THE SECOND WORLD WAS INSPIRATION FOR
THE COLLABORATOR’S DAUGHTER
I was wandering down a research rabbit hole for The Olive Grove when I found it. It’s the sort of thing I think we all do; I needed the name of a small island which could be seen from a character’s house. The island was for sale. It had been for years. Now why could that be? I expect you get the picture.
A little more digging and I discovered it was the place fifty or so men accused of collaboration with the Nazi occupiers had been executed by Tito’s partisans in 1944. Recognising its potential, I bookmarked it and moved on.
But it niggled me. There had hardly been due legal process, and rumours abounded that it was also a culling of political opponents, because hard as they had fought for their country, there was no guarantee of the partisans gaining power after the end of the war. Also intriguing were reports that the island was haunted so no-one would go there. It was all adding up to a story.
Or at least, a backstory. For a long time I had wanted to write a romance with protagonists in their sixties so my idea was that Fran would go back to Dubrovnik, the city of her birth, to try to find out what happened to her father Branko during the war. I’d give him a prologue to set the scene, and that would be more or less that.
But Branko had other ideas, insisting his story had to be told. And that was where I began to hit problems, because there are very few records of Dubrovnik during the Second World War, as much was destroyed during the communist era. I had stumbled across a paragraph or two when I was researching An Island of Secrets, because some of the British officers who served with the partisans on the island of Vis ended up there at about the time of the executions. They were immediately incarcerated in the Imperial Hotel, before being released a few days later to great apologies. From what I could make out, the timing matched with the executions.
It was immensely frustrating, because if I wanted to write a dual timeline I needed to know what life in Dubrovnik under occupation had been like for ordinary people and there were so few sources. I could not even find out how the partisans had taken the city. Until I discovered a letter written by a partisan officer to his commander and I knew. Translated into English, it was the only contemporary source I had.
There was clearly not enough information for the book to be a full dual timeline but I scraped together what I had from the letter, from Jewish sources, British military historians and from the archaeological dig in 2009 when the men’s bodies were recovered from their mass graves, identified using DNA, and reburied with proper ceremony. I had enough for a short chapter from Branko’s point of view between each longer one from Fran’s.
And did I manage to get to Daksa myself? Of course not. It is only a few hundred yards from the coast near Dubrovnik’s main commercial port but my local friend – who is a tour guide and knows everyone – failed to find a boatman to take me. And when I asked myself I was met by a shake of a head, or an incredulous look. So in the end I decided it was best to leave these men, collaborators or otherwise, to rest in peace.
The Collaborator’s Daughter was published this week and you can buy it here.
To find out more about Eva Glyn and her books click here