"The Island of Mus lies in the Adriatic off the coast of Yugoslavia. There Tito's partisans maintained a precarious base while the Germans ruled over almost all the country; there David Pelham, a young surgeon, was sent to minister to the Yugoslav wounded evacuated from the ferocious fighting on the mainland; there Moja Javich came to help him as a nurse, orderly, aide-de-camp, provider of material resources and spiritual solace; there they made love. Through the searing heat of summer and the winter cold; through the dirt, the smells, the omnipresent flies; through the apathy of idleness and the awful carnage of battle, their love kept them sane and transcended all the horrors of day-to-day existence. Mus for Pelham was to become "the place of youth, the place of blood-sacrifice and wine, of love and the smell of gangrene. Above all of near madness". Their love itself was near madness. And in the end they all went away and Mus returned to its primordial calm.
"Once again Thomas Keneally evokes an age and a situation with the uncanny vividness which characterises all his writing; never before has he written so movingly or so perceptively of the curious vagaries of love."
A few months ago the spirited Yugoslav widow Mrs Moja Javich visited her son, a wine importer, in London. She had the son invite to dinner at his Fulham villa her dearest friend, David Pelham, thirteen years her junior.
These days Pelham was one of the best orthopaedic surgeons in the western world. He had written the standard works on compound fracture and hip-socket injury. But he was not a characteristic great surgeon. Once he had refused a knighthood because he thought such things vain and archaic, but then was vain enough to let his secret rejection become known throughout his profession.
She knew something of his personal life too. He had had no children by his only wife, who died of cancer in 1964. Now he lived with a lean and beautiful Knightsbridge lady and seemed to be happy. But out of some sensitivity for the past he did not bring her with him to his meeting with the Yugoslav widow. He came alone.
From the Collins hardback edition, 1976.
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Last modified: March 28, 2001.