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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.
In The Levant Trilogy Olivia Manning returns to the story of the young English couple Guy and Harriet Pringle, last seen, at the end of The Balkan Trilogy, departing from Athens ahead of the invading Nazi army. Now, in the spring of 1941, they arrive in Egypt as Rommel's forces slowly but surely approach Cairo across the Sahara from the west. Will the city fall? In the streets the people contemplate welcoming a new set of occupiers, while European refugees and well-heeled Anglo-Egyptians prepare to pack their bags. And at night, everyone who is anyone flocks to the city's famed hotels and seedy cabarets, seeking one last dance before the tanks roll in. Manning describes the Pringles' ever complicated marriage and their motley group of friends and foes with the same sharp eye that earned The Balkan Trilogy a devoted following. And she also traces the fortunes of a marvelously drawn new character, Simon Boulderstone, a twenty-year-old recruit who must grapple with the boredom, chaos, and fleeting exhilaration of war.
As Rommel advances in wartorn Egypt, the lives of the civilian population come under threat. One such couple are Guy and Harriet Pringle, who have escaped the war in Europe only to find the conflict once more on their doorstep, providing a volatile backdrop to their own personal battles. The civilian world meets the military through the figure of Simon Boulderstone, a young army officer who will witness the tragedy and tension of war on the frontier at first hand. An outstanding author of wartime fiction, Olivia Manning brilliantly evokes here the world of the Levant - Egypt, Jerusalem and Syria - with perception and subtlety, humour and humanity.
Jerusalem in 1945 is a city in flux: refugees from the war in Europe fill its streets and cafés, the British colonial mandate is coming to an end, and tensions are on the rise between the Arab and Jewish populations. Felix Latimer, a recently orphaned teenager, arrives in Jerusalem from Baghdad, biding time until he can secure passage to England. Adrift and deeply lonely, Felix has no choice but to room in a boardinghouse run by Miss Bohun, a relative he has never met. Miss Bohun is a holy terror, a cheerless miser who proclaims the ideals of a fundamentalist group known as the Ever-Readies--joy, charity, and love--even as she makes life a misery for her boarders. Then Mrs. Ellis, a fascinating young widow, moves into the house and disrupts its dreary routine for good. Olivia Manning's great subject is the lives of ordinary people caught up in history. Here, as in her panoramic depiction of World War II, The Balkan Trilogy, she offers a rich and psychologically nuanced story of life on the precipice, and she tells it with equal parts compassion, skepticism, and humor.
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