The Lines We Leave Behind
The Lines We Leave Behind tells a rare story, that of a female operative in Yugoslavia during World War II. She tells her story post-war, in 1947, from the Woodlands Asylum in the English countryside. Working with her psychiatrist, Dr. Rosenstein, she attempts to piece together her past. In 1943, she was Maud, a young woman working in London, enjoying the nightlife despite the war, when she was recruited by Robert. Maud may seem unprepossessing, but she’s got a keen memory and a facility with Serbo-Croatian, as her mother is Croatian. After training in Cairo, where she is renamed Amber, she parachutes into Yugoslavia, where she is tasked with joining the Partisans. Everything that can go wrong, does. Graham paints a grim picture of the horrors of war visited on women. But Maud performs her mission well. It’s peacetime that is difficult. Bound by the Official Secrets Act, Maud can’t share any of her experiences with her parents. Marriage to Robert, with whom she had an affair while training in Cairo, turns out to be confining as well.
This is a powerful book, in part because its female characters are so memorable. Besides Maud, there is Ana, a doctor with the Partisans who distinguishes clearly between her political and family loyalties. When Maud is an elderly woman, she helps Bosnian refugee women who help her in turn. Maud’s isolation is poignant. What she accomplished as Amber can’t be acknowledged, and therefore what is clearly PTSD in her post-war life goes untreated. A breakthrough in therapy is followed by a major setback. I was grateful for the conclusion of the book, which fast-forwards to 1992, affording Maud a measure of peace and satisfaction.