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‘You can’t reason with a fascist.
‘All you can do is shoot them.’
Nowhere was World War 2 as brutal as in Yugoslavia in 1941. Yet from the anguish of a nation emerged the most successful resistance movement in Occupied Europe.
When Tito allowed the girls from the villages to serve in combat roles, it was an innovation Anton found hard to accept. Until he met Mara. She had just shot her first fascist, and her face beneath his was exuberant, breathless and beautiful. He was at war, and clearly on more fronts than he’d anticipated.
But could he save her from that brilliant and psychotic fascist she could not shoot?
At the hour of national crisis he was brought down like a bull by a terrier, and his memories returned to him only slowly, the good and the bad, but mostly the bad. There was shouting in which he had joined, then a weakness outside his experience and the confusion of not understanding why the slipway was rising to meet him. As is usual with accidents that occur in public places, there was also a crowd that gathered from nowhere to watch in horrified silence. He remembered the woman who stepped out from the onlookers to bully him kindly: ‘Put your head between your knees, Captain, before you knock yourself out.’ He remembered his reply: ‘I’m not going to faint,’ just before he did.
So he couldn’t recall Miloš Lompar, aged seventeen and frantic with remorse, attempting to staunch his desperately bleeding shoulder with a rag stained with lubricating oil, nor Commander Filip Kolarov (whom everyone expected to be the hero) recruiting five sailors to transport him from beneath the blood-stained propellers of the torpedo boat and into the waiting ambulance without dropping him. Upon his arrival at the hospital, the rural surgical ward, which dealt mostly with tonsils, appendixes and adenoids, at once increased in self-importance thanks to all the excitement, and he was hustled inside with as little delay as a starting pistol. From a morning that had threatened mundane routine, his shattered shoulder had given the ward meaning and purpose and, by the time of the afternoon ward-round, it was all back together again and reposing below its soft white pillow, as contentedly as if it belonged to the hospital and not to him.
This general sense of achievement originated in a surgeon, white-coated and elegantly balding, surrounded by a retinue of medical students who beamed in unison every time he opened his mouth. Adjoining them stood a scrub nurse and a ward sister who looked like she had ironed on her scowl that morning. Before their eyes, Dr Rastoder had performed veritable miracles of surgery, keenly assisted by at least two of those present—possibly more—and had only had to consult the textbook once.
‘Awake at last!’ he chirped. He smiled. His audience smiled. ‘Eighty stitches! And that's not counting the two severed tendons I repaired, or the puréed muscle or the skin graft. You have a great deal to be thankful for, Captain Marković. You’re lucky you didn't lose your arm. Damned lucky!’ he stressed with a very personal determination.
Marković sensed a conspiracy and, in confirmation, one of the students twirled his moustache.
‘How long...?’ he began.
He pushed himself into a sitting position with his left hand and was at once overcome by a wave of dizziness. On a wheeled table to one side he saw the hazy remains of a blood transfusion, a throbbing jug, the ghost of his dead mother, and a glass that replenished itself with water. At the very end, in proud isolation, a urine bottle grinned at him, half-full.
‘You've been unconscious for five hours,’ returned the doctor. Acknowledging the urine bottle, he added, ‘More or less.’
Marković grimaced. His mother eased him back onto his pillow and then floated away, and the mountain of snowy bandages on his right side settled comfortably down beside him. He watched the crowd observe this with pride.
‘Wiggle your fingers,’ ordered the angry ward sister.
He wiggled his fingers and a shudder ran through the shoulder.
The scrub nurse glanced apprehensively at the surgeon.
‘Perfectly normal,’ he purred. ‘Touch your toes.’
The medical students tittered.
‘Just my little joke.’
‘Can I go home?’ asked Marković. As they seemed so cheerful, he allowed himself hope. ‘I need to get back to the apprentices.’
‘Those two who landed you in here?’ Dr Rastoder inverted his eyebrows and proceeded in a voice of doom. ‘There are more immediate things that you need to know. An infection from any wound that extensive is inevitable. We expect one quite soon; don’t we, Sister?’
The ward sister nodded grimly.
‘You’re not serious?’ exclaimed Marković.
‘I’m afraid I am, Captain.’
‘But I’ve heard about trials of…’
‘Penicillin? Rumours, at this point. Your one stroke of luck is that Yugoslavia’s not at war with Germany yet. In that case, there would be the possibility of catching an infection from someone brought in fresh from the battlefield.’
Marković levered himself up cautiously. He stopped. He checked both sides. Reaching one arm beneath the injured shoulder, he hauled it up beside the other one and searched around for the exit.
The surgeon cut him off shrewdly.
‘Don’t even think about it.’
'I can’t stay here.'
'You're no good to anyone dead.'
‘It’s only a shoulder!’
‘You wait,’ declared the surgeon.
‘Next patient,’ said the sister.
The team moved on, and the medical students beamed back like a round of applause.
The frustration of his predicament and the pain made him grumpy, of course, and, by the close of that first day, as dinner was served with regimental efficiency from the other end of the long ward, there was no one in it who wasn’t heartily sick of his clenched teeth and thunderous face. When, at lights out, the same sister who had stood by his bed during the ward-round pinned on her veil like a helmet and marched towards him with his night's morphine flashing from her syringe, he glared at her with such indignation that she declared, in a tight-lipped tirade, that she'd met a lot of patients like him. Oh yes, she had.
