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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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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 100 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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on 10 December 2015
Some parts were very entertaining, others lurched in to so much name dropping as to be positively annoying. Its better to read PLF's own travel writing.
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on 4 May 2017
Having lived in Crete, this book immediately takes you to the island and its people. An excellent read
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on 3 April 2017
Excellent book
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on 19 May 2014
I have all PLF books , but this completes the set . Written beautifully by Artemis Cooper for
one of the heroes of my beloved island , CRETE .....
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on 14 February 2015
Just what us P.L.F. addicts want, loads of background detail, amazing journeys and a rounding out of this amazing, very human writer. Readable and re-readable . More please.
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on 6 March 2017
nice writing
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on 19 February 2013
If you are a fan of Paddy Leigh Fermor this book might just show another side, a more human and fallible side. Handled very sensitively Artemis Cooper illustrates how this adventurer, war-hero, literary colossus and hugely well loved and charming friend of many of those who crossed his path, sailed through life, his cup half full, absolutely penniless and with not an academic credential to his name. It really is a lesson in both the enjoyment and appreciation of life and the skill to turn a tricky situation into a positive. Crucially it also shows that life is probably a matter of luck, or fate, and the fates of his blessed early 20th century Hungarian and Romanian aristocratic friends were not touched by that luck. Among all this sumptuous high living there suddenly comes the reminder that mere humans can not engineer their lives. I will be rereading this book time and again for I am sure it can be read on many levels.
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on 28 December 2012
I've long been an admirer of Paddy Leigh Fermor and I eagerly awaited publication of this book.

I was not disappointed; I would not wished to have read a sanitised nor a hagiographic account of his life and Artemis Cooper has researched far and wide in this `warts & all' biography. It certainly opened my eyes; that PLF was an adventurer, a war hero, linguist and a brilliant writer - that, I already knew. I was not aware that for much of his life, he smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish and sponged and bonked his way around the world. And whilst it's invidious to wonder what might or might not have happened ... if World War Two had not intervened, would PLF have achieved his enormous standing that really commenced with the abduction of General Kreipe, in Crete? Well, probably not and it's also quite possible that his travel books might never have been published. So it's thanks to an otherwise obscure German general that the man who might well have been relegated to the status of a literary pre-war cad became a national treasure, decorated and honoured by his Sovereign.

And it's thanks, too, to Artemis Cooper for such a terrifically well-written book; one of the finest biographies I've read in a long time.
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