What first attracted me to this trilogy was the history woven into the story. WW2 in Bucharest and Athens. The trilogy sReview of The Balkan Trilogy:
What first attracted me to this trilogy was the history woven into the story. WW2 in Bucharest and Athens. The trilogy starts in the fall of 1939 and ends in the spring of 1941. You watch the fall of first Romania and then Greece. No, you don't watch, you live it along with a group characters that you come to know intimately. A close group of both friends and foes. The central protagonists are Harriet and Guy Pringle, but they are by no means the only characters. There are many and it takes a while to really get to know each of them. What is important to stress is that it is the story of these people that is the central focus of the book. Their relationships are what the book is about. History is merely the backdrop.
The writing is superb. Consistently, Manning draws places and people and events with a perfect string of words. You are there and see through the eyes of the characters.
What each character says and thinks and does is what they would say and think and do. There is humor. Other times you get annoyed at the choices made. Each character is complex. There are no simple solutions; what is described is real life.
As stated in an earlier review, the six books of the Balkan and Levant Trilogies are based on the author's own experiences. In 1939 she married a British Council lecturer posted in Bucharest, Romania, and subsequently traveled with him to Greece, Egypt and Palestine as WW2 engulfed Europe.
Harriet's view of her husband, of herself and the other characters gives food for thought. I could relate to Harriet very easily. I came to understand her and the compromises she made. Is the author speaking of her own relationship with her husband? Reading this book you cannot help but pose this question.
The book is exciting. Why? Because you come to care for the characters. Because you understand them and don’t want harm to come to them.
I guess you could say I am a bit annoyed. On completing this, the third book of the The Balkan Trilogy, I don't feel the story is complete! Unfortunately, the The Levant Trilogy which follows the Balkan Trilogy, is not available in audio format! I have requested this at Audible emphasizing that the same narrator should be used, i.e. Harriet Walter. I believe that listening to this may actually have improved my appreciation of the story. Through Walter's narration each character gains an even fuller identity. You should meet Prince Yakimov, as Walter intones his dialect. He is a wonderful, crazy character. I dare you to read this book and not fall in love with him. He is a Russian emigre, but not any Russian emigre. He traipses around in a long fur-lined coat which he tells everyone umpteen times his father got as a gift from the czar! What happens to him will bring tears to your eyes. In the beginning you smile at his antics, his storytelling, his drinking, his borrowing and insatiable hunger. By the end you love him.
I highly recommend the Balkan Trilogy - for its history, for its character portrayals and for its vivid depictions of people and places and events. If it were only to record the historical events it could have been much shorter, but in this book the point is to understand people and the choices they make.
One should read the entire trilogy from start to finish in one go.
Maybe this is one of those books that should be listened to rather than read? The narration by Harriet Walter, the acclaimed English stage and screen actress, is topnotch. She does all three of the audiobooks that make up the trilogy. Her impersonations of French, Germans, Russians and Romanians I find superb. Both the men and women are well narrated. You can easily identify ho is speaking.
Except........reading the book in the paper format is probably captivating too. Manning's writing is special! I would even call it exceptional. Stunning depictions of places and people! I must point out, you don't read this book only for the history; you read it for its wonderful character portrayals.
I read a bit about the author. This trilogy has autobiographical content. Manning is in fact telling of her own life experiences! This is from the author's page at GR:
In August 1939 she married R.D. Smith ("Reggie"), a British Council lecturer posted in Bucharest, Romania, and subsequently in Greece, Egypt and Palestine as the Nazis over-ran Eastern Europe. Her experiences formed the basis for her best known work, the six novels making up "The Balkan Trilogy" and "The Levant Trilogy," known collectively as Fortunes of War.
No wonder this feels real. The story is based on real life. What she describes is what she saw, experienced and felt. She does this with talent. The story makes me wonder if the relationship between Harriet and Guy Pringle, the two newlyweds of the story, correctly reflects Olivia's own relationship with her husband Reggie?! There is a lot to think about here. Olivia /Harriet is astute in her observations and understanding of human behavior.
