In Knezevic’s moving work of historical fiction, a young girl’s dream is threatened by tumultuous current events.
Desa Jovanoic is a Serbian girl with big dreams. Her childhood in Belgrade comes to an abrupt end when bombs start to fall in the summer of 1914. World War I ushers in an era of terror and violence as Desa and her family struggle through the war and ensuing years of economic hardship. However, Desa is a smart, ambitious student who earns a scholarship to France to study medicine and pursue her calling as a doctor. Leaving behind her tightknit family, she settles into her new home abroad, devoting all of her time to her studies. Despite her focus, Desa manages to fall in love with Danilo, a handsome young Serbian man who survived the war and is equally devoted to the practice of law. The two young lovers ultimately wed and move back to Belgrade, where Desa practices medicine and struggles to balance her personal and professional lives. The couple’s years of peace and relative prosperity in Belgrade are brought to an end by World War II, and Desa and her family once again face an uncertain future with the arrival of the communist era. In this ambitious novel, Knezevic fleshes out the often confusing political, religious and economic history of the Balkans while detailing Desa’s journey from child to wife, mother and doctor. The far-flung narrative travels across Europe, following Desa from war-torn Belgrade to the sheltering arms of a comparatively peaceful, prosperous France. Knezevic’s characters are full of life, and the pages of her novel brim with crisp dialogue that conveys the deep emotional burdens of a family struggling to survive. Details such as fashion and food bring the past to life, and Knezevic spends time describing both the beauty and destruction of Desa’s surroundings. Her descriptions of cafe lattes and flaky croissants might leave readers hungering for a trip to Paris, while the chaos that springs from the bombings of Belgrade paint an honest portrait of the horrors of war.
An affecting story of faith, family and the resilience of the human spirit.