counter Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy - Free Download Books
Hot Best Seller

Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy

Availability: Ready to download

The Balkan Trilogy is the story of a marriage and of a war, a vast, teeming, and complex masterpiece in which Olivia Manning brings the uncertainty and adventure of civilian existence under political and military siege to vibrant life. Manning’s focus is not the battlefield but the café and kitchen, the bedroom and street, the fabric of the everyday world that has been irr The Balkan Trilogy is the story of a marriage and of a war, a vast, teeming, and complex masterpiece in which Olivia Manning brings the uncertainty and adventure of civilian existence under political and military siege to vibrant life. Manning’s focus is not the battlefield but the café and kitchen, the bedroom and street, the fabric of the everyday world that has been irrevocably changed by war, yet remains unchanged. At the heart of the trilogy are newlyweds Guy and Harriet Pringle, who arrive in Bucharest—the so-called Paris of the East—in the fall of 1939, just weeks after the German invasion of Poland. Guy, an Englishman teaching at the university, is as wantonly gregarious as his wife is introverted, and Harriet is shocked to discover that she must share her adored husband with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Other surprises follow: Romania joins the Axis, and before long German soldiers overrun the capital. The Pringles flee south to Greece, part of a group of refugees made up of White Russians, journalists, con artists, and dignitaries. In Athens, however, the couple will face a new challenge of their own, as great in its way as the still-expanding theater of war.


Compare

The Balkan Trilogy is the story of a marriage and of a war, a vast, teeming, and complex masterpiece in which Olivia Manning brings the uncertainty and adventure of civilian existence under political and military siege to vibrant life. Manning’s focus is not the battlefield but the café and kitchen, the bedroom and street, the fabric of the everyday world that has been irr The Balkan Trilogy is the story of a marriage and of a war, a vast, teeming, and complex masterpiece in which Olivia Manning brings the uncertainty and adventure of civilian existence under political and military siege to vibrant life. Manning’s focus is not the battlefield but the café and kitchen, the bedroom and street, the fabric of the everyday world that has been irrevocably changed by war, yet remains unchanged. At the heart of the trilogy are newlyweds Guy and Harriet Pringle, who arrive in Bucharest—the so-called Paris of the East—in the fall of 1939, just weeks after the German invasion of Poland. Guy, an Englishman teaching at the university, is as wantonly gregarious as his wife is introverted, and Harriet is shocked to discover that she must share her adored husband with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Other surprises follow: Romania joins the Axis, and before long German soldiers overrun the capital. The Pringles flee south to Greece, part of a group of refugees made up of White Russians, journalists, con artists, and dignitaries. In Athens, however, the couple will face a new challenge of their own, as great in its way as the still-expanding theater of war.

