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A Time to Keep Silence (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

Patrick Leigh Fermor , Karen Armstrong
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Oct 2007 New York Review Books Classics
While still a teenager, Patrick Leigh Fermor made his way across Europe, as recounted in his classic memoirs, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. During World War II, he fought with local partisans against the Nazi occupiers of Crete. But in A Time to Keep Silence, Leigh Fermor writes about a more inward journey, describing his several sojourns in some of Europe’s oldest and most venerable monasteries. He stays at the Abbey of St. Wandrille, a great repository of art and learning; at Solesmes, famous for its revival of Gregorian chant; and at the deeply ascetic Trappist monastery of La Grande Trappe, where monks take a vow of silence. Finally, he visits the rock monasteries of Cappadocia, hewn from the stony spires of a moonlike landscape, where he seeks some trace of the life of the earliest Christian anchorites.

More than a history or travel journal, however, this beautiful short book is a meditation on the meaning of silence and solitude for modern life. Leigh Fermor writes, “In the seclusion of a cell—an existence whose quietness is only varied by the silent meals, the solemnity of ritual, and long solitary walks in the woods—the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear, and much that is hidden away and all that clouds it floats to the surface and can be skimmed away; and after a time one reaches a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world.”

Product details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: New York Review of Books (2 Oct 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172442
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172445
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 12.9 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,240,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The English language is still a superb instrument in the hands of a writer who has a virtuoso skill with words, a robust aesthetic passion, an indomitable curiosity and a rapturous historical imagination (Observer)

The genius of Patrick Leigh Fermor is a many splendoured thing. Soldier, traveller, writer, Phihellene ... he has already dazzled and delighted ... It is some time since more truth and beauty were distilled into a hundred pages (Stewart Perowne)

A brilliant book (Sunday Times)

Delightful ... His book is not only an admirable piece of travel writing; it is also a brilliant piece of human exploration (New Statesman)

Introspection, history, reportage have their balanced places in a well-written book ... measured and lucent (Sunday Times)

Patrick Leigh Fermor is a stylish, superb master of words, which he savours like the choicest vintage (The Times)

What a delight it is to read a book so beautifully and sensitively written (Observer)

A most successful attempt to portray the reactions of the man of the world (in the literal sense) when confronted with the monastic life (Daily Telegraph)

Delightful, lucidly written work of introspection that evokes the hardship and the rewards of the solitary life, as well as its beauty (The Glasgow Herald)

John Murray is doing the decent thing and reissuing all of Leigh Fermor's main books ... But what else would you expect from a publisher whose commitment to geography is such that for more than two centuries it has widened our understanding of the world? (Geographical Magazine)

A pleasure and an instruction to read (Irish Times)

Bringing the landscape alive as no other writer can, he uses his profound and eclectic understanding of cultures and peoples ... to paint vivid pictures - nobody has illuminated the geography of Europe better (Geographical Magazine) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

A wonderful insight into the calm and contemplative world of the monastery from a premier travel writer. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In search of silence 27 Feb 2011
By Sabina
This slim book is rich with Patrick Leigh Fermor's erudite prose. Our world is even noisier than in the fifties, when the author, a non-believer with an observant and open mind, stayed at the monasteries he writes about, places of prayer, work, discipline and silence. He describes his initial culture shock at the Abbey of St. Wandrille de Fonatelle, the disrupted sleep patterns and claustrophobic mood of dereliction and flatness, which gradually transforms to nights of deep sleep followed by waking to energy and freshness. Reading about these experiences gives one insight into the transformative effect of silence. The author observes the lives of the monks and gives us their historical context. He writes about the rigours of the Cistercian Order and the milder regime of the Benedictines. For his hosts, the Abbey was a "springboard into eternity," and for him "a retiring place to write a book and spring more effectively back into the maelstrom," and surprisingly (or not) the place proves favourable to "ambitions so glaringly opposed."

