miércoles, 10 de abril de 2019

The Balkan Trilogy: 2, The Spoilt City

The Balkan Trilogy: 2, The Spoilt City (NYRB Classics, 2010)
by Olivia Manning
England, 1962

Guy and Harriet Pringle are still trying to stick things out in WWII Bucharest for most of the dramatic second act of Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy--to my mind, simultaneously a less showy but a more addictive read than its predecessor in terms of writing and plot--but the inexorability of events in The Spoilt City makes it abundantly clear that that will only be a matter of time: "Stay, and you will see a country die" warns one character with a healthy dose of gallows humor and even more predictive precision (314).  In sketching Romania's fall at the hands of first the amateur homegrown fascists and later the pros from Nazi Germany, Manning is deft at portraying the changing fortunes of major and minor characters alike as well as the futility of the situation more generally--Harriet, musing about the Drucker trial in which a wealthy and formerly well-connected Jew is imprisoned on trumped-up charges as a way for the state to rob him of his assets, here resignedly observes that "no one doubted the innocence of this friendless man, but that factor did not bear discussion.  No one could help him.  He was a victim of the times" (381).  Elsewhere, the significance of being a victim of the times is also brought home to gregarious British expat Yakimov when, on a fact-finding visit to Cluj, he hears from "an important-looking Jew" that a two-year old Romanian passport is now just "a ticket to a concentration camp" and then is told by an old German acquaintance of his that the time for westerners to flee the country is now.  Right now.  But to where?  "Europe is finished for you, of course.  North Africa will go next.  Perhaps to India.  It will be some time before we get there" (426 & 438).  The point, belabored as it may be in my telling of it, is that Manning's novel would seem to have no right to be as entertaining as it is even without the world at war momentum swing midway through The Spoilt City in which we learn that "the blitz on London has begun," "suicides were occurring daily" and German officers in Bucharest were beginning to be hailed by the locals as "these conquerors of the world" all in less than 25 pages of high adrenaline prose (467, 474 & 491).  How Manning arrived at her storytelling achievement, in that light at least, is a bit of a mystery to me.

Olivia Manning

4 comentarios:

  1. I so want to read this trilogy, but my current commitment to A Dance with the Music in Time means I'll have to put it on the back burner - for now at least.

    Great to hear that you found this second instalment even more addictive than the first. That's very encouraging indeed!

  2. You obviously have your hands full at the moment, Jacqui. but at least you'll have something else to look forward to when you're done! The Balkan Trilogy is definitely living up to the hype so far, and it seems to be getting better all the time. No complaints from me!

  3. "Manning's novel would seem to have no right to be as entertaining as it is..."

    Beautifully put, Richard. Manning is able to tread such an unusually fine line between sheer entertainment and spreading atrocity. A push in one direction would have sunk the work into kitsch romantic claptrap, in the other to a blend of humor and horror no less inapt than "Springtime for Hitler." How she pulls it off is indeed a mystery; that she pulls it off seems nothing less than astounding.

    1. Thanks, Scott, and I'm glad to hear you agree about the "mystery" surrounding how Manning pulls off her highwire act. I'll have to pay closer attention in the follow-up volume and then The Levant Trilogy, I guess!