30 review for Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    Yes, but first a few words about how I'm an idiot: Since you're here reading this you probably understand that it's no problem to wait. "Yes, we can do your car service on Friday. Do you want to leave your car or would you like to wait?" "Oh, I can wait." I can wait, because I have a book. And, I not only have a book, I have a 924-page book which I have been fairly enjoying and have a mere 100 pages left. So, yes, I can wait. I can grab a coffee, decline biscotti, and find a leather seat as far away Yes, but first a few words about how I'm an idiot: Since you're here reading this you probably understand that it's no problem to wait. "Yes, we can do your car service on Friday. Do you want to leave your car or would you like to wait?" "Oh, I can wait." I can wait, because I have a book. And, I not only have a book, I have a 924-page book which I have been fairly enjoying and have a mere 100 pages left. So, yes, I can wait. I can grab a coffee, decline biscotti, and find a leather seat as far away from the television as I can. I can open my book and, without adult supervision, advance another 40 to 50 pages to the end. You, you, will understand that in the pinball journey that is the human day, a 45-minute time-out, with just a book for company is no problem at all. Indeed, it is bliss. And so, on Friday morning, I opened the garage door, my copy of Olivia Manning's 'Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy' in hand. I had, as I always do with books, treated it lovingly; despite its size there was no crease to the spine, no dog-ears, no underlinings. After two weeks, it was still pristine. The only evidence of human involvement were the pages of notes stuck in the back, notes that soon might be turned into a proper, thoughtful review. You laugh, but it could happen. As the garage door opened, however, through the pouring rain, I could see that the yard waste bin had already been emptied by the local government sub-contracted service. So I placed Olivia Manning on the trunk of my car and ushered the bin back to its accustomed spot. I have to say that at the precise moment I placed the book on my trunk I had an uneasy, deja vu-ey feeling. But I did not remember the box of Titlelist Pro-V1s that the et ux found down the road one day, remarkably still housing 11 of the original 12. Because in the two minutes it took me to retrieve the garbage can, 40-thousand headmen played segue through my brain, and I did not think again of 'Fortunes of War' for the 25 minutes it took to get to the car dealership. Which is when I looked on the passenger seat and saw no book. Did I mention that it was pouring? Cats and dogs. Biblical. Build an ark, ye heathen, kind of all week rain. The et ux found The Balkan Trilogy in roughly the same spot where she found my golf balls, but a golf ball, it seems, handles weather better than the written word. Properly lubed, I drove to the bookstore where I had purchased my now-ruined, unreadable copy of The Balkan Trilogy and entered, knowing exactly where the 'other' copy was shelved. The nice lady at the counter asked if I was looking for a specific book. HAH! HAH! I thought but did not say. Instead, I told her my story, my lament. And, no, I did not get a cuddle with a "That's okay. That's okay." And I did not get a discount. I had, what we call it, a book emergency. I would like to think I have learned from this. But I’m not hopeful. And now, back to your previously scheduled programming: It was a pre-war marriage, the Pringle’s, which makes it sound more like portent than a save-the-date calendar event. A hurried thing, too. Don’t want to miss that war. A young English couple. He (Guy): an idealist-communist, too myopic for soldiering (and maybe just too myopic, generally); a teacher of English literature, determined to do ‘his part’ by, well, teaching English Literature. She (Harriet): an observer, really; defined, even by herself, as a wife. Yes, these are the very words she uses to describe her life. They meet, they marry. We don’t know why. Then he, almost immediately oblivious, and she, almost immediately unhappy, are off to Rumania. The War, that other war, is off-stage. We track it through a rumor in a bar, a shouted headline. As such, it’s a kind of ‘real-time’ look at the War, without the historical hindsight or its established truth. It’s ‘news’ overheard in a queue for food or whispered in an unheated flat. The story told is semi-autobiographical, and not very semi. The Pringle’s life tracks pretty closely that of Olivia Manning and her husband. The reader stops, then, when ‘Harriet Pringle’ has this moment of introspection: I haven’t any parents. At least, none to speak of. They divorced when I was very small. They both remarried and neither found it convenient to have me. My Aunt Penny brought me up. I was a nuisance to her, too, and when I was naughty she used to say: ‘No wonder your mummy and daddy don’t love you.’ I’m sure some of the story here was meant to be satirical, but I’m not sure even Manning knew how much. Because I was left with this: Why were they there? What need for an English teacher, his wife and cohorts, soap-opera-ish friends and enemies . . . in Rumania, first, and then, when that country was overrun, in Greece, and then boarding the last boat to Egypt? Seriously, the Nazis are coming, the Nazis are coming. So, let’s put on a stage production of Troilus and Cressida. Again, the Nazis are coming, the Nazis are coming. Should we do Othello? Or maybe Macbeth? Or can we do our part with a lecture, something to cheer the locals, like Byron: the Poet-champion of Greece? Anyhow, I hope Manning was being satirical. Armies shattered, peasants starving, leaders deposed, yet the members of the British Legation feed their higher purpose by innocently reading Miss Austen. And, oh, there’s no time for sex. Not the Pringles, certainly. A tender hand upon the other’s hand is all. And even when moved to adultery, hand upon the hotel room doorknob, well, instead, let’s have some tea. It was like this: I did not ‘like’ a single character yet found myself riveted, enough so that I’m looking forward to The Levant Trilogy to see what happens in Egypt to the Pringles. It was on that last boat there they sat sleepless by the thumping engine, the bugs, and the jog-trots of cockroaches and blackbeetles. . . . Guy sat on the boat-deck, his back against a rail, and read for a lecture on Coleridge. The women, in a stupor, sat round him.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy consists of the novels: The Great Fortune, The Spoilt City and Friends and Heroes. The trilogy is a semi-autobiographical work based loosely around her own experiences as a newlywed in war torn Europe. The first book, “The Great Fortune,” begins in 1939, with Harriet Pringle going to Bucharest with her new husband, Guy. Guy Pringle has been working the English department of the University for a year and met, and married, Harriet during his summer holiday. As they Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy consists of the novels: The Great Fortune, The Spoilt City and Friends and Heroes. The trilogy is a semi-autobiographical work based loosely around her own experiences as a newlywed in war torn Europe. The first book, “The Great Fortune,” begins in 1939, with Harriet Pringle going to Bucharest with her new husband, Guy. Guy Pringle has been working the English department of the University for a year and met, and married, Harriet during his summer holiday. As they travel through a Europe newly at war, one of the other characters on the train is Prince Yakimov, a once wealthy man who is now without influence or protection and who feels he is being unjustly ‘hounded’ out of one capital city after another. Harriet herself has virtually no family – her parents divorced when she was young and she was brought up by an aunt. In personality she is much less extrovert than Guy, who befriends everyone and expects to be befriended in turn. Throughout this novel I shared Harriet’s exasperation with her new husband, who constantly seems to care about everyone’s feelings, but ignores his new wife’s plight of being isolated in a new city, where she feels friendless and lonely. This is the first in a book which introduces us to the characters and places that populate the trilogy. From ‘poor old Yaki’ who yearns constantly for a life now gone, to Guy’s boss, Professor Inchcape, to Guy’s colleague Clarence Lawson, whose company Harriet accepts when her own husband is too busy, to the scheming Sophie, who attempted to marry Guy for a British passport, to the journalists who cluster round the bars and cafes listening to rumours. For it is the phoney war and rumours abound about the possibility of the Germans invading. The English expats reassure themselves that the weather is too bad, that the Germans have other priorities, that the war will be soon be over. Meanwhile, the British Information Bureau (run by Inchcape) and the German Information Bureau delight in attempting to outdo each other with maps and window displays to create the illusion that they are winning. At this time, though, the Germans are certainly looking much stronger. As Guy throws all his time and energy into organising a play, Harriet is unable to refuse reality. At the end of this volume, Paris falls and England stands alone. “The Spoilt City,” is the second volume in Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy. The uncertainty surrounding Romania in the first novel is even more pronounced at the beginning of this book. Rumours and suspicions abound and the English are viewed as likely losers of the war. Harriet begins to long for safety, but Guy refuses to accept that he will have to leave and, to Harriet’s exasperation, throws himself wholeheartedly into organising the summer school at the University. Many of the characters in the first book also appear here. Yakimov, always on his uppers and installed in the Pringle’s spare room, is disgruntled and depressed. When Guy and Harriet come across Sasha Drucker; the son of a wealthy Jewish businessman whose ruin is the talk of the city, the pair take him in too. Sasha has deserted from the army and Harriet is concerned that Yakimov will inform someone if he knows, so he has to stay in hiding. She is right to worry – Yakimov is concerned solely with his own well-being and is the least discreet person imaginable. When he goes to visit Cluj, he is so out of touch with events, that he imagines he can visit his old friend Fredi von Flugel; now a Nazi. His bravado and bragging may well have unpleasant repercussions for the very people who took him in when he had nowhere else to turn. Meanwhile, revolution is in the air. As Bucharest experiences upheaval, martial law and shortages, the British await the arrival of Professor Pinkrose; invited by Guy’s boss, Inchcape, to – almost unbelievably - give a lecture. Harriet begins to despair that neither Guy, nor Inchcape, are prepared to accept the danger they could be in and have their heads firmly in the sand about current events. Bucharest now has a strong German presence, the Blitz has begun back home and getting to safety may soon be impossible. You really do feel for Harriet in this book – Guy is always so concerned with everyone else that he barely has time to consider how Harriet feels and she remains isolated and worried. Before the end of this volume, she has some difficult decisions to make about the future. “Friends and Heroes,” is the third in the Balkan trilogy. The first two volumes of the trilogy saw Guy and Harriet Pringle in Bucharest – newly married and coping in a Europe newly at war. This book sees Harriet travel to Athens alone and awaiting Guy’s arrival. Many of the characters who populated the first two novels also appear here, including Dubedat, Lush and Prince Yakimov. Indeed, so isolated is Harriet when she arrives that Yakimov, previously despised by her as an unwanted presence in her life, and her apartment, now becomes a friendly face in an unknown city. It is fair to say that Guy Pringle is one of the most frustrating characters in any novel and his arrival, as expected, does not improve Harriet’s life noticeably. Politically naïve, emotionally warm and gregarious; Guy spends his time thinking the best of everyone despite the reality of his situation and unwilling to face reality. Guy had worked in the English department of the University in Bucharest, but, once in Greece, he finds that Dubedat, Lush and Professor Pinkrose are unwilling to help Guy with work – as he once helped them. Harriet is constantly frustrated by her husband’s unwillingness to see anything but the best about everyone and begins to feel more and more neglected as these books continue. Indeed, this novel sees her attracted to Charles Warden, as she feels her marriage means little to Guy, who has time for everyone but her, in a life taken up by providing entertainment for the troops and pouring his attention on students and friends. As with the other novels, this is largely based on Olivia Manning’s experiences as a young wife during wartime and paints an evocative image of life during that period. Harriet believes she has escaped the danger and upheaval of Bucharest for a better life in Athens. However, as optimism in Greece turns again to disquiet, rumour and encroaching danger, you worry that Harriet will never find her feet in a constantly unstable Europe – mirrored in her rocky, unsteady marriage. She wants certainty and safety and had hoped to find that within her marriage, but now she is unsure whether Guy is the man to provide that for her. This story continues in “The Levant Trilogy” - consisting of, “The Danger Tree,” “The Battle Lost and Won,” and “The Sum of Things.” Although I have read these books before, man years ago, I am enjoying re-reading these novels very much and look forward to reading on.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hana

