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on 28 April 2018
An engrossing story, well told.
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on 10 June 2014
This is a beautifully written book that stays with you vividly as an experience you might have lived. The author's evocation of place, attention to detail and deftly drawn characters leave the reader the impression of having travelled through the forests of war-time Europe with a band of disparate partisans. A thoughtful and beautiful writer. I am a great fan of Mr Pears' writing.
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on 22 June 2016
A more difficult read but I am glad I managed it to the end - I don't always if they disturb me. So well written though
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on 22 June 2017
fine read
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on 20 June 2015
An interesting part of the war that I knew little about. Worth reading but a bit dull in places as they move around the country. Not very gripping.
One person found this helpful
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 April 2014
On May 15 1944 a group of three British soldiers, Major Jack Farrell, Lieutenant Tom Freedman and Corporal Sid Dixon are dropped into an area of southern Slovenia which is more or less controlled by the partisans, whom they are to help. Sid is a radio operator who communicates with British planes to arrange drops of supplies - ammunition, explosives, food and medicine - for the partisans. The mission of this particular group is to blow up railway lines in the German-occupied part in the North. It's a long way to get there, over rough terrain, through forests and meadows and over mountains (the landscapes and its scents are beautifully described) since they cannot use the main roads; and we have a day-by-day account, written throughout in the present tense, of what happens each day. One gets the feeling that the author is describing an experience he has had himself - the short chapters, each describing one day, are almost like observations jotted down in a diary. But the author was born in 1956, and although he has himself visited area (hence his marvellous descriptions of the landscape and its scents), his bibliography makes clear that his vivid story is based on a mass of histories and on the memoirs of people who were there at the time. (What it does not say is that his father had been a liaison officer with the partisans in Slovenia.)

At one point, fairly early on, the group split into two. The rather unpleasant upper-class Farrell went with one; Tom, aged 26, who, while studying Modern Languages at Oxford, had volunteered and had been chosen for this mission because he is a good linguist, and Sid went with the other, and it is Tom through whose eyes the story is now told. He is a diffident young man, and relies on Jovan Vaskovic, who is the commander of the group of seven other partisans - five men and two women. Tom and Jovan become very close; but then an awkward relationship develops between them, as they are both in love with Marija, one of the tough female partisans.

Tom gradually learns about the complexities of the resistance movements in Yugoslavia: communists and anti-Communist Chetniks, the pro-German "Home Guard" and their dreaded section, the "Black Hand"; Serbs and Slovenes.

The little group moves, zigzag, from one local guide to another, joining up temporarily with other units of partisans, whom they supply with the supplies dropped by air. They are always alert for enemy patrols. In lonely farm houses peasants provide them with food and shelter, but are always anxious from them to move on as quickly as possible, fearing reprisals from the fascists; and indeed once they come across a scene of a massacre carried out by them; and they also see a nearby farm bombed by the Germans from the air, and watch through binoculars a village where the Germans are taking terrible reprisals. Several times they or the other units manage to blow up parts of railway lines. Jovan holds his group, straining at the leash, back from engaging in firefights: their main responsibility is to protect the Englishmen who are their link with the aircraft who drop supplies to them. But on one occasion he fails to restrain them, with serious results: they now become hunted, encircled, yet manage to break out and manage to join a body of partisans large enough to overrun a German garrison.

A Soviet liaison officer is with this group, and Jovan has to take his orders from him. Major Farrell is there as well: Tom and Sid are back under his orders. Farrell (unlike Tom) is in touch with British government thinking: like the government, he does not trust the communist partisans, and the communists know that British are still supporting the Chetniks. Tom has for weeks experienced the comradeship of the partisans; now he is more aware than he was before of the political tensions that are becoming severe as the war nears its end. It is not only their rivalry for Marija that will put a strain on his friendship with Jovan.

All know that Germany's defeat is imminent; but the Germans and the Home Guard fight ferociously, and the book ends, on September 7, 1944, on the bleakest of notes. I find the significance of the novel's title difficult to understand. It is a gripping, involving read.
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on 14 October 2014
May 1944 in the midst of the Second World War, and Lieutenant Tom Freedman is parachuted into Slovenia. He is an interpreter in intelligence and is part of a small team of British military sent to co-coordinate the delivery of military supplies by air to the partisan groups operating in the area. His rôle is also to liaise with the various groups and is escorted to numerous units to organise drops of equipment. Freedman was plucked from academia and adapts with difficulty to the demands of the harsh and occasionally brutal nature of the partisan conflict with the occupying forces in Slovenia and the wider Yugoslavia.
There is very little back-story to the narrative – the focus is on the immediate marches from one group of partisans to another and his relationship with members of his partisan escort team. There is an element of romance with female partisans, even though the author hints quite strongly that Tom has unacknowledged homosexual inclinations. There are issues of political double-dealing among the military missions to complicate the project. The tale rattles along and focuses on the emotions of Tom, a sensitive and introspective young man, in surviving this harsh environment, knowing that he and his small band of soldiers will face immediate execution if caught by the occupying Nazi forces or the similarly brutal Home Guard. Tom grows into this challenging task as the tale unfolds, and the reader is fully engaged with the story and the cast of credible characters.
2 people found this helpful
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 13 February 2014
It is May 1944 and three British parachutists are dropped into occupied Slovenia. There is Major Jack Farwell, a confident and rather brash former MP- the eldest of the trio at fifty eight – young Devon farm worker, Sid Dixon, who is the radio operator, and Lieutenant Tom Freedman; who previously worked in intelligence and who is an academic gifted with languages. They are welcomed by the Partisans, who they are supposed to assist in their resistance against the Germans. Yet, things turn out to be less clear cut than Tom previously imagined.

