May 1944: High above the mountains of occupied Slovenia an aeroplane drops three British parachutists – brash MP Major Jack Farwell, radio operator Sid Dixon, and young academic Lieutenant Tom Freedman.
Greeted upon arrival by a group of Partisans, the men are led off into the countryside. Despite the distant crackle of gunfire, the war feels a long way off for Tom. The Partisans, too, are not what he was expecting – courageous, kind, and alluring, especially Jovan, their commander, and the hauntingly beautiful Marija.
As the enemy’s net begins to tighten, they find evidence of massacres, of a dark and terrible band of men pursuing them. As they stumble their way towards a final, tragic battle, so the relationships within the group begin to fray, with Tom finding himself forced to face up to his deepest, most secret desires.
Tim Pears has made the battle zone of family life in provincial England his own fertile fictional terrain…The novel succeeds in illuminating a pivotal moment in world history, while casting a steady light back on England…Rather like Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, this is an intimate tale of a few individuals poised at a moment when one epoch gives way to another.
[T]he characters are beautifully and economically drawn, and he is excellent on the sights and especially the smells of the landscape – the beauty even of a war-torn land.
Brilliantly nail-biting. Tim Pears tackles the horrors and ambiguity of war with his usual deft observance, in this depiction of a largely forgotten World War II slideshow in Eastern Europe.
Superb … a thought provoking, lyrical and deeply humane book
Pears’s prose, with its sensuousness and subtlety, is a fine vehicle for the intelligent, unsentimental tale he tells.