    Addictive, compulsively readable, often savagely funny, Olivia Manning’s trilogy turns Rumania and Greece and the advent of World War Two into a stage for a vast array of characters from displaced European royalty, to members of the British ex-pat community, to Rumanian antifascists. They are described with such meticulous photographic detail and I sat through so many meals listening to them pontificating, joking, gossiping, arguing that I was convinced I really had met them before, perhaps at t Addictive, compulsively readable, often savagely funny, Olivia Manning’s trilogy turns Rumania and Greece and the advent of World War Two into a stage for a vast array of characters from displaced European royalty, to members of the British ex-pat community, to Rumanian antifascists. They are described with such meticulous photographic detail and I sat through so many meals listening to them pontificating, joking, gossiping, arguing that I was convinced I really had met them before, perhaps at the English Bar in Bucharest’s Athénée Palace hotel. And I was fully persuaded that I might see them again tonight or run into them in town. All of these people are flawed, empty in some way, yet I found myself growing fond of them; and as the darkness gathered and the Nazis massed on the borders my exasperated affection turned to dismay and a reluctant, futile sense of responsibility for these often useless idiots. The book opens on the Orient Express as Guy Pringle and his bride, Harriet, head for Bucharest. They have been married barely a week and have known each other for hardly more than a fortnight; this wartime marriage of strangers is the central mystery of the novels: “She could only wonder at the complexity of the apparently simple creature she had married.” Guy, a leftist, is interested in ideas, intensely sociable, generous to a fault; he collects new people with an avid yet somehow impersonal hunger. His Marxism is the substitute for a deep religious urge and, perhaps impelled by his beliefs, Guy becomes a one-man safety net for his many hangers-on in Bucharest. Harriet is the watcher who sees everything with clarity and a deep vein of cynical distrust. Intensely interested in private lives she longs for an exclusive love, a singular devotion that Guy can never give her. She is her husband’s opposite and even by the trilogy’s end we don’t know whether their marriage will become a partnership or fracture along fault-lines that are clearly marked. “Watching him urging the performers with the force of his personality, Harriet wondered: 'How did I come to marry someone so different from myself?' But she had married him; and perhaps, unawares, it was his differences she had married.” Harriet is our guide for much of the trilogy and we rarely enter Guy’s mind, but there is one more character who serves as part-time narrator—Mannings’ most inspired creation, Prince Yakimov. When we first spot Yakimov he is draped in a moth-eaten sable-lined coat, a gift to his father from the Czar. Yaki is also possessed of a crocodile case, a British passport, and a receipt for an Hispano-Suiza, his beloved automobile impounded at the border in lieu of cash for his unpaid bills. For “Poor old Yaki” is as usual “a bit short of the ready”. Yaki is often down but never out and through his eyes we see Bucharest’s seamier side, as well as the faded grandeur of Europe’s displaced nobility who crowd the posh restaurants and cling desperately to their dwindling consequence. Yakimov drifts between the two worlds, longing not just for sustenance, but for the luxurious: the perfect asparagus of a particular kind, caviare blinis, rich with sour cream, piled layer upon layer. Because at first food is everywhere in Bucharest—and food and hunger (physical and emotional) are central motifs that run through the trilogy. “The heart of the display was a rosy bouquet of roasts, chops, steaks and fillets frilled round with a froth of cauliflowers. Heaped extravagantly about the centre were aubergines as big as melons, baskets of artichokes, small coral carrots, mushrooms, mountain raspberries, apricots, peaches, apples and grapes.” The characters in Manning's first novel go from one gigantic meal to the next, from one party to another, drifting between cafes...talking, talking endlessly. The food, the plenty all around them is taken for granted. “They had been served with a goose-liver pate, dark with truffles and dressed with clarified butter. Inchcape swallowed this down in chunks, talking through it as if it were a flavourless impediment to self-expression.” But hunger is there: A nightclub singer, Florica, who “…had the usual gypsy thinness and was as dark as an Indian…[was] singing there among the plump women of the audience, she was like a starved wild kitten spitting at cream-fed cats.” Beggars are everywhere: “A man on the ground, attempting to bar their way, stretched out a naked leg bone-thin, on which the skin was mottled purple and rosetted with yellow scabs. As [Harriet] stepped over it, the leg slapped the ground in rage that she should escape it.” As winter, and eventually war, descend on Bucharest, and then on Athens, food vanishes even for those with some money left. Tame ducks in the parks, pet cats disappear—we clearly understand they wind up in pots. An obese British woman whose tented form once overflowed chairs is reduced to a skeleton draped with empty pouches of skin. By the time they reach Athens most of the ever-smaller band of British ex-pats are getting two-thirds of their meager calories from alcohol and they draw together to find comfort. Yakimov, once an irritant, has become somehow, very dear to them—and to us. Even the loathsome Ben Phipps gets his “comic coda” breaking down the door to an infamous Major’s cabin, a storehouse packed with tinned food and rolls of toilet paper that Ben redistributes, in grand Socialist style, to one and all. “Here you are, ladies,” he said as he gave three squares of paper to each. “One up, one down and a polisher.” “What about tomorrow?” Miss Jay asked. “Tomorrow may never come,” he cheerfully replied. I have reviewed The Balkan Trilogy as a single novel because that’s the way I read it. Despite its thousand pages, I was hard-pressed to put it down. If you read it be sure to get the three-volume edition because if it hooks you, you will not want to stop reading. In fact, even though my TBR plate is as full as a pre-war Bucharest banquet, I’m starting Olivia Mannings’ The Levant Trilogy RIGHT NOW because, as with any good soap opera, I can’t wait for the next installment. Content rating: PG for wartime themes, scenes of poverty and destitution. There is no sex, not even a chaste kiss, and only occasional slang and jokes on scatological and sexual subjects--all fairly obscure. There is an intimation of possible infidelity, but (view spoiler)[nothing happens! (hide spoiler)]