‘Take a good look around you, Captain. The worst tonsils, appendixes and adenoids of my acquaintance are models of virtue compared with you—God give me strength! And you needn't think you can expect pain relief to order later on when you can’t sleep, so you’ll have the injection when I tell you—and do something about your manners while you’re at it.’
As bad luck would have it, the instant he had accepted the shot and she was massaging it in, he fell asleep in full view of the whole ward, and everyone said they hoped he stayed that way.
Reviewed by Christian Sia for READERS’ FAVORITE, 2020 Novel Competition
‘Through Forests and Mountains’ by Margaret Walker is a military novel with strong historical underpinnings. Set in Yugoslavia in 1941, the story follows Anton Marković, A submarine captain in the Yugoslav Navy after a propeller accident leaves him crippled and left behind as the German and Italian armies attack. He suffers an infection and nearly dies, and joins the Montenegrin Partisan group where he meets Mara, the daughter of the Yugoslav ambassador to Britain. He is attracted to her, but she isn’t easy to get. She is a woman whose heart longs for someone else. She likes Tito and has a possessive ex-boyfriend who is hunting her. As the group moves from place to place, Anton is keen on Mara who doesn’t pay him much attention but, when she disappears, Anton can’t stand the thought of losing her. Together with Nikola, they set out to find her. What happens next is a face to face confrontation with Miroslav. But who will have Mara?
Anton is a character that I liked - an awkward man who is more connected to machines than to people and who feels a strong attraction for a woman after suffering a tragedy at war. I was very keen to see what will become of him and Mara. The romance is beautifully well written and I loved the way the author writes about the emotions of the characters. The suspense is strong and it allows the read to follow the characters as they evolve through difficult situations. The story is beautifully told and the themes of war, love, patriotism, and friendship are well developed. Margaret Walker has a unique gift for setting and the historical elements of the setting are intelligently crafted, allowing readers a feel of WWII while exploring the politics of the war at the time. Through Forests and Mountains is an adventure in wartime and a story that captures the austerity of life during the German and Italian invasion. It features strong characters and a love story that progresses to a delightful final scene.
HeenaRathore Pardeshi, the Reading Bud
Through Forests And Mountains by Margaret Walker is a beautifully written story about personal emotions and difficult situations (socially and otherwise.)
This book reads more like an experience than a story and takes the readers to the historical settings of upheaval in Yugoslavia in the year 1942. The historical backdrop is beautifully articulated and I was really impressed by the author penchant for details. The characterisation is brilliant and I loved the main leads, Anton and Mara, as well as the cast of secondary characters. All the characters had so much to offer to the story and the build-up of the plot, that it made the book a rich combination of a solid plot with equally strong characterisation.
This book covers a wide spectrum of emotions - from one's love for their country and friendships between individuals to blossoming romantic relationship between the leads (that is built slowly and steadily.) Overall, this book is a highly engaging and entertaining read and I would recommend it to all readers, especially readers who love historical fiction works.
N.N. Light's Book Heaven
Through Forests and Mountains is a riveting tale of World War II not often told.
It’s 1942 and fascism is sweeping through Europe like the plague. Many strong men have gone off to war, leaving farmers and women to fend for themselves. Mara is one of those women and she is thrilled when she is allowed to fight back with a weapon. When she meets Anton, she’s not sure what to make of his scowl. He’s got a bullet wound in the head but maybe it is more than that. As they travel through the forests and mountains in Yugoslavia, one thing is certain: death to fascism by any means necessary.
The Germans were unstoppable until Tito in Yugoslavia came up with a brilliant plan. Margaret Walker takes us inside one of the most successful resistance groups who thwarted the Nazis at every turn. While this is historical fiction, Through Forests and Mountains reads like a World War II memoir. Everything from the setting to the beautiful descriptive narration to the characters adds immense enjoyment to the story. The stark contrast between Anton and Mara sets the tone for the book. The plot moves at a good pace. Margaret Walker must have done a lot of research and it shines in Through Forests and Mountains. I learned quite a bit from reading and look forward to reading more from Margaret Walker. If you’re a historical fiction reader, you’ll quite enjoy Through Forests and Mountains. If you’re looking for a fresh viewpoint on World War II, pick up Through Forests and Mountains. Highly recommended!
Through Forests And Mountains beautifully integrates the complexity of the WW2 Yugoslavian " Resistance " fighters in their partisan fight (for freedom from Nazism & Fascism ) with romance, the role-of-women, and even a humourous perspective on human frailties.
Highly - researched and detailed to the social, health and military settings of 1942, this novel provides much insight into the complexities of mid-century demographics. Dedicated reading of this novel is richly rewarded ...especially from an Australian context. "Young Adults" and older members of the Yugoslav "diaspora" alike will appreciate this book...especially as a rich preparation for the sequel. Frequent references to the introductory map is perhaps useful...and do enjoy learning fragments of Serbian language from this complex Bosnian- Serbian region.
Susie Helme. ReedsyDiscovery.com
A heroic story, gorgeous, unclichéd writing, reflecting superb understanding of the history.
The pronouncements of the partisans on the two extreme ends of the political spectrum, communists and fascists, are credible; this evidences the author’s understanding of both and is something that is hard to do. The scene where Mara first encounters the villagers of Drvar is astounding!
We learn the complicated history of wartime Yugoslavia, fed bit by bit into the dialogue. This is very artful. Despite the complexity of the history, the plot is not too complex to follow, and time is taken to appreciate the horrors of war.
Death to fascism; freedom to the people!