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Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece Hardcover – February 3, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many recent travel memoirs have focused on the personal minutiae of a journey, but Atlantic Monthly correspondent Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts) is a breed apart. Similar to classic writers like Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller, Kaplan relates only a scant amount of detail about himself and why he's traveling. Particulars about quirky characters and minor annoyances are rare. Instead, he uses graceful prose to describe the history of the ground on which he walks and his absorption with events that happened centuries before he bought his first plane ticket. A visit to Carthage isn't merely a cozy ride through a pleasant landscape; as his train surges forward, he summons up the first foreign invasion from the Phoenician city-state of Tyre. With his lyrical writing style, Kaplan makes factual summations into slowly unraveling, luxurious tales. "The founding of Carthage is clothed in sumptuous myth," he writes. Sometimes, however, this approach interferes with coherence. The richness of the prose and the depth to which Kaplan delves into the past can make his actual travel experiences somewhat jarring. (When he collects a $40 check for freelance work from the Christian Science Monitor, it's as if Hannibal had suddenly strolled into the American Express office.) But generally, the discord between Kaplan's everyday reality and his intellectual wanderings makes for a sweet mix. And because he dips so liberally into history and goes into such detail about ancient peoples, it doesn't matter that Kaplan's visits to the Mediterranean actually took place in the 1970s. His love for antiquity, much like his writing, is timeless.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Kaplan was an unknown freelance writer 28 years ago when, fresh from college, he embarked on the journey this volume chronicles. The author has since worked his way to the summit of the travel-writing business through such works as Eastward to Tartary (2000). The newness of the travel experience, and discovering ways to best digest it, is, therefore, a theme in Kaplan's recollection of this formative trip, which runs parallel to his description of people and places. Unerring avenues into a locale's historical and contemporary personality are works by other travelers. Thus allusions to titles ranging from antiquity (Sallust's Jugurthine War) to the present are interwoven with Kaplan's itinerary, which culminates in meeting, in a remote part of Greece, with British travel author Patrick Leigh Fermor. Kaplan observes that "real adventure is not about risk but the acquisition of knowledge." That comment may well stand as the precept of this mellow, evocative tour of the Mediterranean in the off-season. Sure to delight Kaplan's many fans. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037550804X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375508042
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,331,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By USAF Veteran VINE VOICE on July 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is travel writing the way it was meant to be - Informative, concise and illuminating.

Kaplan relives his journeys from many years ago as he first travelled through the Mediterranean struggling with being a free-lance writer. Most of the book is recollections from more than 20 years ago although there are comments from recent trips back to some of the locations and a wonderful recent interview with Patrick Leigh Fermor, author of A Time of Gifts, and other well-known travel books.

The down-side of reporting on these decades-old journeys is that some of the spontaneity and opinion is lost. I find that sometimes I learn more from disagreeing with a travel writers' hasty opinion than in boring, well-edited neutral reporting. However, in this case, I think that the elapsed time has given this account nuances and a filtered content that add to the writing. It's as if the ensuing decades have concentrated the meaning and subtleties of the journey.

The part on Tunisia was replete with history of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Berbers, and Carthaginians. Sicily was filled with the Greek influences on this place. Dalmatia, in previous Yugoslavia, and Greece were well-represented.

I confess I particularly enjoyed the recent encouter with Patrick Leigh Fermor who in his 80's is working on the last book of the trilogy about his travels in the 30's on foot from Holland to Constantinople. If you haven't read his first two, you need to.

Kaplan also includes a list of books that he considers essential to understanding these regions. It is excellent and is a good start to understanding these areas in depth.

Overall, excellent and gripping - which is hard in travel writing.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By TheCardinal on June 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have become quite accustomed to reading insightful and throught provoking works by Robert Kaplan, but this one caught me by surprise. This work is an amazing achievement. Technically the book chronicles Kaplan's first venture into the Meditteranean, but it does much more than that. We see the Mediterranean through the eyes of a young man on eager to discover the world. What we also get however is the insight of a man who made this region his base for many years. The prose of journalist who has honed his craft for over twenty years. The reflections of a scholar who seems to have absorbed everything ever written in the english language about the places he visited.
We learn a great deal in this book. As is always the case with Kaplan we get an historical understanding for why a certain people are the way they are. It is astounding how much is commented upon and discussed in this slender volume. Kaplan has packed every page with his observations and reflections and while they are complex and replete with references to other works he somehow manages to keep his prose light and fluid. It is difficult to explain, but if you buy the book you will know what I am talking about.
Read this if you love the Mediterranean. Read it if you are fascinated by history or if you really enjoy profound lyrical prose.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Michael Bellomo on April 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
One of Kaplan's most recent works is an excellent read, suitable for a lazy Sunday morning when one is noshing on a bagel and daydreaming about traveling the southern 'fringe' of Europe.

The prose is captivating and lyrical, particularly in Tunisia and Dalmatia. It is also a fascinating look at the development of the man as he makes his leap from 'travel writer' to 'current events' writer and journo.

One point in the book stands out in my mind. This is Kaplan's encounter with a West-hating North African, who nonetheless comes to develop a wary friendship with the author. Over time, Kaplan's aquiaintance grows out of his radicalism and acquires a middle-class lifestyle, with a job and a mortgage. (Which development followed the other is left up to the reader to decide.)

I only caution that those who approach Kaplan's work from his hard-hitting current events books might be slightly let down with this effort. One can certainly see the beginnings of the memes and keen insights that Kaplan sprinkles liberally throughout his other work. However, this is a book about history and the 'deeper' pleasure of travel, not a meditation on the state of things to come.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By zorba on April 30, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a delightful piece of travel writing by one of the genre's masters as he wanders through some of the most history-rich real estate in the world. Covering both sides of the Mediterranean --in winter, no less -- Kaplan weaves into his narrative the historical heritage and significance of each place he visits. At each stop he shares his personal impressions, as well. One of the most endearing qualities of this book is the tribute he pays to other travel writers who covered the same ground over the years, ranging from the Homeric era to modern day. For me, the book ended perfectly, as Kaplan concludes his trip at the Greece home of Patrick Leigh Fermor, the legendary travel writer and war hero, whose books chronicling his walk across Europe as the storm clouds of WWII were gathering, remain travel writing classics. Kaplan has paid his dues as a journalist, with his years of visiting mostly third world countries, staying in ratty hotel rooms, surviving on boiled eggs, and spending endless and boring hours on buses to nowhere. This has given him rare insights into our world and its people -- insights he generously shares with us. It's like taking a trip with a master traveler. A masterpiece.
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