“Fortunes of War”

Based upon the autobiographical novels of Olivia Manning, this BBC production tells the story of Guy Pringle (Kenneth Branagh), his wife Harriet (Emma Thompson), and their involvement in the dangerous politics of Romania and the Balkans during World War II. Like so many British shows of this kind, “Fortunes of War” features crisp acting, amusing characters with some depth, and a fast-paced plot that seems pitched toward a mature audience. Particularly fetching is the character of Prince Yaki.


A Dove of the East

In my last Diversions column, I mentioned Mark Helprin’s classic novel A Soldier of the Great War. This early collection of his short stories, which I finished last week, has also enchanted me. Helprin has a command of the language, of character and plot, even of geography. His stories are set in places as varied as Rome, Paris, South Bronx, Boston, and Maine. I find it spellbinding. Here in his story “Legitimacy of Medium Beauty,” Helprin gives us a brief sketch of a woman living in San Francisco: “She was Mary from Atlanta, who thought in wide circles about porches and the past and small towns in summer — facts and memories of detail which transfixed her at the wheel of her open car and made her arms shake and her back cold, although these things were not remarkable, and neither was her life.”

Les jeunes

The older I get, the more I am both fascinated and amused by teenagers. Having raised three of my own (with one more approaching adolescence), and having spent the last 12 years teaching and tutoring teens, I find myself struck by their passion, by their extravagant combination of foolishness and wisdom, by their dreams so freighted both with apprehension and courage. The students I currently instruct are home educated. They are usually polite to me, sensitive toward the weak, and occasionally blunt toward one another. Now that I seem to have reached the status of a senior (I was recently offered, without any inquiry on my part, my first official cup of coffee at senior prices at a local restaurant), I expect to find our young people even more diverting. If you have a grandchild, a niece, nephew or godchild who is a teen, sit sometimes and observe him or her. Listen to them. You probably won’t learn anything practical unless it has to do with computers or iPods, but perhaps the young may help teach the old, as Yeats put it, “that I may seem, though I die old, a foolish, passionate man.”

— By Jeff Minick

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