I don’t want to write more now. I have to get back to the story. I'll write a complete review of the trilogy on completion of the third book.
My first Bryson book. I will be reading more by the author. I enjoy the humor. I spot-checked the validity of the historical details thrown in and fouMy first Bryson book. I will be reading more by the author. I enjoy the humor. I spot-checked the validity of the historical details thrown in and found them to be correct. This pleased me. Pseudonyms are used for the characters, except for his agent Jed Mattes. This seems perfectly reasonable.
So what kind of book is this? What is it really about? I think the best way to describe it is as a book of snapshots of a kid's life in the fifties in Mid-America, rather than either a biography of Bryson or a history book. Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in the year 1951. I felt right at home, myself being born in Milwaukee the same year. It felt like going home. I felt this through the author's choice of words, the food we ate, the toys we shared, the movies we saw and the jokes and gadgets and life of a kid then and there. It is an enjoyable read. It’s entertaining! It’s light.
Bryson narrates his own book. I liked his narration. He simply talks, rather quickly in fact, but I never had trouble following. This isn't a performance; he is simply telling his story. He doesn't, through intonation, point out the jokes. Either you catch them or you don't. I liked this too. Zero dramatization is fine by me. A friend told me he found the reading whiny. I didn't perceive it that way at all. I wonder why we differ.
Everybody I ask has a different favorite by the author. So how do I pick the next? ...more
It is set on Southeast Farallon Island, one of a group of islands, thirty miles west of San Francisco. The islands are aThis book failed me totally.
It is set on Southeast Farallon Island, one of a group of islands, thirty miles west of San Francisco. The islands are a National Wildlife Refuge. The only inhabitants are researcher stationed on this one island. The island is closed to the public.
This is a fictional mystery story and nature writing combined. Nature is both a tough battle for survival and filled with beauty and wonder. I saw no beauty in this book only the ceaseless struggle. The central character tells us that she loved the island but all I heard were complaints. I saw no beauty.
Then there is the story of what happens on the island. There are six residents. Accidents and death occur. I do not deny that what happens could not happen, but the character portrayals fail to convince me that what happens would happen. I am trying not to sound terribly critical but let’s just say I am very surprised by the actions taken by the characters. (For those who want specific details, please see the spoiler below.) For me the story itself and the character portrayals don’t mesh. The bottom line is that which happens does not ring true. These characters would not behave as they do.
The book touches on several themes: -the role of a mother / the absence of a mother -the character of a “biologist” -nature -rape -homosexuality -photography None of these themes were properly handled. I felt they were only skimmed.
The audiobook is narrated by Xe Sands. My view of the narration does not affect my rating of the book. The central character is emotionally disturbed. While this could very well affect her voice, the primary job of a good narrator is to let the listeners hear the words written in the book! Much is slurred, quavering and shaky. The only clear voices read were those of the men. The story is dark and the narration is depressing. I agree that the two fit, but I want always to hear the words. I prefer clarity over dramatization.
ETA: Don't read this if you want to read the book! (view spoiler)[The central protagonist gets raped and doesn't know she is pregnant until months have passed. She cannot remember that she killed the rapist. She sees the child as salvation to a new life; this somehow releases her from the bond to her dead mother, but the reader is not shown how or why. She blames her empty relationship with her father on the death of her mother. None of the choices made by the characters seemed feasible to me, except one: a minor character leaves the island, this does make sense!
Every time anybody trips they practically kill themself.
Every other chapter or so are letters written by the central protagonist to her dead mother. Letters that are never sent. Obviously, b/c the mother is dead. She saw them as being therapeutic, but for God's sake she is in her 30s. When will she ever grow up!
These are not the only problems I see with the unfolding of the plot. They are simply a few examples. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more