Before long, Tom finds that he is unexpectedly the senior British officer in a small group, which contains Sid, but not Jack, as well as the charismatic Commander Jovan and beautiful Marija; a Jewish intellectual whose husband has abandoned her to go into hiding. Marija’s feelings for Tom, as well as Jovan’s obvious admiration for the brave and resourceful Marija, cause tensions in a group beset by its own half humorous bantering over ethnic differences within the Partisans - Jovan being a Serb, while the majority of the group are Slovenes. Tom himself has his own conflicting emotions about both Marija and Jovan, who he is drawn to as both a friend and a man. Indeed, the country, and the situation, is so much more complicated than Tom first imagined, with many realising that the war is coming to a close and the inevitable post-war squabbling over borders rearing its ugly head. What initially seemed a straight forward mission of helping the Partisans to blow up the railway network suddenly seems to have different connotations and Tom wonders whether he has merely been a distraction for Jack’s real mission.

As well as being both a novel about the Balkan war and people, plus a love story, this is also a snapshot of a country under occupation. A small number may rebel, a small number may collaborate, but most people are simply trying to survive, a fact that Tom mulls over as he tries to cope with his first mission in the field. As the occupier weakens, then the people may rise to chase him out, but the problems will not be solved by the German exit. Indeed, there is a wonderful scene when Tom witnesses a group of German prisoners being chased from a town; not the Aryan heroes he has expected, but a huddle of men as bedraggled and exhausted as his own. The author writes with great skill and deftness, allowing you to almost witness events as though you were there- the scenes in the forest are beautifully written, atmospheric, but also realistic.

Although people sense that the German occupation will not go on forever, there are still reprisals for helping the Partisans. Retribution and danger surround them -always on the run from German patrols and ‘The Black Hand.’ The group also resent their role as protector of their British Allies and their all important wireless; by which they arrange drops of weapons and supplies and which often causes them to turn and run when they want to fight. The Partisans are also aware that they are not only trying to liberate the country from the Germans, but also the feudal past – times have changed as women have been left to farm the land and fight alongside the men and have shown themselves as capable and strong. As events culminate in one, final attack, Tom must come to terms with his feelings about the people and the place that he has been fighting for.

This is an intelligent, interesting, thought provoking novel which would be ideal for reading groups – with lots to discuss. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
3 people found this helpful
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 13 February 2014
With his book In The Light of the Morning Tim Pears has turned his mind to the Second World War, and in particular the battles in the Balkans where the Nazi invasion of former-Yugoslavia was sternly resisted by bands of Partisans.

The book opens in the early summer, 1944 with three British soldiers flying over Slovenia about to be dropped by parachute into a forest; their task to bring aid and assistance to the many Yugoslavian Partisans who are defending the eastern part of their country against the invading Germans. Lieutenant Tom Friedman is our focus – a young academic, convinced of the vital nature of his task, but already missing his book-lined rooms and the quiet life of Oxford.

Tom is accompanied by a belligerent Major, Jack Farwell who has taken an instant dislike to Tom, but their other companion is a far more amenable radio operator, Corporal Sid Dixon, a farm-worker from Devon who has become a master of the airwaves.

The parachute drop goes well. The supplies that accompanied them are carted off in farm wagons and the men are guided away from the drop site by a group of Partisans who celebrate their arrival with vodka and toasts, “To Tito! To Churchill!”.

The men soon find themselves in the hands of a Partisan Major, Jovan Vascovič who tells them of the need for more medical supplies. Their main task is to radio British bases and arrange for drops of food, medicine and military equipment so that the Partisans have what they need to prosecute the battles against the Nazis. Major Jack on the other hand wants to see some action by storming off into Nazi-occupied areas to disrupt their supply routes with explosives and guerilla attacks.

The trek through the mountains continues, with the party eventually reaching Partisan Headquarters where a planning meeting agrees that Major Jack will go off to attack a tunnel to the south, while Tom and Sid accompany another group to head north to attack a viaduct. The march becomes threatening and the book becomes very exciting with bands of Fascists on the look-out for the Partisans and a suspicious peasantry turning their backs on the group as they pass by their farmsteads.

There is a very human story within the excitement and dangers that the band they travel on. Tom has to work through some complex personal issues as he becomes closer to his Partisan colleagues. The book unfolds with some very well-written set-pieces. Relationships are clarified, plots are uncovered and the inevitable battles cause great suffering but also a form of glory.
5 people found this helpful
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on 13 February 2014
Much has been written about the French Resistance in WWII: Pears expands the field by situating this amongst Slovenian partisans in the Balkans. Opening in May 1944, this gives us a day-by-day account of three British saboteurs dropped by parachute into occupied Yugoslavia, and their involvement with various resistance groups.

I loved this novel for its subtlety and emotional intelligence. There’s a simple sincerity about the prose and, overwhelmingly, a lack of cynicism (without tipping over into sentimentality) which I found very refreshing. Pears writes beautifully in an unobtrusive style which left me feeling that I, too, had been living rough in the mountains of the Balkans.

At the heart of this book is the muted love triangle between one of the British agents, the charismatic Serb partisan commander, and a beautiful woman - but Pears shifts the angles so that this resists the more usual outcomes. There’s also a poignancy in revisiting the Balkans at this time given its more modern history, and a telling echo when we arrive at places like Sarajevo and Mostar.

So this is an emotional and utterly gripping read with emotional depth. Pears has done his research so that everything feels authentic, but then imbues it all with a very human imagination so that the story feels organic rather than contrived.

Tim Pears has somehow sneaked beneath my reader’s radar up until now – but after reading this, I’ll definitely be checking out his back catalogue. Highly recommended.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
4 people found this helpful
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