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Manning's Balkan Trilogy is a very interesting look at a side of World War Two that I don't often encounter, that fought in eastern Europe. It mirrors some of her life experiences and is followed by The Levant Trilogy which I definitely plan to read also. As the story begins, Guy and Harriet Pringle are arriving in Romania after a sudden romance and marriage during his leave in England. Now he resumes his lecturing duties in the university and Helen tries to fit in. But the turmoil of Western Eur Manning's Balkan Trilogy is a very interesting look at a side of World War Two that I don't often encounter, that fought in eastern Europe. It mirrors some of her life experiences and is followed by The Levant Trilogy which I definitely plan to read also. As the story begins, Guy and Harriet Pringle are arriving in Romania after a sudden romance and marriage during his leave in England. Now he resumes his lecturing duties in the university and Helen tries to fit in. But the turmoil of Western Europe is now reaching East and Britain's ally is weakening. We become bystanders for all levels of conflict as the Romanian people undergo internal strife, pogroms, onslaught of those fleeing war in other countries, and, ultimately, the realization that the Germans will come. Throughout this the reader also is witness to multiple interpersonal vignettes: the Pringle's marriage, the members of the British Consul, Yakimov ("poor Yaki"), the students and other teachers. Then the escape to Greece. Who will make it to Greece and will Greece be safe? All in all a very readable and, at times, exciting book, one that I wanted to get back to once I had put it down. Do not be put off by the length.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    The first book in this trilogy, set in Bucharest, is nearly perfect. Manning paints the odd ramshackle world of British citizens who have washed up in this (as they think of it) last vestige of Europe, as World War II tightens it grip on what has to that point between a backwater of delicious food, outdoor cafes, colorful gypsies, pre-modern peasants, degraded nobility and Jews (both wealthy/assimilated and desperately poor/religious). We see this fascinating world through the eyes of Harriet Pr The first book in this trilogy, set in Bucharest, is nearly perfect. Manning paints the odd ramshackle world of British citizens who have washed up in this (as they think of it) last vestige of Europe, as World War II tightens it grip on what has to that point between a backwater of delicious food, outdoor cafes, colorful gypsies, pre-modern peasants, degraded nobility and Jews (both wealthy/assimilated and desperately poor/religious). We see this fascinating world through the eyes of Harriet Pringle, a young Englishwoman in her first year of marriage to Guy, a left-wing teacher who collects society's strays (and there are many to be collected in Bucharest in 1940). There are dozens of sharply delineated characters in the Balkan trilogy - and Manning has a real gift for tragicomic flair, as in her depiction of Yakimov and his visit to his Nazi friend. There's also so much going on just beyond the margins of these books. Manning writes in the 1960s, and we know what becomes of the gypsies selling flowers and Bucharest's many Jews, both rich and poor, even if Guy and Harriet don't (though anti-Jewish persecutions are very much a part of these books). We know too, what lies in store for Romania after the war: we know where good old Joe Stalin (idolized by the leftist Guy) will take all of Eastern Europe. We know too that this moment is maybe the last moment in time when merely to be British is to have a certain ascendancy almost anywhere in the world (no matter how poor or shambolic you may be). So this is the rich setting into which the jewel of Manning's epic story of marriage, class, war, masculinity, manners (so many things!) is placed. The first book, as I've said, is almost unputdownable. And the end of the 3rd book, when the noose almost closes (but not quite - they are British, after all) on the Pringles in Athens, the very last tip of Europe (and we sense how close Hitler came to having it all, indeed), is stark, dramatic and wrenching. There's just a middle section where it all bogs down a bit, and takes the trilogy from a five to a four, in my book. Manning is an excellent portraitist, but her characters don't grow or change much. As we move through books two and three, Guy is still obliviously gregarious and blind to Harriet's needs, Lush and Dubedat stay craven, Yaki still wants a drink, etc. etc. Perhaps the claustrophobia of that world is part of what Manning means to convey but the third book of the Balkan Trilogy (except, as noted, the dramatic very end) is a bit too faithful to reality for my tastes in depicting the neverending round of bars, bad wartime meals and boring conversations. You feel you've seen Mannning's set pieces before and I at least grew weary of her almost real-time depiction of the events leading up to the fall of Greece. Nonetheless, fascinating, rich and well worth the read. One of those wonderful surprises that you feel you should have read sooner, but are grateful that you didn't, so that it is still there to delight.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    There is but one word which can describe this work, and it is as British as it gets: superb. I don’t know where to start, but I guess a little background information on Manning is necessary. Olivia Manning was a British writer who married an English teacher posted with the British Council at the University of Bucharest in 1939, a few weeks after Germany invaded Poland. Due to the movement of Germany’s army and the escalation of conflict in Romania, they escaped to Athens, and from there on to Eg There is but one word which can describe this work, and it is as British as it gets: superb. I don’t know where to start, but I guess a little background information on Manning is necessary. Olivia Manning was a British writer who married an English teacher posted with the British Council at the University of Bucharest in 1939, a few weeks after Germany invaded Poland. Due to the movement of Germany’s army and the escalation of conflict in Romania, they escaped to Athens, and from there on to Egypt and Palestine. She has written two different trilogies in the Fortunes of War series, this one, The Balkan Trilogy, and The Levant Trilogy, mirroring the experiences she had. By all accounts and purposes, what she wrote is historical fiction; the characters and happenings at a personal level are fictional, but the overarching context is the factual one in which Europe was in 1939, 1940. Manning’s writing is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Her character building skills are insane. Often times, between two lines of dialogue, you discover who an unimportant character is with the same depth you would an important one, and she seems to do this just to add colour to the story. At other times, the simple description of someone’s physical features, focusing on one particular element, gives you more insight into that character than their dialogue ever would. I mentioned dialogue – Manning has an uncanny ability to imitate the rhythm and cadence of actual, natural dialogue. I personally am very sensitive to that, because one of my biggest complaints when it comes to any work is that the dialogue sounds either forced or bland. When I write I also have a very hard time writing dialogue, so I consider it one of the hallmarks of great writing. Manning hits the nail on the head spot on. Not only does the entire book creak under the weight of pages upon pages of dialogue, but she manages to make it sound like prose. The entire reading experience is very pleasant, but these two things – character building and dialogue – deserve to be mentioned on their own. And now let’s talk about what actually impressed me about this book. I myself am Romanian. I was raised in Bucharest. Manning managed to teach me a lesson about my own city – and that I am ever grateful for. She uses actual Romanian words to paint the picture authentically; she describes the beggars and poverty I am so accustomed to, but in a way only a foreigner could; she talks about the Romanian women and men and character in a way which I can instantly recognize; most importantly, she grounds the entire story in a place that she describes in its reality, not in a fictional way in which a foreign author who’s never been there would. I was more than impressed. I could look at my own city through someone else’s eyes, and it was a beautiful experience. This is a long read, and you do need some patience to go through it, but it is absolutely worth it if you enjoy historical fiction.

