A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube Paperback – 15 Mar 2004
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Nothing short of a masterpiece (Jan Morris)
[Fermor's] gloriously ornate account of that epic journey is a classic of what we might call the 'literature of the leg' (Robert Macfarlane, Waitrose Weekend)
A treasure chest of descriptive writing (Spectator)
Not only is the journey one of physical adventure but of cultural awakening. Architecture, art, genealogy, quirks of history and language are all devoured - and here passed on - with a gusto uniquely his (Colin Thubron, Sunday Telegraph)
Every page of this book is distinguished by an image, a metaphor, a flash of humour always original and sometimes as incisive as a laser beam. (Vincent Cronin)
A tremendous journey ... and he's fabulous company (Manchester Evening News)
This is a traveller's tale at its infectious and informative best; vividly remembered and beautifully written (Church Times)
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)
Rightly considered to be among the most beautiful travel books in the language (Independent)
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)
The great travel classic, first published in 1977 and recounting an epic journey of nearly 50 years before, reissued in paperback with an Introduction by Jan MorrisSee all Product description
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The gap between erudite and arcane becomes very narrow, though there are some homely touches, as when the writer describes columns as 'grooved like celery stalks'. His 'douceur de vivre' he says, 'pervades the whole of life' , but the reader feels excluded from the opulence of his genius too often. The sheer tedium of some of the architectural feature-spotting, pages and pages of it at times, may well wear you down, but the putteed ruggedness of this Byzantium-bound Odysseus wins the day. With Hitler beginning to emerge from the feculent bog of fascism, the placid rationality of this charming young genius holds you fast to his footsteps wherever he goes.
This is not an easy read, especially in the absence of maps, but there's a sincere, authentic and rawly naïve voice here, striding ever onward. The descriptions of his walks over the surreal, Breughel-like winter landscapes are compelling. Hang in there, however laborious it seems, for there's always a deep slumber in the hay barn waiting for you at the close of day.
It's an exceptional book. Published years after the event, in 1977, it still perfectly captures the wonder of his extraordinary journey and the many fascinating people he met on the way. What elevates this magical book are Patrick Leigh Fermor's gifts as a writer and the resultant delightful prose; his enthusiasm for knowledge and learning which peppers every page; and his personal charm which makes him as welcome in aristocratic homes as hostels or the homes of farm workers or labourers.
Patrick Leigh Fermor also provides an alternative cultural history of central Europe. His gifts for languages and history result in musings about Yiddish syntax, Byzantine plainsong, and most memorably the whereabouts of the coast of Bohemia as mentioned by Shakespeare (turns out it existed for 13 years but also turns out Shakespeare probably couldn't have cared less), and much much more.
So, in summary, a beautifully written travel book, that also serves as a history book, and in the company of the most charming and enthusiastic teenager it's possible to imagine. A remarkable book by a remarkable man. I look forward to the next volume, Between The Woods And The Water, though plan to read the recent biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper first. All in all this feels like the start of another beautiful relationship.
He was utterly free to go where he pleased apart from being at pre-arranged destinations to pick up monthly cheques written out for four pounds. He had no bed and board booked; he lived on his wits. Providence being what it is, he met many generous people who put him up and fed him. Some of the accommodation was that of peasants whilst others were manor houses and castles of the landed gentry.
What absolutely makes this book is its superb, mellifluous and intelligent writing. The author’s intelligence shines through every page. This is so much more than a journal, a day-by-day account of his journey. The landscapes that the author passes through; the people that he meets; and the architecture of the towns and cities he walks to, stimulate in him wide ranging thoughts and perceptions. Too you will learn much of European history by reading this book.
Given that this was an inter-war journey it is represents an absolutely priceless snapshot of Europe between the wars. The ascent of the Nazis in Germany is evident. Bar a few notable exceptions, the German people that Leigh Fermor encounters are lovely. There is much pathos, in particular, when he talks of the Jewish people that he met in Germany and Austria, because of what horrors lay in wait just a few short years away.
I can’t recommend this book enough and I can’t wait to read about the second half of his walk to Constantinople.