When New Zealand soldier Bruce Murray and Slovenian partisan Josefine Lobnik first met, he was behind the wire of a POW camp and she was on the other side disguised as an old woman. This is their real-life wartime love story, which we know from the start will have a happy ending back in New Zealand.
As World War II non-fiction novels go, it’s as gripping as it gets; good by any standards, not just in the narrow category of tales told by co-founders of radio networks. It should be notes that top-shelf ghost writer John McCrystal also had a hand in the book.
Coincidences as outlandish as any Victor Hugo ever imagined conspire to bring the lovers together. Gold alternates between the pair’s separate stories for the first part of the book: Bruce Murray is the Kiwi soldier as innocent abroad, whom we have encountered many times before; Josefine Lobnik is the brave partisan, all of whose family are at risk from the Nazis occupying their country.
The book is full of brave deeds, betrayals, suspenseful near misses and horrendous atrocities - more than one might imagine any two people being able to survive with their psyches intact.
Nor did their battles end when the war did. Bureaucracy was one thing that conspired to keep apart the two - who had by now fallen in love - wiht Murray forced to return to New Zealand and denied permission to return to find Lobnik in Europe. Her family did their bit by handing the love letters he sent to her.
The protagonists died before Gold - their son-in-law - could conduct proper interviews with them, but he has done a fine job of collating disparate material and imagining some of the rest to create his narrative.