Balkan Caesar is the compelling, previously untold story of a small band of American soldiers of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) who fought the Nazis behind enemy lines in World War II Albania.
The story is based on fact. At the outbreak of the war, the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, scours the United States for young men willing to return secretly to the countries of their European ancestors to help resistance fighters sabotage the Nazi war machine.
In Boston they find a group of first generation Americans of Albanian descent who volunteer to join the OSS and help liberate Albania from the Nazi Occupation. The story centers around one of the men, Tom Stevens, a rugged, idealistic young Boston high school football star who is fluent in Albanian.
Stevens tends bar at the Arch Street Tavern, a newspaperman’s hangout, while he attends college at night. Stevens recruits fellow Bostonians – some of Albanian descent, others not – to join the OSS with him.
One unlikely volunteer is handsome actor Sterling Hayden, who worked as a seaman on the Boston waterfront before he was discovered by Hollywood. Their assignment: gather intelligence useful to the OSS for its wartime – and post-war – needs, and to bond with Enver Hoxha, the handsome, charismatic, ruthless, Paris-educated Albanian Communist Partisan leader. This they do.
Together, Stevens, Hayden, and their men make the dangerous nighttime crossing of Adriatic Sea from Allied-occupied Italy to join Hoxha’s Partisans and help them fight the Nazis in the rugged mountains and seaside caves of southern Albania. Once on Albanian soil, Stevens learns that the Nazis are only part of the problem: Albania is in the midst of a complicated civil war in which the Communists are fighting with Albanian nationalists and royalists to determine who will control postwar Albania.
Albanian alliances are murky and shifting: sometimes it is difficult to divine who is on whose side, and whom to trust. Hoxha and his lover, Tueta? Mehmet Shehu, Hoxha’s brilliant military chief and potential rival? Lulu, the beautiful Albanian-American woman with whom Stevens falls in love? On top of all this, Stevens and his men find themselves thrust by their OSS masters into an even greater struggle that is emerging out of the rubble and chaos of the war and is soon to become known as the Cold War.
Stevens is trained to follow orders, even lethal ones. But is he equipped to carry out an assignment that requires him to betray the trust of his new Albanian friends? The outcome of this extraordinary saga is to influence Albanian and Balkan history, and the lives of its protagonists, for decades to come.