Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy

Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy: The Great Fortune, The Spoilt City, and Friends and Heroes is a home-and-hearth look at the difficulties of expatriate workers in the early days of World War II. Harriet and Guy Pringle, newly married, arrive in Bucharest for Guy to assume his teaching post with the English Council, something thousands did throughout the British Empire/Commonwealth.  Guy has his work, and Harriet has little to do but wait in their small apartment and commiserate with their friends. The whole 1000 page story, told from Harriet’s perspective, turns on this group of people and how they manage as the war begins and expands.

In Eastern Europe they thought they would escape the worst of things. As the Germans close in on one side and the Russians on the other, these people make their way to Greece, Egypt, and finally Bulgaria with nothing being easy or certain anywhere.

I recently re-read this trilogy, remembering how much  I had enjoyed it 30+ years ago. Written between 1960 and 1965, the three novels that comprise the story are compelling, and you read along cheering for Harriet (and sometimes the hapless Guy – he always thinks they can put on a play and it will all be fine) and wondering how everyone will emerge. This is timely reading in our day of multiple refugees and the implications of this movement for all of Central and Eastern Europe.

Olivia Mann wrote these based on her own experience during  the war. There is a second set, The Levant Trilogy: The Danger Tree, The Battle Lost and Won, and The Sum of All Things. Both trilogies are now identified with the title Fortunes of War, as that was the title of a BBC/Masterpiece Theatre series based on the books in 1987.

The Balkan Trilogy


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