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The Balkan Trilogy (Fortunes of War #1-3)

4.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,055 Ratings  ·  145 Reviews
Living and working in Rumania, Guy and Harriet Pringle are forced to evacuate to Greece before the advance of the German army. This classic work of post-war fiction was made into a magnificent BBC television series starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.
Paperback, 1033 pages
Published November 19th 1992 by Arrow (first published January 1st 1960)
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Nov 08, 2015 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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 ...more
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
Jul 19, 2015 Elaine rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
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 on 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 and religious. We see this fascinating world through the eyes of Harriet ...more
Mar 22, 2008 El rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
“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 wri
Aug 23, 2011 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jun 04, 2013 Tom rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Apr 03, 2015 Callie rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Diane Barnes
Jul 21, 2015 Diane Barnes rated it really liked it
"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
Mar 24, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Chrissie
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
Mar 03, 2009 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
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
Oct 24, 2013 Pam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 16, 2016 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Olivia Manning's trilogy set in Romania and Greece as WWII is breaking out in 1939 and '40 has a substantial autobiographic basis, though we can credit her skill as a novelist in creating a dramatic narrative arc within the historical setting. The character of the scrounging decayed aristocrat Prince Yakimov (said to be based on the equally down-at-heel writer Julian MacLaren-Ross) is a brilliant comic creation all on its own.
Originally published in three parts, at intervals of a year or two in
Danute Lauzoniene
Nov 11, 2013 Danute Lauzoniene rated it really liked it
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!
Glyn Pope
Jan 30, 2014 Glyn Pope rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 23, 2015 Barbara rated it it was amazing
The progression of a new marriage as seen through the prism of war. We watch Harriet, trapped by the circumstances of war and the strictures of a marriage entered precipitously with someone as emotionally crippled as she, proceed from infatuation and exhilaration to realization, disillusion, and loneliness to end up at a sort of grim resignation. But the progression isn't always linear. There are times when Harriet feels both resentment and pride, longing and love, or bitterness and committment ...more
Feb 15, 2014 Yeemay rated it liked it
I enjoyed this trilogy, not least because I learnt so much about the geographical and political tensions of living in small European nations caught up in the territorial ambitions of its neighbouring (or not so near) superpowers. It brought home to me how the island nation of Britain influences our very psyche.

I have to say it took me a while to warm the characters and I still think Prince Yakimov needed a slap. The trilogy brought to mind Dance to the Music of time although the tone and writin
Kevin Mckinnon
Feb 15, 2014 Kevin Mckinnon rated it liked it
Oh Harriet.
Just have the affair already.
Leave your husband.
Forget about the damn cat.
And spare me from all these unpleasant characters.
Jun 12, 2014 Leonie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 l ...more
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 ...more
Mar 02, 2010 FiveBooks rated it it was amazing
Veteran foreign correspondent Richard Beeston has chosen to discuss Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy on FiveBooks on his list of five books on Spies, Lies and Foreign correspondents, saying that:

"I think she was one of the very best novelists of the 20th century. These books were her best pieces. What I found fascinating was all the drama of the Second World War in rather peripheral places. But the drama and the feeling of the war was written against a background of a young couple who just
Tom Stewart
Mar 24, 2012 Tom Stewart rated it it was amazing
I can't imagine why it took me so long to get to Olivia Manning. When I worked at Atheneum, we published her books thanks to the editorial genius of Harry Ford, but I never read them at that time. Now, at least, I can comfort myself with the notion that a treat delayed is a treat increased. These three novels, set in Rumania and Greece as World War II unfolds, are delicious, exciting, engrossing, painful, real--all good things, and easily the best novels about the war (and maybe books about the ...more
Elizabeth Bradley
Mar 30, 2011 Elizabeth Bradley rated it liked it
Infuriating and thoroughly engrossing counterpoint to Nancy Mitford, and all the other women writers who "did" World War II- Manning 's trilogy follows a pair of idealistic expats as they live in (and subsequently flee Nazi occupation in) Bucharest and Athens. No one is perfect in Manning's stories, and no one is terribly or consistently charming: in fact, everyone misbehaves in a way that makes you want to shake them into a kitten, as Alice said. Despite all this, the characters and their fits ...more
Aug 23, 2011 Bowerbird rated it liked it
I had to read this book, having already read the second trilogy. Would I have wanted to pursue Harriet and Guy's later adventures as they move on to the Levant, if I had read The Balkan Trilogy first? I am not sure.
I wasn't gripped in the same way by the people or the storylines during their time in the Balkans, as when they moved to Egypt. Some of the characters were tiresome and at times the book seemed slow and rather tedious, but no doubt that did help to create the appropriate atmosphere.
Nov 30, 2008 Marjorie rated it it was amazing
Balkan Trilogy presents a number of unforgettable characters caught in a difficult historical period - World War II. The two main characters, Harriet and Guy Pringle, are in Romania. They are newlyweds - Harriet has come from England, and Guy teaches at the University. The book is rife with political intrigue, and probably the most interesting character is Prince Yakimov. It's the kind of book that grows on you and creates its own universe that keeps pulling you in.

The book is a good snapshot of
May 29, 2015 Jane rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-fiction
This is unputdownable once you stick to it. I was a bit dismayed at all the characters that I could not keep straight, but soldiered on. Anthony Burgess considered it the finest novel about Britain's involvement in WWII. What was it like to be a Brit living in Romania, trying to survive and at the same time, negotiating employment with the British civil service? The characters are fully developed, the descriptive passages are lyrical...I will stop trying to explain now.

I am currently reading the
Leslie Roper
Mar 06, 2016 Leslie Roper rated it it was amazing
i read the Balkan Trilolgy several years ago and would read it again in a heartbeat if there were not so many other books i have to get to before i die. In the interest of fairness, I will say my greatesr book buddy hated it and put it down without reading very far. You may remember that British telly made it into a series which aired here in the USA on public television. Obviously it is set in the Balkans just before WWII. The region was one I knew very little about and sense part of the reason ...more
Dec 16, 2014 Casper rated it really liked it
Olivia Manning, a young and aspiring British writer, falls in love at the end of the 1930’s. She’d met the highly energetic socialist R.D. (Reggie) Smith and marries him within weeks. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War Reggie is recalled to his post as British Council lecturer in Bucharest. The newly-married couple decide to travel together to Romania and settle there for a while. The War comes gradually closer, however, and after barely a year in Romania they are forced to flee to ...more
Aug 14, 2012 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, wwii
I rather love the Balkan Trilogy, mainly because of the highly entertaining Prince Yakimov. When he finally makes his exit from the series—his end pounces on the reader unexpectedly and with appropriate absurdity—I was genuinely moved. After reading the novels, I was nervous about seeing the Thompson-Branagh mini-series fearing its dear old Yaki could never live up to Manning’s portrait. Ronald Pickup did a supremely fine job. I now wish this was a book remade again and again on screen.
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Olivia Manning CBE was a British novelist, poet, writer and reviewer. Her fiction and non-fiction, frequently detailing journeys and personal odysseys, were principally set in England, Ireland, Europe and the Middle East. She often wrote from her personal experience, though her books also demonstrate strengths in imaginative writing. Her books are widely admired for her artistic eye and vivid desc ...more
More about Olivia Manning...

Other Books in the Series

Fortunes of War (6 books)
  • The Great Fortune (Balkan Trilogy #1)
  • The Spoilt City
  • Friends and Heroes
  • The Danger Tree
  • The Battle Lost and Won
  • The Sum of Things

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“He had only to arrive to take a step away from her.” 1 likes
“an age of chivalry as outmoded as honour, as obsolete as truth.” 1 likes
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