In July of 1939, at the age of 31, the British writer Olivia Manning met Reggie Smith, who was on leave in England from his position as British Council lecturer in Bucharest, Romania. They were married the next month, and, just a few days after the ceremony, found out that Reggie was recalled to Bucharest. They apparently left in a matter of hours and arrived in Bucharest on September 3, the day Britain declared war on Germany. Soon the couple found themselves moving from Romania to Greece (arriving there not long before Greece entered the war), to Egypt and finally to Palestine as the war consumed Eastern Europe.
She memorialized these experiences with her husband in two trilogies of novels, The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy, which follow Harriet and Guy Pringle. Though the series of novels, known collectively as The Fortunes of War, are not strictly autobiographical, the Pringles follow a similar course as Manning and her husband did a few decades before.
The first book of the Balkan Trilogy, The Great Fortune, was published in 1960, and was followed by The Spoilt City in 1962 and Friends and Heroes in 1965. In the 1970s, she published The Levant Trilogy, which began with The Danger Tree in 1977, The Battle Lost and Won in 1978, and The Sum of Things in 1980.
Olivia Manning died on July 23, 1980.
NYRB Classics published their edition of The Balkan Trilogy in January of 2010 and their edition of The Levant Trilogy in June of 2014. And those are the books we’ll be talking about in Episode 13 of The Mookse and the Gripes podcast.
In Episode 14 we will be talking about John Williams’ Augustus, which was just released this past week. With that, we will have talked about each of John Williams’ three masterworks.
Please send us your thoughts and we’ll share them on the show.