Through Forests and Mountains

Written by Margaret Walker
Review by Janice Ottersberg

This World War II narrative set in Yugoslavia brings another perspective to the war. When the surrounding eastern European countries capitulate to Hitler, Yugoslavia takes a defiant stance. A group of partisans band together to launch a resistance let by the communist Tito. These partisans are comprised of the only fighters available—farmers, peasants, and women. They were dressed in whatever was available. Some had coats or boots against the winter, some did not. With little to no experience, no uniforms, and no tanks, planes or any heavy artillery, this peasant army, with and without communist leanings, sets out with one goal: to defy the odds and defeat the well-oiled German machine to save their villages.

When Hitler attacks Belgrade, Anton Marković, a Yugoslavian naval captain, is in the hospital after an accident with the propellers of his torpedo boat. Without medical clearance and left behind by his boat and crew, Anton travels to join the partisans. Mara, the daughter of the Yugoslavian ambassador stationed in London, returns to Belgrade in spite of the danger. She feels out of place in London and has split from her boyfriend, Miroslav, for his fascist beliefs. Joining the partisans allows her, as a woman, to join the combat. When Mara’s concerned father doesn’t hear from her, he sends Miroslav to find her. Miroslav is a journalist and man of no scruples who, for now, is siding with the Ustashas, the Croatian fascists. He adds a layer of sinister threat to the plot.

The interweaving of these characters along with many others, forms an absorbing story. The politics and history of hostilities among the various racial groups—Serbs, Muslims, Chetniks, Ustashas—play roles in the struggle. Walker takes this complicated war in Yugoslavia and weaves the backstory and politics with clarity into a plot easy to follow with persuasive, sympathetic characters.