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Falling for Icarus: A Journey Among the Cretans (Tauris Parke Paperbacks) Paperback – 31 Oct 2011
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On a windy spring morning in an ancient Cretan village, Rory MacLean fell to earth. His mother had died a few months earlier and a single obsession had risen from his grief: the notion to build a feather-light flying machine. And so, on the island where Daedalus and Icarus had made mankind's maiden flight, MacLean journeyed back to beginnings, back into the Greek myths, and - with the help of his Cretan neighbours and plenty of wine - built a plane and tried to fly. "Falling for Icarus" is at once a meditation on love, a celebration of the passion for flight and an hilarious, vivid portrait of a village. Its generous and exhilarating characters - Yioryio, the irrepressible cafe owner, dreamy, dying Aphrodite and divine Apostoli, would-be pilot and Greek god in a golden flying suit - restore MacLean's faith in life. Through them, he tells a soaring, moving story about how a dream can transform sadness.
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'Spiros, you have been a good man,' said God. 'What can I give you?'
Spiros thought for a moment then said, 'My neighbour's goat produces five litres of milk every day.'
'Then I will give you a goat that produces seven litres of milk,' offered God.
'Forget that,' said Spiros, 'I want you to kill his goat.'"
When I stumbled over this quote somewhere on the internet, I thought, “I’ve just got to read this book!” It could loosely be described as a travel memoir and was first published in 2004. In it, the author tells of the period when he was struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother. He and his wife Katrin take themselves off to a remote Cretan village, there to build a plane for one short if heroic flight. The villagers accept this demented idea as perfectly normal - indeed, a welcome diversion - and throw themselves into helping with the project.
Two stand-out characters (amongst many) include Yióryio, a man who has never been known to refuse a drink. Yióryio is the first to befriend MacLean in the village and the one who tells him the Spiros story. And Ariadne, an aviation engineer who has turned her back on the island’s superstitious religiosity but is not beyond being moved by the Easter rituals of death and rebirth: “All my life I fought for a new world; now I cry for yesterday.”
Recommended reading, especially if you’re flying off to Crete!
Several years ago, confused after the death his mother, the author took himself off to Crete and there - in the land if Icarus and Daedalus - set about fulfilling a life's dream; to construct and fly his own airplane.
This is something of a beguiling story. MacLean mixes the eccentric story of the airplane - a task simply accepted as quite natural by the locals - with insights into the history of Crete, accounts of the myths of the island and some loving portraits of the locals of the village in which he stayed and of the others that helped him along the way.
For those who love travel literature there is lots to admire about this book. While it isn't in the same studious and authoritative league as Leigh Fermor there is much here to admire, all written in an easy and entertaining style. This has more substance than, say, a Bill Bryson book.
MacLean makes you really feel for the characters that inhabit his little bit of Crete not least because he mixes humour with sadness and heartache with great effect.
This could be the next Captain Correlli's Mandolin - though please, please do not let that put you off. Just make sure you read it early and enjoy spreading the word!
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