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Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – June 6, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


"…Mani and Roumeli remain extraordinarily engaging books. This is partly thanks to Leigh Fermor’s ability to turn an insight into a telling phrase…and partly thanks to his capacity to weave a compelling story out of sometimes unpromising material. One of the best tales of all is the hilarious digression in Roumeli on the attempted recovery of a pair of Byron’s slippers from a man in Missolonghi, on behalf of Byron’s very odd great-granddaughter Lady Wentworth…When you see through all the nonsense about Hellenic continuity, there is, underneath, a much more nuanced account of the ambivalences of modern Greece, its people and its myths (its own myths about itself and us, as much as our myths about it)." — Mary Beard, The London Review of Books

"Recommended to those who admire exotic people, unbookish intelligence and captivating style." — Gilbert Highet

"Here it all is once again: brilliance, the felicitous profusion, the exuberance of learning and information. . . .Roumeli is not a beginning and middle and end book, but a series of pictures loosely related, mainly placed in Roumeli, in the north of Greece. Its unity, however, is not geographic so much as psychological. It deals with secluded ways and people—communities but not minglers—people who either by the necessities of their crafts or the strength of their traditions have kept to their own stream, side by side but not deeply affected by the changes around them….Placed as we are at probably the most sudden turn in history, any writing that deals with what has so short a time of survival ahead adds, as it were, a museum interest to its own intrinsic qualities. These pictures of Greece are things that a coming generation will look for in vain among the realities of their day." — Freya Stark, The New York Times

“Patrick Leigh Fermor has written great travel books besides Roumeli and Mani, but I like to think that his extraordinary style is especially well suited to the subject of Greece, that the beautiful cragginess and almost blinding brilliance of his prose correspond particularly to that country’s rugged, dazzled landscapes. Here Fermor establishes an ideal of travel writing: no one responds to a people and a place with more erudition and sensitivity.” —Benjamin Kunkel

“[Leigh Fermor] becomes fascinated by the last true nomads of the region, the Sarakatsáns.  His description of their wanderings is, for me, the best sort of literary geography lesson, and has even more geopolitical relevance now than when he wrote it.” - Robin Hanbury-Tenison, Geographical

Praise for Patrick Leigh Fermor:

"One of the greatest travel writers of all time”–The Sunday Times

“A unique mixture of hero, historian, traveler and writer; the last and the greatest of a generation whose like we won't see again.”–Geographical

“The finest traveling companion we could ever have . . . His head is stocked with enough cultural lore and poetic fancy to make every league an adventure.” –Evening Standard

If all Europe were laid waste tomorrow, one might do worse than attempt to recreate it, or at least to preserve some sense of historical splendor and variety, by immersing oneself in the travel books of Patrick Leigh Fermor.”—Ben Downing, The Paris Review

About the Author

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was an intrepid traveler, a heroic soldier, and a writer with a unique prose style. After his stormy schooldays, followed by the walk across Europe to Constantinople that begins in A Time of Gifts (1977) and continues through Between the Woods and the Water (1986), he lived and traveled in the Balkans and the Greek Archipelago. His books Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966) attest to his deep interest in languages and remote places. In the Second World War he joined the Irish Guards, became a liaison officer in Albania, and fought in Greece and Crete. He was awarded the DSO and OBE. He lived partly in Greece—in the house he designed with his wife, Joan, in an olive grove in the Mani—and partly in Worcestershire. He was knighted in 2004 for his services to literature and to British–Greek relations.

