempting. Some of her tales are frivolous, some are the stuff of epics, but all captivate. In the end, I'd agree with those who'd say that it doesn't matter whether they're true or not. The importance of stories to people - whether fictitious or not - is highlighted wonderfully.
A joyful gem to be read and reread.
on 16 June 2009
I used to buy a packet of button-sized biscuits each topped with a tooth-decaying whirl of variously-coloured rock-solid icing sugar, they were called Little Gems and I loved them. Sadly you can't get them anymore but you can get this instead, a little gem by Louis de Bernieres that is just as delicious and leaves you wanting more, which is just how I like them, rather than overly long like so many otherwise excellent novels.
Back in the 70's and mirroring the country's political crisis in his personal circumstances, Chris is a forty-something travelling salesman who has pretty much given up on the likelihood of any more pleasure let alone excitement in his life, which definitely includes sex with his disinterested wife. One evening, for no apparent reason and seemingly quite out of character, he somehow finds himself sub-consciously in kerb-crawling mode and cack-handedly tries to pick up a girl in North London who he mistakenly decides is on the game. That girl is Roza, one-time hostess-come-prostitute (so Chris might be excused his error), Serbian daughter of one of Titos's partisans and currently inhabitant of a derelict property in Archway. Sequentially confused and then amused by Chris's blunder, and subsequently having put Chris right about her current circumstances, Roza nonetheless gets into his car and, in wonderfully direct and east-European English, tells him to take her home, it is, after all, the least he can do. He dutifully and shamefacedly does as ordered, from which encounter blossoms an acquaintance, leading to a deliciously slow-burning friendship leading to a wonderful Arabian-Nights tale of Roza's life and Chris's fall into basic infatuation.
Apart from Roza's house-mates, a motley bunch of false-identities including the delightfully vacant BDU, or Bob Dylan Upstairs, whose stuttering love-life is alone worthy of greater exposure but is left tantalisingly unexplored, the only characters in the story are Chris, Roza and Roza's trail of exotic pleasures, misery, heartache and trauma. Told by chain-smoking Roza as a series of episodes, each one released as Chris pays another coffee-drinking visit to the Archway ruin, this is a beautiful, funny, romantic, tragic and rapturous tale that captivates both Chris and the reader.
Is it fiction or fantasy, well who cares, written as well as this it simply doesn't matter. You can interpret this as a tale of lost opportunity or once-in-a-lifetime friendship, depending on your predisposition to life, but either way simply lose yourself in a cascade of old-fashioned story-telling and forget whatever else it was you meant to do, lie back and enjoy. Bliss.
on 24 March 2011
Novella from de Bernieres written in the form of a conversation. Chris is bored, middle aged, middle England, suffering loss of meaning in a tired marriage that has past its sell-buy date. Roza is from Yugoslavia and full of all the passion that Chris is missing from his life. They meet when Chris attempts to pick up a prostitute, and mistakenly chooses Roza. He is embarrased into offering her a lift home.
Thus begins their relatonship, with Chris finding excuses to visit, to listen to Roza's stories of her life in Yugoslavia with her Partisan father and her exploits since moving to London. The stories evolve in alternating monologue, with each telling their side of the story.
The story is a slow burner, with an evolving relationship between the characters and an underlying sexually charged connecton, that is clearly building to a crescendo. The manner of the apogee is unexpected from the earlier story, but suitably poignant. The only let-down is the concluson of the book following this point, which feels disappointingly rapid and concluded in haste.
It is dificult to categorise this one. As with Red Dog[see my recent review] it is neither an epic historical novel per Birds Without Wings and Captain Corelli nor a mythical romp per Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts and The Troublesome Offspring Of Cardinal Guzman. This book is on a much smaller scale , but none the less as enjoyable.
It is like eaves'dropping on an intimate conversation which is really none of our business. Perhaps this intimacy hightens the drama ,humour and urgency to finish the book in one sitting. The lives of the two narrators unfold:The lonely sexually frustrated middle aged man; the young Yugoslav of the title with her roller coaster background of romance, abuse and hurt. Through their conversations we watch their love develop but will it be consumated?
