Love or Hate
Peter M. Elliott
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"It lies not in our power to love, or hate,
For will in us is over-rul'd by fate."
Christopher Marlowe's poetic fragment catches the spirit of Aleksander's story, a fictional biography written by Rodney as a tribute to his grandfather. Aleks is an adopted boy of a Serbian mother and Scottish father. An aero engine mechanic, he witnesses the destruction of his airfield during the blitz of Belgrade and is tormented by separation from Yerina, his girl friend. She is a partisan, discovered by chance, which causes him to switch allegiance from the Royalist Chetniks. They meet again. The strict partisan code of no fraternisation means Yerina, now a senior commissar, disappoints him by being aloof and officious. He is captured by the Germans, but rescued, and becomes a successful detachment commander. He falls in love with Maria, a partizanka in his unit, secretly violating the strict code, later facing a cruel dilemma when Anna, also from his unit, is accused of breaking the code. Aleks fails to carry out the mandatory death sentence. Distracted by the field trial the unit is attacked. Maria dies in his arms escaping from the enemy. He suffers a breakdown, recovering only to face a public trial for treason, is found guilty, and sentenced to death. Humiliated and awaiting the firing squad he is pardoned because of Yerina's influence. She loves him still, gets him to an allied hospital in Italy, expecting him to return and help her build a new nation. He travels on to Britain and marries his nurse. Rodney travels to modern Croatia to try and unravel the mystery of his grandfather's disappearance on holiday in 1991 and to track down Yerina, a quest that frustrated Aleks.