Author(s): Olivia Manning
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.
Olivia Manning (1908-1980) was born in Portsmouth, England, and spent much of her childhood in Northern Ireland. Her father, Oliver, was a penniless British sailor who rose to become a naval commander, and her mother, Olivia, had a prosperous Anglo-Irish background. Manning trained as a painter at the Portsmouth School of Art, then moved to London and turned to writing. She published her first novel under her own name in 1938 (she had published several potboilers in a local paper under the name Jacob Morrow while a teenager). The next year she married R.D. "Reggie" Smith, and the couple moved to Romania, where Smith was employed by the British Council. During World War II, the couple fled before the Nazi advance, first to Greece, then to Egypt, and finally to Jerusalem, where they lived until the end of the war. Manning wrote several novels during the 1950s, but her first real success as a novelist was "The Great Fortune" (1960), the first of six books concerning Guy and Harriet Pringle, whose wartime experiences and troubled marriage echoed that of the diffident Manning and her gregarious husband. In the 1980s these novels were collected in two volumes, "The Balkan Trilogy" and "The Levant Trilogy," known collectively as "Fortunes of War." In addition to her novels, Manning wrote essays and criticism, history, a screenplay, and a book about Burmese and Siamese cats. She was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1976, and died four years later. Anthony Sattin is a journalist, broadcaster, and former resident of Cairo. Among his published works of nonfiction are" The Gates of Africa" and "A Winter on the Nile." His latest book, "Young Lawrence," about the five years T. E. Lawrence spent in the Middle East before World War I, will be published in the United States in 2015.