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 and then 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 Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1976, and died four years later.
Olivia Manning’s great subject is the lives of ordinary people caught up in history. In both School for Love and The Balkan Trilogy, she offers a rich and psychologically nuanced story of life on the precipice.
A multi-stranded and engrossing novel of civilian life during World War II. “One of those combinations of soap opera and literature that are so rare you’d think it would meet the conditions of two kinds of audiences: those after what the trade calls ‘a good read,’ and those who want something more.” —Howard Moss, The New York Review of Books
A sadly sweet, yet peculiarly uplifting story about displaced people attempting to repair their broken lives at the end of the Second World War. At the center of the book is Felix, an orphan, who arrives at the Jerusalem home of his horrible holy-rolling aunt and is forced to grow up fast.