The Sorrow of Miles Franklin beneath Mount Kajmakcalan

Written by Ivan Capovski Paul Filev (trans.)
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1917, a famous Australian author, Miles Franklin, arrives at the Scottish Women’s Hospital in Macedonia. While her position as a nurse might seem surprising, she is there to get away from London’s war hysteria and is disturbed at nothing being written about art or women’s rights. At that time, Macedonia had been partitioned among its neighbors, Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria. While struggling to survive, its people were forcibly conscripted into different armies to fight each other on their own soil.

While fulfilling her nursing tasks, Miles frequently explores the neighboring battlefields and villages. She records in her diary her observations and the customs of the people she encounters. These accounts bring out the locals’ sufferings, particularly the women, and the progress and devastation of war. Miles strikingly illustrates the impact of partition on the lives of two people, a Serbian Macedonian and a Bulgarian Macedonian, who previously were friends and, injured in the fighting, are brought to the same hospital. They now must resolve their differences or slaughter each other.

Čapovski has penned this remarkable historical novel from the point of view of Miles, in whose honor Australia’s prestigious Miles Franklin Award is named. While the narrative concentrates on Miles’s observations and experiences during the war, there are moments when she reminisces on her past in Australia, the United States, and England and her writing career. The attempt to blend Miles’s past events with more immediate incidents doesn’t entirely work uniformly, for the reader is pulled out of one narrative into another. The technique of using Miles to bind together several independent, tragic stories of unfortunate Macedonians works well to recount the cruel, obscure events of the period. An informative historical account about this theater of WWI.