Chris is like millions of middle-aged men. Stuck in a loveless marriage, he is frustrated at the thought that this might be all there is to his life. One night, while on the way home, he sees a streetwalker and impulsively stops and tries to hire her. He is instantly filled with regret when the woman is insulted that he thought she was a prostitute. She then tells him that he can take her home to make up for it, and he does. As she leaves his car, she tells him that he seems a nice man and that he should come by sometime for coffee. Then she off-handedly mentions, "When I was bad girl I never took less than five hundred. I don't do cheap."
Thus starts the relationship between Chris and Roza, a young Yugoslavian woman who is in England illegally. Chris does stop by her apartment, and she becomes a modern-day Scheherazade, full of exotic stories that have made up her life. Each story reveals more and more of her character and needs. Chris is entranced, both by Roza personally and by the stories she tells.
Shown a side of life he'd never seen, he realizes that while he wants more adventure in his life, he is actually unlikely to pursue it if it means leaving his comfortable, boring life: "I wouldn't want to be a partisan unless I got weekends off and missions were optional."
Roza's stories revolve around men in her life, starting with her father. He fought for various factions in Yugoslavia as a partisan and lived his life afterwards extolling the strength and honor of men like him who were willing to sacrifice everything for the land and lives they loved. Then there is her first love, met when she attended college. After that, she met a man who brought her to England; she lived with him for a while, then slowly drifted away when she got bored and wafted into hostess work. Roza is fatalistic about her life and quick to say she has disappointed the idea of being a partisan's daughter.
Louis De Bernieres has created two characters whom the reader quickly learns to care about. The slow emergence of Roza's history and of Chris's reaction to its revelations create a tension that leaves the reader anxious and intrigued.
One wants to read more of the emerging relationship between these two people so diametrically opposed in outlook and life experiences. This book is recommended for readers of current fiction
- it will remain in the reader's mind for quite a while after it is completed.