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on 12 September 2013
This is a diligent but sometimes flat portrayal of a great artist and greater character, with much on how and where he lived but long stretches without enough on why. Its the opposite of a hatchet job - I loved him just as much at the end as I did before reading the book. Part of the problem with the book is that Cooper is such a howling name dropper, with dozens of names she wouldn't/couldn't omit for whatever reasons when working with all that material. PLF was a name dropper too of course but he transcended all of that by his unbelievable curiosity and his personal courage. There is far too much about Buffy and Binky and Bipsy & agreeable weekends of charades in palaces, and far too little about his inner imaginative life. I did wonder if the core relationship with Joan and their decision (was it a decision?) not to have a family was important - were there a pile of regrets that held him back from writing more?

The fact that he was a bit of a rotter is not a problem at all - of course he was. That he could at times be very insensitive to his surroundings is intriguing and I think the author could have dug away at that more. But when its good its a wonderful book - she tells the same stories as PLF but unpicks the way the stories evolved. Whats actually quite thrilling is how much the stories were indeed true and the book closes on that lovely note. I had previously had a suspicion he might be a bit like David Niven who was obviously much loved and wanted to entertain everyone, but was it seems incapable of telling the truth, or a tale the same way twice. PLF's own books tried to pick that point up by having a dialogue between his young and adult selves but I must confess I was a bit worried the written record would prove to be a series of over-embroidered fantasies. Not a bit of it; though some embroidering went on the reality was often far stranger.

His knowledge and the way he acquired it was magnificently haphazard. He was a brave & funny man, a loyal friend, an adornment to Greece and England, and a thrilling unique writer who had led me into so many enchanting areas of literature. He was adored and quite right too.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 3 February 2015
Patrick Leigh Fermor, or Paddy, as he was widely known, has been well-served in this interesting and engaging account of his long and full life by Artemis Cooper. Born in 1915 into a middle-class, somewhat dysfunctional family (his ill-matched parents lived apart for most of their marriage and later divorced), Leigh Fermor's education was disrupted by him being asked to leave more than one school, and the success he later made of his life was achieved by self-education, self-promotion, an intense interest in history, architecture and literature, a particularly good memory and an abundance of energy and charm. After leaving school without the necessary qualifications for university, and then falling into the company of a group of hedonistic acquaintances who frequented the Gargoyle Club, Leigh Fermor decided his life lacked direction, and at the age of eighteen, he made a decision which changed his life. Leaving England shortly before Christmas 1933, Leigh Fermor boarded a ferry for Holland, with just a rucksack, a few books and some letters of introduction, with the intention 'to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople' on his allowance of one pound a week. And this, he accomplished, although he didn't spend his nights 'sleeping in barns and hayricks, eating bread and cheese and living like a wandering scholar' as might be expected, because his very useful letters of introduction (coupled with his natural ebullience and his genuine interest in the people he met) opened a whole new world for him, and on his travels through Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, Leigh Fermor was entertained as a welcome guest in a series of very comfortable country homes.

Whilst staying at the British Embassy in Athens in 1936, Leigh Fermor met the beautiful Princess Balasha, who belonged to one of the great dynasties of eastern Europe, and with whom he fell in love and went to stay at her family home in Romania. Although Leigh Fermor returned to England with Balasha in 1937, they were soon off to Greece and by 1938 were back in Romania. When the Second World War broke out, Leigh Fermor made his way back to England hoping to enlist in the Irish Guards, but with his knowledge of foreign languages, was taken into the Intelligence Corps instead and was later inducted into the SOE, where he was sent into occupied Crete and where he worked with the Cretan resistance in the legendary capture of a German general. Towards the end of the war, Leigh Fermor met his future wife Joan, an interesting woman and a stabilising influence, who coped ably with his ebullience, his bouts of depression, his absences and his sexual infidelities. After the war, amongst other pursuits and enterprises, Leigh Fermor began writing books about his travels, most notably:A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople - From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube and Between the Woods and the Water written in his unique lyrical prose style, which won him many fans.