  7. 4 out of 5

    El

    Partly based on Olivia Manning's own experiences during World War II, The Balkan Trilogy is the first part of a set of trilogies (the second being The Levant Trilogy). Harriet Pringle and her husband, Guy, (recently and hurriedly married due to the war) live in Bucharest as King Carol II tries to keep Romania free of the war. The first two volumes of the trilogy follow their lives as British expatriates trying to belong in an foreign land. The third volume follows the Pringles to Greece after th Partly based on Olivia Manning's own experiences during World War II, The Balkan Trilogy is the first part of a set of trilogies (the second being The Levant Trilogy). Harriet Pringle and her husband, Guy, (recently and hurriedly married due to the war) live in Bucharest as King Carol II tries to keep Romania free of the war. The first two volumes of the trilogy follow their lives as British expatriates trying to belong in an foreign land. The third volume follows the Pringles to Greece after they are forced to evacuate Bucharest. Despite the danger and violence surrounding them, their marriage does not exactly grow stronger - Harriet discovers just how little she knew about Guy before they married, and struggles with the reality of living in a dangerous time while her husband fills his time with projects that do not include Harriet. Their relationship is tried time and again by the rumors that surround their marriage as well as Harriet's friendships with other men (and Guy's friendships with other women). I thought at first that Manning's realistic characters was what made the story so darn addictive, but then realized that they would have to be as detailed as the environment in which they lived. It is clear that the author had similar experiences from which to draw and she manages to do it beautifully. While giving each character (and there are several) a well-rounded life and story Manning managed to also be able to illustrate a growing fascist environment while discussing the politics of the late '30s/early '40s. At times Harriet's co-dependency wore me down, as did Guy's flippant attitudes (and my personal problem of only picturing John Cassavetes, the actor playing Guy Woodhouse in the movie, Rosemary's Baby - what is with the name 'Guy' being so popular in the '60s??). No character is without some serious faults, which actually made their story all the more believable. Harriet's need for companionship is sadly all too familiar and is exacerbated by the background of war and uncertainty - she latches on to safe characters, generally men, and even a couple of animals. Guy's need for work and projects keep his mind occupied and is, most likely, a way for him to remain emotionally detached from his wife. The second narrative The Levant Trilogy apparently details their life as the war forces them to move on to Egypt. I look forward to reading it as well, hoping it lives up this first trilogy.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    "Full of Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing" What I took away from this 1000 page book is: "The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!" "Let's go to a restaurant" "Let's go get a drink" "The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!" "We can't leave because we are such good people and can't leave the little Jew boy behind, even though he's ungrateful and super rich, like all Jews" "The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!" "We can't leave the Russian/Irish prince behind, from the goodness "Full of Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing" What I took away from this 1000 page book is: "The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!" "Let's go to a restaurant" "Let's go get a drink" "The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!" "We can't leave because we are such good people and can't leave the little Jew boy behind, even though he's ungrateful and super rich, like all Jews" "The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!" "We can't leave the Russian/Irish prince behind, from the goodness of our hearts, even though he betrayed us to the Gestapo." "The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!" "I can't leave the cat behind, even though she's not mine and I have no idea where she is" "The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!" Has the war started yet? No one knows because there are no dates. The book did show me how good I am at speed reading and also how much there is to know about British adultery.... As for the quirky British characters ------ I'd rather read Dickens!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    Olivia Manning opens up a world that is completely outside my experience - the settings are Rumania and Greece during World War II - and yet is excruciatingly (in the cringe-worthy sense) familiar because many of its characters are British ex-pat, post-colonial slackers and pretenders of the worst sort. All the men who scrounge around these not- yet- at- war countries have some lame excuse for not actually joining in the fight against Hitler's armies. They're doing "important work supporting the Olivia Manning opens up a world that is completely outside my experience - the settings are Rumania and Greece during World War II - and yet is excruciatingly (in the cringe-worthy sense) familiar because many of its characters are British ex-pat, post-colonial slackers and pretenders of the worst sort. All the men who scrounge around these not- yet- at- war countries have some lame excuse for not actually joining in the fight against Hitler's armies. They're doing "important work supporting the war effort" like teaching English to Jewish students so they can better negotiate life in England or America should they miraculously happen to get to one of those places. Or they're doing something "hush-hush" they couldn't possibly discuss between cadging drinks, meals and lodging from fellow ex-pats while their clothes steadily degrade into rags. Then there are the left-behind women, elderly widows and spinsters who've lived their entire lives abroad dutifully tending now dead husbands and fathers who have left them tiny pensions on which to eke out their bravely genteel lives until they expire in poverty, alone, unloved, unremembered. Manning sees her characters through a devastatingly clear eye - their foibles, pretensions, viciousness, sadness, humor, fear, hopes - and no one is let off the hook. At the centre of this trilogy is the portrait of a marriage. Guy and Harriet Pringle meet and marry in the space of Guy's summer break from his work teaching English - as an employee of a British Council-type organization - in Rumania. They are, of course, unprepared for each other and for the marriage which sways and flounders as they struggle to survive as civil society (such as it is) in the Balkans crumbles. In all, a fascinating account of civilian life in middle-Europe on the brink of war, informed by the author's own experiences as the wife of a British Council employee in Bucharest during the war.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cphe

    A lengthy read but worth the time committed. Harriet and Guy Pringle are newly married and have settled in Bucharest where Guy works as an English lecturer. Their way of life and the friendships they form are soon overshadowed by the threat of war in Europe. The first and third book in the trilogy were the strongest in tone and delivery. Very British. Well worth a look at.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Infada Spain

    four and a half stars to be precise...

  12. 5 out of 5

    J.

    “Better a ship at sea, or an Irish wife, than a house in Macedonia.” Semi-sprawling novelized memoir of Brits circulating through the occupations and evacuations of the world war in Rumania and Greece. Author Manning deftly takes the reader along for an unpredictable and dangerous ride through the distant outposts of the Balkans, as Europe swarms with turmoil. Atmosphere and character are well crafted here, with portraits of people that could only exist in that time and place. Manning has a w “Better a ship at sea, or an Irish wife, than a house in Macedonia.” Semi-sprawling novelized memoir of Brits circulating through the occupations and evacuations of the world war in Rumania and Greece. Author Manning deftly takes the reader along for an unpredictable and dangerous ride through the distant outposts of the Balkans, as Europe swarms with turmoil. Atmosphere and character are well crafted here, with portraits of people that could only exist in that time and place. Manning has a writerly sense of conveying the terroir of a new setting, or an unfamiliar situation. Part of the charm of the story is that the reader is left to contemplate whether the war makes the man, or vice versa .. As morality shifts, somehow identity shifts as well. Layered underneath the basic narrative is the recognition that nothing about the way Civilization conducts itself-- would really ever be the same again. Convention and tranquility crash to the ground with the onslaught of annexation or invasion on the horizon. The ideas of Border or Frontier may be understood as metaphor here, wherein people re-align and transfer themselves toward something less like vulnerability and more like strength. Possibly. And stitched into every page is the recognition that humor and humanity don't leave their critical qualities behind, even as all the characters become refugees : He often himself hinted that he was engaged in espionage, but everyone knew that was just a little joke ... Spies were shot. Even if he were not actually shot, he would be ordered out of the country. And where could he go? Bad as things were here, Bucharest was the last outpost of European cooking. Levantine dishes upset his stomach. He could not bear the lukewarm food of Greece. He sat up, all pleasure gone from the bath, and considered the possibility of safeguarding himself by acting as informer. That would never do, of course ... The Balkan Trilogy can get a bit soapy at times, social drama overtaking the ennui before a fall. But Manning wants us to see the panorama of the applied-stress of wartime, where dysfunction, insight or even heroic action-- may be derived from the ghastly impetus of mass violence.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mat C Sharp

