Behind God's Back is the saga of a Serbian female physician's journey through the trials and travesties of World War I, World War II and the communist era. The story fills in historic gaps of these tumultuous events from a unique Balkan point of view; it highlights how small nations struggle to survive when caught in the direct pathway of major nations' ambitions. It is a powerful and poignant love story that faces many challenges that intertwine throughout the saga.
Desa Jovanovic witnesses and experiences such misery in World War I that she decides to become a medical doctor. After the war, she wins a scholarship from Serbia's ally, France, to study medicine in Montpellier, France. Determined to take advantage of her scholarship, Desa keeps her nose to the grindstone regardless of the convivial atmosphere of Montpellier in the aftermath of the war. Despite her determined stance, she is intrigued with a tall, handsome Serbian law student, Danilo Marić, whom she must fight to win from a beautiful French student. After many setbacks, Desa captures the heart and love of Danilo and they're married in an early morning service in Belgrade. Deaths and births, careers and relationships cement and sometimes rip apart the relationship. Overall, however, the period of calm in Europe between the wars is generally favorable for the young couple. Everything deteriorates when Hitler's armies goose-step across Europe. The initial bombing of Belgrade in April, 1941 claims 20,000 victims and it's a downhill slide from there. Amid the bombing, shelling and rigid Nazi occupation of Belgrade and its environs, Desa tries with all means available to her to save her patients and her family. Danilo joins the resistance and is imprisoned. When the occupation of Serbia finally ends with the entry of Soviet troops routing out the Germans, citizens rejoice. The Russians lead the way for Tito's Partisans to now occupy Yugoslavia. Soon the Yugoslavs learn that the communist rule will be just as cruel as the former Nazi occupation.
How Desa and Danilo, their family and friends survive, or don't, the major events of the early 20th century rips across the pages of Behind God's Back. Also, Desa's medical journey explores the difficulties and progress of medicine in the 20th century. Behind God's Back can perhaps be put in a similar category with Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese; Corelli's Mandolin and Birds Without Wings, Louis de Bernieres; and Shaghai Girls, Lisa See.