I was sorry that the several incidental French expressions do not have an English translation, but I did find the writing distinctive, sometimes elaborate, insightful and generally rewarding.
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170 of 176 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Little Dry, with Touches of Brilliance 5 Oct 2004
By jacr100 VINE VOICE
Leigh Fermor's narrative style can at times seem too introspective, or perhaps a little scholarly, for modern sensibilities: he describes as if through a magnifying lens, and with great erudition, making no compromises to the reader. Yet indulging him this means of expression - which if published today might seem pretentious - makes us privilege to some extremely expert writing. Leigh Fermor's prose is the sort that cannot be broken down: it is concise and evocative, free-flowing, a rare blend of terseness and poetry. He is a writer adept at creating textures of light and shade, seasonality, sounds and odours; there are times when his imagery is almost cinematic, but never obviously so.
In A Time to Keep Silence, one of his lesser-known works, he takes leave of Paris in the mid-1950s to stay in two monasteries, the Benedictine Abbey of St Wandrille de Fontanelle, near Rouen, and Le Grande Trappe, a Trappist abbey close to Alençon. Ostensibly he visits them in order to utilise their tranquility to further his writing projects, but inevitably his sojourn in the close presence of the monks makes detachedness near impossible, and he becomes increasingly fascinated by the personalities of those who have taken the 'Triple Unction of the Soul'. Despite an initial period of difficulty in adjusting to the isolation and rigour of monastic life, he begins to appreciate that a monk's existence is often far more joyful than people assume, and that rather than being exiles from the world because of past scandals, Benedictines are genuinely vocational and stem from all walks of life. In the final section he traces the history of European monasticism back to its roots with a visit to the rock monasteries at Cappadocia in Turkey, for me the best section of the book.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and thought provoking 10 Dec 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I came across this book mentioned in Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing and was intrigued by what she said about it. The author spent some time in different monasteries in an effort to find peace and to write a book - not this one - that came later. What I enjoyed about the book was the author's marvellous grasp of the English language. The book is lyrical and evocative and fascinating to anyone who is interested in alternative ways of life.

I found the book interesting for its insights into different ways of monastic life from the very strict Trappist orders of Cistercian monks at Le Grand Trappe near Alencon to the rather more relaxed orders of Benedictines with whom he stayed for many months at St Wandrille de Fontanelle near Rouen.

The author was surprised at how happy all the monks were and the sense of peace, calm and joy they all exude. Monasteries are places of spiritual healing and quiet and the author found peace and quiet. No one questioned his own beliefs and they accepted him as he was.

The mystery of the rock monasteries in Cappadocia which are described in the last section of the book was intriguing as well and it is likely that no one will ever discover who they were built by or for what purpose. This is a book which is well worth reading for the use of language alone and I shall be reading it again at some point for that reason.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very special little offering 11 Mar 2012
By Susila
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A very special little offering:
Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time to Keep Silence

Coming to this book from Fermor's insightful travel accounts of his youthful wanderings in pre-WWII Europe and later Greece in particular, I was deeply impressed by this - admittedly unpretentious - collection of reflections of brief experiences of the contemplative life: at the Benedictine Abbey of St Wandrille de Fontanelle, then Solesmes en route to the rigours of La Grande Trappe - which he describes as the fountainhead of the (Trappist) Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, and finally, a much looser visit to the famed but now-abandoned rock monasteries of Cappadocia .

On all these occasions Fermor was an outsider, a short-term visitor - often taking up temporary residence for the peace and quiet of a setting that would allow him to work on his latest book project. And yet, as always, his intelligent curiosity and warm understanding of humanity do not desert him. These brief accounts, largely based on letters written at the time, probably offer better insight into the contemplative life than many a ponderous, more scholarly work. He has succeeded in his intention - which was not to write a learned treatise, but to share his impressions and personal reflections.

My only regret is that the book is so short - a booklet, really - and that Fermor did not, before his death in 2011, manage to re-work this into a larger volume.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Peace and repose
As always, I was entranced by PLF's prose. This is a book to return to again and again particularly when feeling in need of peace and repose. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Valerie David
5.0 out of 5 stars Another of PLF's lovely books.
He is a writer that is sorely missed.

His prose was poetic - his historical, architectural, literary knowledge was vast and all of it was often wrapped in an absorbing... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Trish. NIBLOCK
4.0 out of 5 stars A laymans view of monatiscism
A very thought provoking book on a subject that is not common knowledge. The three separate sections were well linked together to make a whole.
Published 8 months ago by C G Wood
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely delightful
I was first introduced to Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor when, at Christmas, a friend gave me copies of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water - the story of his journey... Read more
Published 14 months ago by T. D. Dawson
Published 15 months ago by KATE PURDY
5.0 out of 5 stars This book
Patrick Leigh Fermor never disappoints. His poetic prose is a delight and his observations always spot on. He is honest and humerous too. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Collette
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile Insight to Lives and Places Mostly Ignored
Leigh- Fermor travels to Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries in France and reflects on their history, the nature of the contemplaative lives lived there and what all of this... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Peter D
5.0 out of 5 stars A life in silence
I was writing a travel book in Pogoni, a beautiful, depopulated, mountainous region (45 villages, some of them with 10-15 inhabitants, or only five-six or even just one) in... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Mihalis Makropoulos
5.0 out of 5 stars Fermor - Erudite and Masterly Prose as Usual
With everything positive in life, there is good, better and best. Patrick Leigh Fermor's books all definitely belong to the final category. Read more
Published 19 months ago by J. Nichols
5.0 out of 5 stars Great sense of presnce in monastic silence
Great sense of presence and beauty within the monastic tradition. By comparing the french experience it gives an indication of the terrible loss this country has suffered since... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Philip C. Hills
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