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Levant Trilogy, The

The Danger Tree, The Battle Lost and Won, The Sum of Things, The Balkan Trilogy

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mary Lavin Biography to Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

a trilogy of novels by Olivia Manning consisting of The Danger Tree (1977), The Battle Lost and Won (1978), and The Sum of Things (1980). It is the second trilogy of a six-volume sequence entitled ‘The Fortunes of War’, the first being The Balkan Trilogy.

The Danger Tree opens with the arrival in Cairo in 1942 of Simon Boulderstone, a young lieutenant in the British Army. After reporting for duty, he fulfils a commission from his brother, Hugo, to visit the latter's girlfriend, Edwina Little, an attractive young English woman of somewhat dubious reputation, at her house in Garden City, in the suburbs of Cairo. There, amongst a group of Edwina's friends and admirers, he encounters Harriet Pringle who is waiting to hear news of her husband, Guy, still in Alexandria. After a visit to the pyramids, the group go to the house of Desmond Hooper, a British Embassy official. Whilst they are there, his wife returns from a painting expedition with the body of the couple's young son, who has been killed by a grenade. Shaken by the scene, Simon and Harriet fall into conversation and Harriet recalls her last meeting with Hugo Boulderstone, whom she is convinced has been killed, although she says nothing to Simon of this. Harriet eventually persuades Guy to join her only to find that he has little time to spare from his teaching duties and complicated social life to care for his ailing and unhappy wife. The scenes describing the Pringles' difficult marriage alternate with those detailing the desert campaign and the Battle of El Alamein.

The Battle Lost and Won opens with Simon on leave in Cairo following the news of his brother's death in battle; calling to see Edwina, he meets Harriet again and is comforted by her. As in the earlier novel, scenes describing the desert war (in particular, a powerfully imagined night attack) alternate with those focusing on the Pringles' unhappy marriage and on the hedonistic and decadent social life of Cairo. Harriet falls ill, but after agreeing under pressure from Guy to return to England, she suddenly changes her mind and decides to accept a lift to Damascus.

The Sum of Things opens as Simon, seriously wounded in an explosion which killed his driver, is recovering in hospital. Guy Pringle has learned that the ship on which Harriet sailed for England has been torpedoed and that she is not amongst the survivors; Harriet, meanwhile, arrives in Damascus and attempts unsuccessfully to find a job, convinced that her marriage is over. After learning that Guy believes her dead, she decides to return to Cairo to confront him with the truth and to salvage her relationship with him. The couple are reunited at Edwina's wedding, where Simon, now recovered from his wounds, celebrates Harriet's return from the dead and his own release from his unhappy love for Edwina.

As with The Balkan Trilogy, the work mingles elements of contemporary history (including a detailed knowledge of the practices of modern warfare), colourful descriptions of exotic locations, satirical vignettes of life amongst the multinational expatriate community, and a—somewhat unconventional—love story.

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