Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Balkan Trilogy - Book 2 - The spoilt City

Twenty pages into book II we are being re-introduced, in a rather basic way, to characters already well known from book I - making me doubt I would finish it. But there is a way of looking at this: see (or pretend) Manning is filming these characters and situations from a slightly different position. The cinematographer forgot to mark the ground for the next days shoot......anyway, what you might lose in excellence of writing, you gain in historical sweep (and many interesting facts you didn't know.)

The author may have intended each book to stand alone. Have to finish to see if this is true! Although only 30 pages into the Spoilt City, I can't see that they are to be judged as separate books: the historical facts, scene setting and character building, over nearly 300 pages of The Great Fortune, don't look as if they are going to be repeated, just brief re-capitulations, which actually seem poor technique: it is mystifying why the author should feel the necessity to add a few sentances here and there such as:

That evening Guy Pringle, lecturer in English at the University......

Prince Yakimov, an Englishman of Russian origin.......

in the first 2-3 pages, when we all know perfectly well who is who, who did what, and what they believed and thought about things and each other from vol I. More to the point, if you were reading book II first [they first published separately,1960,1962,1965], you would not understand much without what went on in Book I: if the beginning of book II is anything to go by. Even though I have only just started book II, you can see it might have been written such that you could read them in any order, but you had to read them all. This doesn't seem likely because the protagonists shift countries several times as the war intensifies.

Serependipitously, I came across this extract of a 1937 speech by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the leader of the Iron Guard, called A few remarks on democracy

It is only after reading this, and some of other bits from the home site European History at the University of Pittburgh you realise how well she describes what was happening. Manning, of course, is writing her own story.

N.B. This course uses film associated with each country dealt with. Wajda [Kanal (1956) with excerpt from the Introduction by Boleslaw Sulik to Andrzej Wajda: 3 Films (pp. 15-18)] for Poland, etc, which makes it quite interesting as a reminder of what great films there out there if only they would put them on TV. I can't remember whether it was Wajda's or Kieslowski's that dealt with a romance between a train guard and a girl at one of his stations. Loved that. Check the name later.

In TBT Bucharest sits there - the ex-pats and recently incoming western journalists in the clubs and cafes swapping gossip - wondering whether the Germans or the Russian will invade, and what it will mean. Various political positions are taken up and debated as the map in the window of the German Legation - which everyone repeatedly visits because there is a little real news - shows the Blitzkrieg, and the eventual fall of Paris, in ever extending red lines.

The Fascist leader is not mentioned directly in the book so far, but the Iron Guard play a prominent part in the background politics. So it is interesting to see this speech, which you could almost add bits to the book from.

I keep on thinking of The Roads to Freedom when I am reading this. Sartre's book is far superior, of course, making The Balkan Trilogy seem like an airport novel by comparison. It is an easy read, unlike Roads but it is not a trivial work. The nearest comparision might be Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy: no one can beat Waugh's war writing, Second World War category, in my opinion. Those you could read in any order.

Which reminds me; I ought, as a duty, finish off Capt. Corelli, which despite being a best-seller, I have come to a halt with, half way through, because I saw the film first, and will not skip on. I saw The Fortunes of War, the BBCTV adaptation of TBT, too, but it was so very cut-down, I recognise now reading it, so no pleasure lost.


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