Five people in the Balkans recall their lives before and during World War II and the one unusual woman they all knew in this quietly impressive tale by a leading Slovenian writer.
The beautiful, headstrong Veronika appears first as a dreamy vision for a captured Serbian cavalryman who hasn’t seen her in seven years, since 1937. Their affair was sparked when her wealthy husband arranged for her riding lessons with the officer. She leaves her spouse and lives in poverty with the horseman on the Bulgarian border (Google maps will come in handy) but returns to her husband and the new manor he has bought in Slovenia. Veronika’s mother and a live-in housekeeper from the manor each revisit their memories of her and wonder about the night she and her husband disappeared in the company of anti-German partisans. A military doctor who was among the German officers regularly visiting the manor and who once held Veronika’s hand receives a letter asking if he knows what happened to her. But it is Ivan, a workman at the manor, who supplies the key missing pieces as he aids the partisans after seeing Veronika and the doctor holding hands. Each recollection establishes a distinctive character and voice and another facet of the woman who touched them all. Each also provides a different view of the war. Because Jancar (The Galley Slave, 2011, etc.) casts the five sections as first-person recollections, there is some repetition, but this isn’t surprising for a long monologue, and it reinforces the sense of oral history.
The economy with which Jancar creates memorable characters and moments while never letting the reader forget the war, the tumult of Yugoslavia, or the incursion of communism is astonishing, especially compared with the U.S. vogue for mammoth tomes of modest scope.