    Three novels written by Olivia Manning to describe the experience of living at war times without being immediately involved in the war; the protagonists are English that have found refuge in the Balkan area, in Romania first and then in Greece. There are supposed to be parts of the author's personal life incorporated in this book together with fiction. As a subject it was quite interesting, I hadn't ever read a book about people trying to survive a war that wasn't theirs and this fact is depicted Three novels written by Olivia Manning to describe the experience of living at war times without being immediately involved in the war; the protagonists are English that have found refuge in the Balkan area, in Romania first and then in Greece. There are supposed to be parts of the author's personal life incorporated in this book together with fiction. As a subject it was quite interesting, I hadn't ever read a book about people trying to survive a war that wasn't theirs and this fact is depicted in a narrative that is loose and detached. There are so many events described, an every day life resembling consecutive diary entries of a person that seems emotionally unavailable. Through this lense, most of the characters presented seem one one-dimensional, they're anti-heroes defined by their petty motives and their need to survive. However, this lack of complexity, although dull to read at times (a 1270 pages length is not helping), is what is expected of people bound in this kind of situation. After reflecting on this, I came to the conclusion that anything else wouldn't have been so authentic. I believe that each the characters in the book are a paradigm of the sort of people one would meet trying to make a living in an inevitable situation: the opportunist, the withdrawn, the desperate, the fallen has-been, the one in denial, the unfulfilled lover... Overall, an interesting read, although not at all exciting. If the three novels were published separately, I doubt I would have read all three of them. Had it been shorter, I would probably have enjoyed it more.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    This is now the third time I'm reading The Balkan Trilogy, and will then read the Levant Trilogy as well. I absolutely love this work - its myriad of characters, always complex, as we all are. Manning has really captured what it's like, I think, to be human - with love and fear and hope, each doing their best to be whatever it is that any of us need to be, and never quite sure what that is. She takes me to their world; a world that has long fascinated me - before the war and then during - and wi This is now the third time I'm reading The Balkan Trilogy, and will then read the Levant Trilogy as well. I absolutely love this work - its myriad of characters, always complex, as we all are. Manning has really captured what it's like, I think, to be human - with love and fear and hope, each doing their best to be whatever it is that any of us need to be, and never quite sure what that is. She takes me to their world; a world that has long fascinated me - before the war and then during - and with Guy and Harriet, a woman who doubts about much, and Guy, who doubts nothing - to see the world through their eyes. Now for the third time, I'm struck, once again, by Manning's great skill to capture sight and sound and smell - the pathos of the poor, the arrogance of the rich and the powerful ... the cold of a harsh winter and the delight of a long-awaited springtime ... the mindless chatter of dinner-table friends and living in a moment of rumors, before the onslaught of the inevitable. Would I recommend? What does it sound like? Of course ... a great read by a great writer.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Callie

    Loved it! Feeling like I lived through WWII in Rumania and Greece. This book works on three levels--you're seeing world history unfold, you're also getting to know the friends and colleagues of this young, newly married couple, and you're watching how their marriage plays out. It really doesn't get better than this. The book felt to me like it must be highly autobiographical, it felt very real. If Olivia Manning had been a man and this book had been written about a male protagonist, it would hav Loved it! Feeling like I lived through WWII in Rumania and Greece. This book works on three levels--you're seeing world history unfold, you're also getting to know the friends and colleagues of this young, newly married couple, and you're watching how their marriage plays out. It really doesn't get better than this. The book felt to me like it must be highly autobiographical, it felt very real. If Olivia Manning had been a man and this book had been written about a male protagonist, it would have gotten far more attention and probably be on all the 100 best book lists. My favorite thing? The relationship between Guy and Harriet--it is so spot on believable. In fact, I could really identify with Harriet and I could see so much of my own husband in Guy. Weird. But ALL the characters are so well drawn. Yakimov provides a lot of comic relief. AND there is so much to learn about what it's like to have to keep on living even when the world is turned upside down by war, and one has no idea what the future holds. How can I convey the brilliance of this novel? some quotes: about Guy: "She was annoyed at the same time, seeing his willingness to have Sasha here as a symptom of spiritual flight--the flight from the undramatic responsibility of to one person which marriage was." "And yet, watching him as he sat there, unsuspecting of criticism or boredom, an open-handed man of infinite good nature, her heart was touched. reflecting on the process of involvement and disenchantment which was marriage, she thought that one entered it unsuspecting and, unsuspecting, found one was trapped in it." "those who give too much are always expected to give more, and blamed when they reach the point of refusal" "He did not recognize emotional responsibility and unlike emotional people, he was not governed by it." "She had once been ambitious for Guy, but saw now the truth of the proverb that the children of darkness were wiser than the children of light. Guy, with all his charity, would probably remain ore or less where he had started." "If Guy had for her the virtue of permanence, she might have the same virtue for him. To have one thing permanent in life as they knew it was as much as they could expect." falling in love: "their sense of likeness astonished them. It resembled magic. they felt themselves held in a spellbound condition which they feared to injure. Although she could not pin down any overt point of resemblance, Harriet at times imagined he was the person most like her in the world, her mirror image."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    "Marry in haste, repent at leisure." I forget the origin of that quote, (was it Shakespeare?), but it's an apt description of the three books that make up "The Balkan Trilogy". I reviewed the first 2 books separately when I read them, so this is more of an overview of the three parts. "Friends and Allies" finds Guy and Harriet in Athens, where they fled after the fall of Rumania into Nazi hands. The two were married after a very brief wartime courtship, and at first Harriet adores Guy and finds h "Marry in haste, repent at leisure." I forget the origin of that quote, (was it Shakespeare?), but it's an apt description of the three books that make up "The Balkan Trilogy". I reviewed the first 2 books separately when I read them, so this is more of an overview of the three parts. "Friends and Allies" finds Guy and Harriet in Athens, where they fled after the fall of Rumania into Nazi hands. The two were married after a very brief wartime courtship, and at first Harriet adores Guy and finds him fascinating and brilliant. It doesn't take long for her to realize his shortcomings, mainly his selfishness and self-centeredness regarding anything but his "work". This book finds her contemplating the wisdom of her marriage as she realizes that Guy is unlikely to change. Her slow realization takes place against the backdrop of the Nazi invasion of the Balkan territory in WWII. It's a well-written series of books with interesting characters that appear and re-appear as the story emerges. Now I really want to read "The Levant Trilogy" by the same author, which finds Guy and Harriet in Cairo after escaping from Greece. I understand the BBC did a production of this one, so I'll be looking for that too. Highly recommended for the history of the war on the Balkan peninsula which I knew very little about.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Somewhere near Venice, Guy began talking wit a heavy, elderly man, a refugee from Germany on this way to Trieste. Guy asked questions. The refugee eagerly replied. Neither seemed aware when the train stopped. page 81: "Today Rumania with broken heart announces the tragic loss of her much loved son and Premier A. Calinescu, assassinated by six students who failed to pass their baccalaureate. While attempting to forgive this mad act of disappointed youth, the nation is prostrate with grief." page 8 Somewhere near Venice, Guy began talking wit a heavy, elderly man, a refugee from Germany on this way to Trieste. Guy asked questions. The refugee eagerly replied. Neither seemed aware when the train stopped. page 81: "Today Rumania with broken heart announces the tragic loss of her much loved son and Premier A. Calinescu, assassinated by six students who failed to pass their baccalaureate. While attempting to forgive this mad act of disappointed youth, the nation is prostrate with grief." page 83: Ionescu ... recited quickly: "The military, mad with grief and indignation at the murder of a beloved Prime Minister, seized the young men and, unknown to the civil authorities, shot them out of hand." page 185: "Although Rumania is a maize-eating country, it grows only half as much maize as Hungary. So we have here the usual vicious circle - the peasants are indolent because they're half-fed: they"re half fed because they're indolent. If the Germans do get here, believe me, they'll make these people work as they've never worked before." page 441: "They can have Bessarabia. We don't like corn. The best wheaten bread's the stuff in our New Dawn. Let them have the Dobrudja. Ma's palace, anyway, Has been sold to the nation for a million million lei Who wants Transylvania? Give it 'em on a plate. Let them take what they damn well like. I'll not abdicate." page 454: "Hitler cares nothing for Balkans politics. He is interested only in Balkan economics. He has ordered the Rumanians to settle these frontier problems simply to keep them busy until his troops are free to march in. That could be any day now." page 636: "A united Rumania - a Rumania, that is, who'd won the loyalty of her minorities by treating them fairly - could have stood up to Hungarian demands. She might even have stood up to Russia. If she'd remained firm, Yugoslavia and Greece would have joined with her; perhaps Bulgaria too. A Balkan entente ! Not much perhaps, but not to be sneezed at. With the country solid, enjoying a reasonable internal policy, the Iron Guard could never have regained itself. It could never have risen to power in this way." "And there were the peasants - a formidable force, if we'd chosen to organise them. They could have been trained to revolt at any suggestion of German infiltration. And, I can tell you, the Germans don't want trouble on this front. They would not attempt to hold down an unwilling Rumania. As it is, the country has fallen to pieces, the Iron Guard is in power ad the Germans have been invited to walk in at their convenience. In short, our policy has played straight into enemy hands." page 702: Mrs Brett explained that Mussolini also wanted his triumphs. He had chosen a small country, supposing a small country was a weak country, thinking he had only to make a demand and the Greeks would submit. But Metaxas had said 'No' and so, in the middle of the night, while the Athenians slept, Greece had entered the war.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Calzean

