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The Cretan Runner (Penguin World War II Collection) Paperback – 6 Aug 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; UNKNOWN edition (6 Aug. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141043342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141043340
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 11,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

George Psychoundakis was born in Crete in 1920. After a brief period of schooling he lived as a shepherd until the beginning of the German occupation in 1941, when he joined the Cretan resistance as a runner. He was later awarded the BEM.


Customer Reviews

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It seems slightly amazing that a Cretan shepherd with only the most rudimentary schooling could write such a book - but he did, and the result is terrific. The intrepid war-hero and traveller, Paddy Leigh Fermor undertook to translate and provide an introduction and helpful footnotes to this world-famous book but George Psychoundakis' prose is breathtaking in its passion and simplicity. When he refers to the German invasion of Crete and the atrocities which followed, he wrote: `No. Crete had to resist and she resisted with all her might. And these strangers, strutting now in the guise of brave swashbucklers should have been begging forgiveness for all the evil they had done to Crete.' The way in which the andartes - resistance fighters - and their British allies did resist is set out in this tremendous book.

Psychoundakis became a runner - sometimes wearing boots, others times in bits of old tyres, tied to his feet with string - across the most rugged, inhospitable landscape to carry messages for the British secret agents who came to the island during those troubled times. He was awarded the BEM by the British in 1945; he was thrown into jail by his own countrymen for months as a deserter because his relevant Greek military documents could not be found. When they were, he nevertheless had to perform two more years' service with the Greek army. He had a terribly hard life but in his later years he translated Homer into the Cretan dialect. He was Godfather to many Cretans and was trotted out at every opportunity to be shown off. When I met him in Tavronitis, western Crete, aged seventy-five in 1996 and he signed my copy of his book, he did look a little fed up - perhaps he'd been displayed once too often! A great man and a great book.
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This is a fascinating book - I had already read the Anthony Beevor book about the Battle for Crete and had visited Crete on a number of occasions, and this book is a must.

George was a shepherd boy who had virtually educated himself and had not even travelled as far as the Cretan capital before the war, when he became a runner for the SOE and Cretan resistance.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (whose own life is the stuff of legends, and who has been heaped with honours both in UK and in Greece), kept in touch with George and translated this book as closely as possible in George's own words- LF himself is no mean writer but wisely added little of his own except some explanatory footnotes. George later translated Homer into the Cretan dialect but went back to his village after the war. He died a few years ago and his obituary was written by Artemis Cooper, Anthony Beevor's wife.

A remarkable man , and a remarkable account, which is a very important document.
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This book was written by a Cretan peasant who acted as a courier for the insurgent or resistant forces on that island during the Second World War. One of his British officers, trying to organize and use the irregular or guerrilla bands on the island during that period, was Patrick Leigh Fermor, who wrote the long and very elucidating Introduction to this work. Leigh Fermor was also the famous character in Ill Met By Moonlight, dealing with his own experiences at the time (e.g. kidnapping the German commanding general on the island). The book was filmed in the 1950's under the same name and can be recommended as a fair view of some of what happened in Crete at the time.

As the Introduction explains, Crete is 160 miles long and betwen 20 and 40 miles wide. That would seem to make it an unsuitable place for irregular warfare, but the topography of the island leads to a different view. The mountains which covr much of Crete are often over 7,000 feet high and in places over 8,000 feet. This and the fact that, at the time, the only trans-island road was the North coast East-West route, meant that Crete was in fact ideal guerrilla territory, all the more so in a day when helicopters, drones, satellites and high-altitude spy planes etc were unknown.

Crete had been occupied by Allied forces early in the war, but fell to German parachute forces under General Student. The Allied forces then were either killed, captured or escaped to Egypt. Thus the irregular formations. The war in Crete betwen the Cretan irregulars and their German opponents was harsh in the extreme, with little quarter given on either side. That is the backdrop to this book.
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... has to be a friend of mine. And what a friend he was! This man travelled the length and breadth of Crete carrying messages for PLF and the resistance groups that he and others had been supporting. He risked his own safety and that of his family as the Germans in Crete did not hesitate to shoot entire populations of villages where they found that partisan activity had taken place, and this included sheltering and feeding those such as George. This is not a man who says 'wasn't I wonderful?', he barely mentions the great distances and challenging terrain he had to cross, but the book is an adventure from the start to its end. Some of his experiences seem almost too far fetched but having read extensively I was delighted to see that they were confirmed in other reading. The British awarded the George the George Medal and it was richly deserved. This is a book to be savoured, either with a very good map of Crete beside you or Google Earth on your computer screen. Only then can you really understand what George achieved. George's lack of experience as a writer does show through at times but this is entirely forgiveable and I'm so glad that he was able to write it despite at that time enduring a period of intense misery and sadness after the war. It's a truly amazing tale of great bravery and fortitude. For anyone interested in the history of Crete in WW2 it is essential reading.
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