The protagonist, Anton Marković, is a submarine captain in the Yugoslav navy, a reluctant loner who struggles with intimacy with women. When he is crippled in a propeller accident, he is prevented from joining his own boat, the Nebojša, in its dramatic escape attempt in the face of the invading German and Italian armies.
After nearly succumbing to septicaemia, Anton becomes involved with a Montenegrin partisan group that seeks support from a Partisan Republic that Tito has temporarily liberated from the Germans. Here Anton meets Mara, the headstrong daughter of the Yugoslav ambassador to Britain.
Mara is attracted to Tito because of the emphasis he has placed on the role of women in the struggle for National Liberation. However, with her breeding and education, she finds working with the peasants of Yugoslavia an uphill battle.
Mara is trying to lose her possessive ex-boyfriend, Miroslav Novak, a member of the Ustasha, the psychotic Croatian fascist party that Hitler and Mussolini have fostered to govern Croatia. As Mara’s friendship with Anton struggles for ascendancy amidst her reckless disregard for his feelings, Miroslav discovers that he can employ the same codes and decryption techniques used by Britain and Germany to pinpoint Mara’s location. He gets some help from Winston Churchill and Captain Bill Hudson, a British secret agent in Serbia.
As the Yugoslav Partisans are forced from place to place by the Germans, Miroslav finally finds Mara in Bosnia after a Partisan group led by Anton destroys the railway line from the bauxite mines near Mostar. A train is derailed and, during the operation, Mara disappears.
Plunged into despair by the thought of a world without her, Anton tracks Miroslav through the forest, interrupting his attempt to assault Mara. When Miroslav shoots Nikola, Anton kills him and escapes with Mara.
Anton asks Mara to marry him and she accepts.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was inspired to write the book following the story my mother told me about the women who fought alongside the men in World War 2 Yugoslavia. Jelena Batinić published Women and Yugoslav Partisans in 2015 (Cambridge Uni Press). It was a fabulous read and her stories of how men reacted to fighting with women got to work on my imagination. I needed a male lead who had trouble with women in his civilian life. How would he cope, I wondered, with the additional challenge of working with women as fighters? Naturally I decided that he had to fall in love with one.