This is a very good biography, and although Artemis Cooper's affection for her subject (whom she has known since her childhood) is apparent, this is no hagiography and the author is fair in her handling of her material. She tells the reader about the 'inaccuracies' in some of Leigh Fermor's stories and how some events were embellished or enhanced by him in order to add to the story's allure; she also tells us that although Leigh Fermor was comfortable with both princes and peasants and was liked and admired by many including:Diana Cooper, Ann Fleming, Deborah Devonshire and Lawrence Durrell, he was not an entirely admirable person and not everyone was bowled over by him, finding his ebullience and over-confidence rather overwhelming; in fact Somerset Maugham, offended by Leigh Fermor's insensitive remarks about stammering, referred to him as: 'that middle-class gigolo for upper-class women'. In addition, when one learns of how Leigh Fermor smoked between eighty and a hundred cigarettes a day for decades and drank heavily - his hangover cure was a pint of beer with a double measure of spirits poured into it - one marvels at how he managed to reach the grand old age of ninety-six. In summary, although I would have liked Artemis Cooper to have perhaps delved even deeper into the person beneath the affable exterior, I found this biography a candid, entertaining and very readable account of a man who lived with an intensity and great appreciation for life, and with a deep fascination for those he met during that extraordinary life - which may well have been the recipe for his longevity.

4.5 Stars.
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VINE VOICEon 31 January 2016
I’ve reviewed virtually all of his books and, although I had minor reservations about ‘Marni’ and ‘Roumeli’, thoroughly enjoyed them, including both ‘The Travellers Tree’ (…voodoo and the Caribbean…) and 'The Violins of Saint Jacques', the only fiction he wrote (…brilliant…) and apparently adapted as an opera…

Artemis Cooper has taken on a Herculean task, painting a brilliant word picture starting with PLF’s difficult relationship with his parents (it was apparently like living with a boisterous puppy) and his problems at school. The outcome was his decision to walk, in 1933 and at the age of 18, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (he uses the old name of Istanbul) living on a budget of £1 a week.

For the duration of ‘A Time of Gifts’ and ‘Between the Woods and the Water’ Artemis is effectively at his shoulder, clarifying points of detail about the people he meets and the places he visits. It’s made more fascinating by the fact that the scourge of Nazi Germany is descending inexorably across Europe and the Jewish population of those countries. The place names and the borders between countries are those of the 1930s and can be slightly confusing; I was also surprised at the number of people with double-barrelled surnames.

‘Between the Woods and the Water’ ends with the enigmatic comment ‘To Be Concluded‘, at the point where the Danube forms the boundary between Romania and Yugoslavia. The material for ‘The Broken Road’, the final part of the journey comes from many sources including a manuscript discovered in 2008 and written sometime between 1963 and 1964. In 1965 he visited Romania and again met with Princess Balasha Cantacuzene. Although they hadn’t met since he left for the war in 1939, she had kept his diary of the final part of his walk; for some reason, it was never fully collated with the subsequent manuscript.

Artemis tells how, in the early 1970s, PLF returned to what he described as ‘The Great Trudge’, trying several times to complete the manuscript but, on his death in 2011 and based partly on that incomplete manuscript of the final part of the narrative plus her earlier discussions with the now-elderly PLF, she took up the challenge of writing the concluding story of his walk. I found it virtually impossible to distinguish between her style of writing and that of PLF himself.

‘The Broken Road’ (he never actually entered Constantinople) also gives a lot of background to ‘Marni’ and ‘Roumeli’ plus details – Artemis is very circumspect – of PLF’s subsequent sojourn in monastic retreats in both Greece and elsewhere. She also brings to life the story of his wartime SOE life with the Cretan resistance and, along with Billy Moss, his successful abduction of the German General Kreipe (made into the film ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’ starring Dirk Bogart). Dressed in German uniforms, and with the General stuffed in the back of his own staff car, they bluffed their way through a number of checkpoints: it was fortunately dark since Billy was wearing puttees – something no one in the German army had worn since World War I…

Although there were many women in his life PLF married just the once, to Joan Rayner in 1968; they spent much of the following years at the house they built just outside Kardamyli on the Marni Peninsula.

