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The Balkan Trilogy (1992)

The Balkan Trilogy (1992)
4.18 of 5 Votes: 2
0099427486 (ISBN13: 9780099427483)
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The Balkan Trilogy (1992)
The Balkan Trilogy (1992)

About book: 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.

The 1000 page first half of the Fortunes of War sequence. Harriet and Guy Pringle are a young newly-married couple being batted around by WWII. For the first two books they’re in Romania, for the third they’re in Greece. The real appeal of the trilogy is the sense of being offered a vantage point on the historical events unfolding. I found it easy to get swept up in the sense of panic and doom and inevitable disintegration. The Pringles stay put in both Romania and Greece until pretty much the last possible moment for them to get out, and the sense of being almost deserted on a sinking ship is again easy to feel involved in. Manning provides a good mixed portrait of the earnest, harrowing side of war, and the more banal irritations and obstacles created by it.This is a war book, but it’s also a book about a marriage. When we begin, Harriet is not a particularly nice person and doesn’t like herself much, closed off in various ways, while Guy is insufferable in a particular strain of stereotypical masculinity. He’s quite a broadly drawn picture of the lover of humanity more in general than particular, generous and giving but unlikely to save anyone who needs personal investment and awareness of the risks posed by a hostile world to be saved. Harriet becomes someone whose side the reader is more likely to take (it would take a contrary reader, I think, to take Guy’s side, but if we are to take a side at all) when she is the one who worries about what will actually happen to someone Guy has taken under his wing and moved in with them. The worst of Guy is perhaps his idea of marriage; Harriet is now to be considered as part of himself and therefore needs only the consideration he would afford himself. Being selfless and opposed to personal considerations, this is not much. He also considers it beyond question that his morality is hers.Harriet takes some refuge from the emotionally arid atmosphere of their marriage in random passionate investments in stray animals and people, which is a rebellion against Guy’s ethos as well as something of a reproach to its effects on their marriage. She has non-affairs with irritating young men who tell her how lucky she is to be married to Guy, as if she is both desirable for her connection to him and accessible as the lucky one in the relationship.There are plenty of characters in this book, and one of the pleasures is the way they wander in and out. Harriet and Guy battle with a plethora of rather odd, selfish scheming men who are out for what they can get out of the war, usually at Guy’s expense. One of Harriet’s frustrations with Guy is his unwillingness to see and combat others’ venality. There is Prince Yakimov, an aristocratic parasite, plaintive and always hungry, who enrages Harriet before she becomes, like me, rather fond of him. People are not untouching, but there is no one who is your actual thoroughly likeable sympathetic character.This is one of my favourite books so far this year, but it wasn’t perfect. I would have liked the characterisation to be a little more fine-grained. Because it is very autobiographical, sometimes I had an indefinable sense that things were as they were because that was how it was in real life, without providing sufficient evidence for necessity and inevitability in the fictional dimension. Also, I found it annoying that Manning reminds you who everyone is each time, when these really are the sort of books which follow straight on from one another. But I was always glad to get back to this. It wasn’t one of those big books that somehow weigh you down even when you’re not reading it.
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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.
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!
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 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.
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