Patricia Storace is the author of Heredity, a book of poems, Dinner with Persephone, a travel memoir about Greece, and Sugar Cane, a children’s book. She lives in New York.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; New York Review Books Classics edition (June 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159017187X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171875
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #545,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By zorba on November 20, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first encountered Fermor in his riveting accounts of his walk across Europe as World War II began descending. I was fascinated by his encyclopedic and poetic narrative. He made you feel you were walking alongside him. Now, his travels take us to Roumeli, the old name for northern Greece and Macedonia. Again, Fermor takes us on a poetic and detailed odyssey through villages and rugged Greek countryside, meeting interesting people and telling their tales. He has an uncanny ear (and eye) for the temperament and culture of the Greeks and one can sense his affection for the people he helped defend while a British commando on Crete during WWII. This is a travelogue of the old sort: careful attention to detail, wanderings off the well-trod tourist paths, and vivid description of the sounds, smells and history of this fabled land.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Panayoti Kelaidis on December 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
I only discovered Fermor a year ago, and began with Roumeli, which I think is his masterpiece. The book title is somewhat misleading, since the book forays into Crete (the fabulous center section, I wish he had expanded into a book of its own), and ranges all across the Greek world through history as well as geography, although Northern Greece, and some of her strangest corners, are well served. The prose is gorgeous, in a sort of Edwardian fashion, and very erudite. Fermor is obviously a polymath, and his understanding of Greece (and apparently the Greek language) extraordinary. This is a book I treasure: I've bought multiple copies to share with relatives and friends. If you are the least bit interested in modern Greece, and smart enough to do a crossword puzzle, I suspect this could become one of your favorite books as well. Just buy the damn thing!
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Alekos on February 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
All of Patrick Leigh Fermor's books are of an unusual beauty, but this is without doubt the most beautiful of all. But the author is not for just anyone. I have a friend who bought Roumeli and got only ten pages into it before deciding she didn't like it. But there are reasons for that. She has a journalism background and she lives in New York. Appreciating Leigh Fermor involves taking the time to savor elevated language and imagery emanating from several sometimes unfamiliar realms of meaning. Sorry, folks, but the dumbing down process stops here.
In the first chapter we have a description of the author's travels in Trace and in particular the area around Alexandroupolis, which, interestingly, is named for the Russian Czar Alexander II and not for Alexander the Great. The focus here is the people he calls The Black Departers, or the Sarakatsans, a mysterious and little-studies nomadic group who some say are descendants of the original Greeks who came into the peninsula.
Then there is a delightful chapter centered on the monasteries of Meteora and the holy but realistic Father Christopher, the abbot of St. Barlaam, who has a few tales to tell about the foreign occupiers and their mindless cruelty and how the monks outsmarted them on a few occasions.
Chapter three deals with the famous difference between Hellenes and Greeks (or Romios) that has been used as an analytic model by many serious writers who take an interest in modern Greece, including Robert D. Kaplan in his Balkan Ghosts. This is the division or polarity existing within every Greek you meet on the streets and it shows the distinct pulls of the Eastern and Western orientations that still abide in the Greek collective consciousness and which give, sometimes, the impression of a split personality.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Edward Yarborough on June 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
Everything in this book is good, but my favorite part is the last chapter, a brilliant prose poem in which the author knits together dozens of Greek place-names and makes them sound like music, resonating with all sorts of subtle historical and literary associations. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in Greece.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By JAK on May 31, 2012
Format: Paperback
I'd previously read A TIME OF GIFTS and BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER and I'll admit , I found them the more interesting books.Partly that's because I'm more interested in Eastern and Central Europe than Greece.But they also strike me as tighter, more controlled books.Parts of ROUMELI are fascinating.Yet , the fascinating parts do tend to alternate with extended ,dullish ,passages.Fermor had a great eye and does a brilliant job of evoking a rural Greece that must have been disappearing even as he was observing it, in , I think the 1950's.Of particular interest are his descriptions of the Sarakastans, a group who if they still exist in any sense ,must be utterly transformed , and the Vlachs.Also I found the apparent persistence of the cult of Lord Byron in Greece surprising, funny and endearing.I suspect the modern Greece that emerged is a much duller place. Yet, nostalgia seems inappropriate.You need only read Fermor's descriptions of Sarakastan life to realize two things : 1) Sarakastan life was beautiful and romantic 2) it must also have been --awful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jefroc on April 17, 2014
Format: Paperback
A book written in the mid sixties but seemingly largely based on his travels, often with his wife (not that you would be too aware if this from reading the book) in the fifties. A book that features certain aspects of Greece north of the Gulf of Corinth and particularly the Sarakastans the nomadic shepherds whose culture and lifestyle were rare at the time of writing and now almost certainly simply memories of some still living; the monasteries of Meteora; the last days of Byron in Missolonghi and the peripatetic begging expertise of those from the villages of the Krakora found just north of the western end of the gulf.

It is a book that reminds me often of Hancock’s line “if that is what he meant why didn’t he say so” as Fermoy’s scholastic references and often arcane and obscure vocabulary can if, one succumbed, send you to the dictionary and laptop every other line. That said, very refreshingly, he does not patronise the reader and once the mood and flow of his writing becomes familiar so does the book become more valued and valuable. Not a casual read but an immensely worthwhile recording of memories of a disappearing, if not lost, world.
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