It’s an absorbing story and an invaluable backdrop to Paddy’s books filling in a lot of detail about a unique and fascinating individual accurately described by a BBC journalist as a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Green.
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on 3 February 2017
I enjoyed reading about a writer who I knew very little about although, a long time ago, I had loved his books. How did he actually manage to do all the travels & have the adventures he wrote about so vividly? Now , one knows a little bit more about this interesting character.
The book is well written, easy to read & one learns a great deal about this adventurer , his enormous charm, his courage, his selfishness & his generosity. I feel I want to go back & read some of his books again, some of which I still have, tucked away in the corner of the " I will want to read that again ,one day " section.
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on 28 July 2013
Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper

Artemis Cooper has written an impressive, scholarly and hugely enjoyable biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor ("Paddy"), who died in 2011 aged 96, a biography that paints a portrait of a remarkable man, traveller, war hero, writer of wonderful prose, linguist and raconteur, a man whose friends wished that he could be marketed in pill form as an antidepressant. A misfit at school, the 19 year old Paddy decided to walk across Europe from Holland to Istanbul in 1933. He joined the army at the outbreak of World War II and served in Crete, where he masterminded the abduction of a German general, later dramatised in the film Ill Met by Moonlight. As a classicist I rejoice in the fact that a shared knowledge of a Horace Ode created a bond between the general and his abductor.

After the war Paddy travelled and began to write about his experiences. His first book was "The Travel Tree" about the Caribbean. Because of his perfectionism, and to the despair of his publisher, Jock Murray, every book took ages to write. Eventually the first two volumes of the account of his walk across Europe "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water", were published to great acclaim.

After a largely nomadic life, Paddy built a house in Greece where he settled with his soulmate Joan, whom he eventually married, and who sadly predeceased him. Joan and Paddy had an open relationship. Paddy was a serial womaniser - there is a hilarious letter to Joan in which he describes the incursion of pubic lice in terms of troop movements. In spite of her obvious admiration, Artemis Cooper does not shy away from mentioning his vices - his prodigious drinking and smoking habits, his status as a champion sponger (who, however, repaid his hosts with his hugely charming and entertaining presence), and above all his almost permanent writer's block or rather state of procrastination, which meant that the much awaited third volume of his youthful trek across Europe was never published. Artemis Cooper is now editing the material which is to be published shortly under the title "The Broken Road".
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on 8 February 2016
An extremely good and highly readable biography of this remarkable man. He flourished in the period in which he lived, and his approach and talents were perfect for the time. Not the kind of free-booting and intellectual life that would flourish in the same way today. There was something of the boyhood hero about Paddy Fermor which my younger self would have loved to emulate. Thanks to Artemis Cooper for a splendid piece of work.
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on 27 July 2013
For any one who has read the books written by Paddy Fermor this biography closes the gaps in his life. By all accounts he was a happy, interesting and extrovert person, and yet I l think there was something missing in his life. Perhaps it was because he never settled down until he went to live with his wife in Greece. Perhaps, as he grew older he missed having his own family. I thought his last years were quite sad. Nevertheless he packed an enormous amount of living into his 90+ years. Not everyone is as blessed as he was. Writer, historian, war hero, linguist, and exceptional friend. I would have loved to have known him.
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on 17 February 2014
Artemis Cooper clearly admired Patrick (Mihalis) Leigh Fermor; however, in this honest and forthright biography, she is - as the cover blurb warns us - 'totally candid' about his behaviour.

As a former classicist and lifelong philhellene who is resident in Greece, I had previously only read Paddy Fermor's two specifically Greek travel books: 'Roumeli' and 'Mani', both of which I enjoyed but found occasionally pedantic in their excessive erudition. Cooper gives us the biographical background to the circumstances of the writing of these and all his other books; what emerges is a man who disliked/feared his father and worshipped his mother but who, nevertheless, determines to strike out for independence, at the age of nineteen, by walking across Europe and, on the way, ingratiates himself into the homes of some Of Europe's most aristocratic families. It reads well as a ripping adventure, inspiring me to tackle his pre-war European walk trio, the final part of which, 'The Broken Road', is also jointly written by Artemis Cooper.

'An Adventure' is definitely worth a read, especially for anyone wishing to learn more about Paddy / Mihalis (as he was always known here in Hellas), the man.
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on 12 June 2016
A well written book that follows the life of a most amazing individual. Having read the three travel books that PLF wrote of his walk across Europe and accounts of his work on Crete this filled in all the blanks, warts and all.
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on 27 September 2015
I am looking forward to reading this book, the life a of traveller and travel writer, whose epic journey at the age of 18 from England to Istanbul was recorded in his sumptuous prose in "A Time of Gifts" and the sequential books in which he described a world on the brink of change - central Europe of the feudal land-owner and the peasant economy was lost in 1939, never to return.
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