    The final book in this fine trilogy is fully focused on Hilary and Guy with Hilary getting the most coverage (well it is sort of an autobiography). The couple has truly jumped from the frying pan into the fire by fleeing Romania and coming to Greece which is about to be invaded first by Italy and then by Germany. While in Greece the ex-pats go into the wonderful English past times of class divisions, snobbery, name dropping and back stabbing. There might be a war on but the Poms are busy trying The final book in this fine trilogy is fully focused on Hilary and Guy with Hilary getting the most coverage (well it is sort of an autobiography). The couple has truly jumped from the frying pan into the fire by fleeing Romania and coming to Greece which is about to be invaded first by Italy and then by Germany. While in Greece the ex-pats go into the wonderful English past times of class divisions, snobbery, name dropping and back stabbing. There might be a war on but the Poms are busy trying to live life and hoping nothing will happen. Meanwhile Hilary is in love with another man but can find no way to go past the occasional brush of hands. Now onto the Levant.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Janet Roger

    I came across this in a bookshop in Bucharest, which is where Olivia Manning story begins. Her heroine is newly arrived there when war is declared in 1939. Six books later - there’s a Levant Trilogy as well - her characters have taken you with them on a journey through Athens, Cairo and on into Palestine, always one step ahead of the war in southern Europe and north Africa. It’s special on many counts, particularly on the manners, mannerisms and casual prejudices of the times. And she’s an acute I came across this in a bookshop in Bucharest, which is where Olivia Manning story begins. Her heroine is newly arrived there when war is declared in 1939. Six books later - there’s a Levant Trilogy as well - her characters have taken you with them on a journey through Athens, Cairo and on into Palestine, always one step ahead of the war in southern Europe and north Africa. It’s special on many counts, particularly on the manners, mannerisms and casual prejudices of the times. And she’s an acute observer, trained as an artist, terrific on places, smells, sounds and color. A wonderful storyteller too (if you’re planning six volumes you’d better be). But there’s also another, more technical, reason. Olivia Manning lived through the period and the events. You can trust her on the vocabulary and idiom of those English ex-pats marooned by war. The voices and gestures are of their time, and that’s most instructive when your own story is set in London in same decade.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Mckinnon

    Oh Harriet. Just have the affair already. Leave your husband. Forget about the damn cat. And spare me from all these unpleasant characters.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Eric Sutton

    I had wanted to read The Balkan Trilogy for some time, but my local library didn't carry it, and I had plenty of other books to read in store. When I came across a used copy - a NYRB edition to be exact, which are the best - I bought it, but not without some trepidation. It was nearly 1,000 pages, a length I'm not opposed to reading, but usually reserved for books I'm deeply committed to, a Tolstoy or James Joyce. Anyway, I gave it a go, and I'm happy I did, and to be honest, it went rather quic I had wanted to read The Balkan Trilogy for some time, but my local library didn't carry it, and I had plenty of other books to read in store. When I came across a used copy - a NYRB edition to be exact, which are the best - I bought it, but not without some trepidation. It was nearly 1,000 pages, a length I'm not opposed to reading, but usually reserved for books I'm deeply committed to, a Tolstoy or James Joyce. Anyway, I gave it a go, and I'm happy I did, and to be honest, it went rather quickly and fluidly. By the end, I realized I had thoroughly enjoyed it. The three novels concern a newly-married expatriate couple, Guy and Harriet Pringle, living in Bucharest, Romania, where Guy is a lecturer/teacher. Their circle of friends inhabit much of the novel: their comings and goings, gossip, acts of deceit and benevolence. The plot seems tame, but it's set against the burgeoning theater of war, in which Romania switches allegiances to remain neutral. Guy's nonchalance and Harriet's worry strain the marriage, as they are faced with the grim reality of the fronts moving closer and their ever-precarious position as British nationals. They move farther and farther down the Balkan coast to escape terror and keep their fledgling marriage intact. Manning has a wonderful ear for dialogue. Stylistically, it reads nothing like Hemingway, but the colorful cast of characters, meeting and dining and hosting parties and attempting normality despite the odds, is reminiscent of The Sun Also Rises or A Moveable Feast. The characters are engrossing enough that you don't mind following them over the the course of three novels (and another trilogy - The Levant Trilogy - which I will read at some point). They embody the everyday humanity of a war in which humanity was in short supply, plus the novels introduced me to an aspect of the war about which I knew very little. So, again, a tome, but very readable, saga-esque in its depiction of the small dramas that play out between couples and friends.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    I'm really enjoying this trilogy but wow is it long (900+ pages altogether). It's safe to say I knew practically nothing about Romania and Greece during WWII, and now I know quite a bit more! The first 2 books, set in Bucharest, moved a little slowly, which I didn't mind much since the setting was novel to me, and the third book, set in Athens, has a quicker pace. I am nearly done (thanks to a rainy Sunday). The descriptions of places and situations are revealing, and the writing is confident and I'm really enjoying this trilogy but wow is it long (900+ pages altogether). It's safe to say I knew practically nothing about Romania and Greece during WWII, and now I know quite a bit more! The first 2 books, set in Bucharest, moved a little slowly, which I didn't mind much since the setting was novel to me, and the third book, set in Athens, has a quicker pace. I am nearly done (thanks to a rainy Sunday). The descriptions of places and situations are revealing, and the writing is confident and clear, and very much in the style I enjoy. I find the main narrator, Harriet, a compelling and thoughtful observer (most of the time), but some of the other characters are completely infuriating -- either annoyingly passive, or insufferably conniving and shallow. Were upper class Brits really like that in the 40s, or is this just a well-worn cliche? Harriet's husband Guy has not won me over, and it's hard to take his politics seriously, but I suppose he represents a "type." I found the reactions of the characters, especially Harriet, to the Fascist treatment of oppressed groups (Jews, Romanian peasants, gypsies, etc.) flat or cursory, and not much deeper when played out in the lives of specific individuals. I would have expected the author to use the experiences of specific people to draw out more of an emotional connection from the characters, but that only happens occasionally, and when it does it is short-lived. In any case, I'm looking forward to the next trilogy, which is set in the Levant. Another good recommendation from Amy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michal Leon