At the end we know who Chris is , but who is The Partisans Daughter?
on 24 April 2011
This is the story of Chris and Roza set in the late 1970s. Chris is a 40-something sales rep, stuck in a humdrum life and a loveless marriage. One evening he decides to pick up a prostitute, something he has never done before. That same evening Roza decides to dress up as a prostitute and streetwalk, something she has never done before. She gets into his car and he drives her home and that's as far as they go. Chris can't keep away from Roza though and pays many visits to her home. Here Roza tells him her life stories about growing up in fractious Yugoslavia, her relationships with other men, particularly her father, and how she ends up in London. Whilst this is happening Chris develops an unbearable lust for her and she becomes fond of him.
The novel is set in London with many references to Cold War Yugoslavia. I didn't learn that much about the country reading this book apart from getting a sense of the simmering tensions between different ethnic groups, the precursor to the more recent war. Much of the book actually deals with Roza's sexual awakening and is somewhat coarse and shocking. A few hints are dropped that Roza's stories might be a fabrication but they are compelling to the reader as much as they are to Chris. The book ends with us being none the wiser as to the motives of Roza in her developing relationship with Chris and whether or not she has been telling the truth.
Chris is a very weak character. He contributes little to the story and has lived a dull, predictable life. His greatest weakness is that he seems to take no responsibilty for himself. He seems to have no respect for his wife as an individual, referring to her as the 'Great White Loaf'. His wife has obviously given up trying but it takes two to make a marriage work. Chris feels taken for granted but it doesn't occur to him that his wife might feel the same. Presumably somebody is cleaning their home, shopping for food, ironing his shirts and cooking his meals, not to mention raising a teenage daughter - never the easiest job - and yet he describes her as lazy. At the end of the book Chris shows his true colours - he blames the alcohol for his unforgiveable behaviour towards Roza but I think that it's typical of him.
In the end this book doesn't seem to achieve an awful lot. I've heard that the character of the Bob Dylan Upstairs is based on de Bernieres himself. Perhaps this is the book he has always wanted to write. Unfortunately it is not the book I have always wanted to read.
on 16 September 2013
The construct of this novel is unusual; the book is about Roza with her story being narrated by Chris, as it is told to him, and by Roza herself - they alternate chapters (mostly). The context is interesting - pre-breakup Yugoslavia and London in the 1970s - as is Roza's character, a strong woman who continually makes bad choices as her decision making seems somewhat erratic.
What lets the novel down is the unlikely premise that a young and attractive woman would want to spend evening after evening pouring out her stories to a middle aged man who is so completely out of touch with contemporary youth. He seems to be in the position where his wife is uninterested in him (but not to the extent where she might want to quit) and he is prepared to listen to the stories and give nothing in exchange. His love for her (based on a glimpse at the Archway interchange) seems unrequited so the tease is whether Roza changes her mind - but no, she makes another random decision...All a bit unlikely.
So Chris is not really in the plot - it's just a stream of story telling, some of which is gripping, some less so. The plot is just Roza's life but there is no denouement at the end. The narrative devices to tell Roza's stories just seem clumsy and prevent the plot moving anywhere.
Despite a slight shift in geographical location this book seems to follow on from de Berniere's previous novel 'Birds Without Wings', albeit moving forward in time. There are similar themes of displacement and the idea of boundaries both ideological and geographical,the burden of exile from one's home and self and the bigger themes of love and loss.
This book is a kind of 1001 Nights for the modern reader. Roza is the partisan's daughter in self imposed exile from Tito's Yugoslavia, she sits in her bedsit in Archway, telling tales of her life to the middle aged, lonely man who tried to pick her up thinking she was a prostitute.
It is never clear whether Roza's stories are true or false, or whether that even matters in the grand scheme of things. It is her fragile relationship with Chris that navigates its way through the twists and turns of her fables and his desire that makes the book work so well. It is such a fragile structure that one false move could tear everything to pieces and we are left guessing as to the outcome right to the very end.
This is a moving tale of love and loss, and although not my favourite of his works, is still beautifully rendered.