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A Time to Keep Silence Hardcover – 1 Mar 1989
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|Hardcover, 1 Mar 1989||
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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 out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A wonderful insight into the calm and contemplative world of the monastery from a premier travel writer.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
I first read this book in 1958, shortly after it was published, and vowed to re-read it sometime. In other words I was impressed by Fermor’s account of his sojourn in sundry monasteries in France and Anatolia. The longest and most interesting visit - to the haven of St Wandrille de Fontanelle - left me with an urge to follow in Fermor’s footsteps. I didn’t of course, being too caught up in the things of this world - jobs, love affairs and finding accommodation taking precedence over taking a glimpse of the contemplative life. I have recently re-read the book and while still impressed by the strange world of silence and religious contemplation, I find myself less than enthusiastic about having any part in it. It’s not just because I’ve now read Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Steve Jones, not to mention Marx and Freud, but I’ve become something of a sceptical empiricist. None of this is a reflection on a community of those who believe in the efficacy of prayer and contemplation.
What Fermor seeks is an escape from the strains and stresses of life, ‘a state of peace that is unthought of in the modern world.’ He reminds the reader that for monks ‘life is shorter than the flutter of an eyelid in comparison to eternity.’ And that ‘they have foresworn the pleasures and rewards of a world whose values they consider meaningless.’ Work, prayer and silence replace pleasure-seeking. For some reason I am pleased that a diminishing tranche of humanity still considers this to be not only a worthwhile pursuit but the only one.
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.
In part I did find some insight on these fronts as the monks expressed real joy and happiness, and a sense of finding God.
What was irritating was the use of French without any translation - a bit of unnecessary arrogance on the part of the writer who assumed we all speak French. Oftentimes there were sentences which had no meaning to me whatsoever, such as on page 70:
"It seems tragic that a lifetime of ascesis effects no permanent mental extirpation equivalent to the physical extremes of Abelard and Origen and of the Skapetz of the Danube Delta."
This sentence is over complicated and does not explain who these characters (Abelard etc) are. This is simple and plain showing off and it's unhelpful to the reader. There are many such instances in this book and I got a sense that the writer was a little pompous.
I am not sure he ever understood that God was the source of the monks' life and he failed to fully explore this aspect. To this extent the book was shallow and focused on the surface and cosmetic side of the life.
An interesting book from a bit of a show-off.
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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