    I heard so much about this book, i couldn't wait to read it. I got the Kindle trilogy and started. The only thing that kept me going was the fact this is the first book I have ever read that was set in Romania, and which even weaved a few of my parents' language which i speak (badly) into the story. So, there was a very personal angle - as the events take place in Bucharest, and at eve and then in - the Second World War, a time when my parents were there. However, I just couldn't really connect w I heard so much about this book, i couldn't wait to read it. I got the Kindle trilogy and started. The only thing that kept me going was the fact this is the first book I have ever read that was set in Romania, and which even weaved a few of my parents' language which i speak (badly) into the story. So, there was a very personal angle - as the events take place in Bucharest, and at eve and then in - the Second World War, a time when my parents were there. However, I just couldn't really connect with the characters, I found the writing tedious, and was bored. Finally, 60% into the trilogy (somewhere in the 2nd book) I gave up. Life's too short. Maybe I wasn't in the right mindset.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    I put this book on my 'abandoned' shelf a year ago with the comment that I didn't have the patience.. but THIS year I am sitting in Venice with lovely time to just get lost in books and had time to thoroughly appreciate the characters and time and the 'drama' of the small British ex-pat group who populate this novel. Add to this my favorite aspect of a very good read - wonderful narrative of place and mood - and I was wrapped up in this for many days of good reads. HIGHLY recommended!! to all my f I put this book on my 'abandoned' shelf a year ago with the comment that I didn't have the patience.. but THIS year I am sitting in Venice with lovely time to just get lost in books and had time to thoroughly appreciate the characters and time and the 'drama' of the small British ex-pat group who populate this novel. Add to this my favorite aspect of a very good read - wonderful narrative of place and mood - and I was wrapped up in this for many days of good reads. HIGHLY recommended!! to all my friends!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Myriel Morley

    Olivia Manning can really write...her characters are so realistic that I found them extremely easy to dislike. I gather that she lived through the period in which this book is set, and I was fascinated by the detail, which kept me reading, about war torn Europe. But oh what a wet lettuce of a central figure is Guy Pringle...ugh ugh ugh. Many of the characters were beautifully drawn but profoundly irritating and tedious. Perhaps rather too lifelike.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Danute Lauzoniene

    Very interesting trilogy. I wouldn't be surprised if it is banned in Romania, given the pretty much uniformly hostile treatment of Romanians in the story! Nevertheless, interesting storylines that push the novels forward, first-rate painterly writing, and writing that conveys a tremendous sense of what must have been the atmosphere of that time and those places. Bravo, Olivia Manning! Very interesting trilogy. I wouldn't be surprised if it is banned in Romania, given the pretty much uniformly hostile treatment of Romanians in the story! Nevertheless, interesting storylines that push the novels forward, first-rate painterly writing, and writing that conveys a tremendous sense of what must have been the atmosphere of that time and those places. Bravo, Olivia Manning!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Glyn Pope

    I simply loved this book. A whole range of characters. Feelings and emotions without relying on silly humour. I wasn't alive, but I'm sure it captured the times. A must read. I look forward to The Levant Trilogy now. I simply loved this book. A whole range of characters. Feelings and emotions without relying on silly humour. I wasn't alive, but I'm sure it captured the times. A must read. I look forward to The Levant Trilogy now.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rick Slane

    This is written much more like a memoir than novels. They are rich in detail of local color but thin on plot. It has good description of the Balkans in about 1940.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Brantly

    It really was amazing. I knew nothing of Romania/Greece in WWII. Looking forward to reading the Levant Trilogy next.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    Why am I giving only 3 stars to a book I enjoyed so much? Probably because it verges on being a fantastic read but doesn't quite make it. Harriet! I could have throttled her many times. Newly married and initially happy to settle for the few crumbs of attention her self-absorbed husband cares to throw her way, she seems to spend her time with men who are as equally self-absorbed as her husband in their own way. There were no characters with whom I could feel any empathy but the main characters b Why am I giving only 3 stars to a book I enjoyed so much? Probably because it verges on being a fantastic read but doesn't quite make it. Harriet! I could have throttled her many times. Newly married and initially happy to settle for the few crumbs of attention her self-absorbed husband cares to throw her way, she seems to spend her time with men who are as equally self-absorbed as her husband in their own way. There were no characters with whom I could feel any empathy but the main characters became much more interesting by the third volume. By then, Guy had his own presence on occasion and Harriet spent more time questioning her relationship with him, although not reaching the same conclusion most women with any self respect would probably have reached! The main reason I enjoyed this book so much is the history. I had never considered WWII from this perspective. It was so interesting to learn what happened there and in Greece and how the ex pat British community in both countries lived in denial until the very last minute, refusing to accept that their lives were about to change forever. This is where the strength of the novel lies. Many characters behave with utter selfishness, never giving a thought for the consequence of their actions on the lives of others. It's easy to criticise and even to be disgusted by their behaviour but how many of us can say with certainty how we would behave in these circumstances. I suspect self-preservation becomes paramount for most. Finally, I'm wondering how earlier readers managed without Google Translate? It's sometimes fairly essential to know what people are saying and my Romanian just isn't up to scratch! I was stumped completely by the Greek phrases as they're written phonetically and I couldn't find a way to translate them at all. All suggestions welcome.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...