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A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – October 3, 2005

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A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (New York Review Books Classics) + Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates (New York Review Books Classics) + The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos (New York Review Books Classics)
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (October 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590171659
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171653
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 6.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This is a glorious feast, the account of a walk in 1934 from the Hook of Holland to what was then Constantinople. The 18-year-old Fermor began by sleeping in barns but, after meeting some landowners early on, got occasional introductions to castles. So he experienced life from both sides, and with all the senses, absorbing everything: flora and fauna, art and architecture, geography, clothing, music, foods, religions, languages. Writing the book decades after the fact, in a baroque style that is always rigorous, never flowery, he was able to inject historical depth while still retaining the feeling of boyish enthusiasm and boundless curiosity. This is the first of a still uncompleted trilogy; the second volume, Between the Woods and the Water, takes him through Hungary and Romania; together they capture better than any books I know the remedial, intoxicating joy of travel." — Thomas Swick, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Recovers the innocence and the excitement of youth, when everything was possible and the world seemed luminescent with promise. ...Even more magical...through Hungary, its lost province of Transylvania, and into Romania... sampling the tail end of a languid, urbane and anglophile way of life that would soon be swept away forever.” —Jeremy Lewis, Literary Review

“A book so good you resent finishing it.” —Norman Stone

"The greatest of living travel writers…an amazingly complex and subtle evocation of a place that is no more." — Jan Morris

"In these two volumes of extraordinary lyrical beauty and discursive, staggering erudition, Leigh Fermor recounted his first great excursion… They’re partially about an older author’s encounter with his young self, but they’re mostly an evocation of a lost Mitteleuropa of wild horses and dark forests, of ancient synagogues and vivacious Jewish coffeehouses, of Hussars and Uhlans, and of high-spirited and deeply eccentric patricians with vast libraries (such as the Transylvanian count who was a famous entomologist specializing in Far Eastern moths and who spoke perfect English, though with a heavy Scottish accent, thanks to his Highland nanny). These books amply display Leigh Fermor’s keen eye and preternatural ear for languages, but what sets them apart, besides the utterly engaging persona of their narrator, is his historical imagination and intricate sense of historical linkage…Few writers are as alive to the persistence of the past (he’s ever alert to the historical forces that account for the shifts in custom, language, architecture, and costume that he discerns), and I’ve read none who are so sensitive to the layers of invasion that define the part of Europe he depicts here. The unusual vantage point of these books lends them great poignancy, for we and the author know what the youthful Leigh Fermor cannot: that the war will tear the scenery and shatter the buildings he evokes; that German and Soviet occupation will uproot the beguiling world of those Tolstoyan nobles; and that in fact very few people who became his friends on this marvelous and sunny journey will survive the coming catastrophe." — Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic

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.

Jan Morris was born in 1926, is Anglo-Welsh, and lives in Wales. She has written some forty books, including the Pax Britannica trilogy about the British Empire; studies of Wales, Spain, Venice, Oxford, Manhattan, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Trieste; six volumes of collected travel essays; two memoirs; two capricious biographies; and a couple of novels—but she defines her entire oeuvre as “disguised autobiography.” She is an honorary D.Litt. of the University of Wales and a Commander of the British Empire. Her memoir Conundrum is available as a New York Review Book Classic.

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Customer Reviews

We meet two selves speaking through one voice.
Stephen N. Greenleaf
Anyone who has interest in Western history or culture, who admires the accomplishments of European art and letters should deeply enjoy this book.
S. Jenkins
Patrick Leigh Fermor set out to walk across Europe, from Rotterdam to Constantinople -- in 1933!
Darrell Delamaide

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

138 of 140 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on August 22, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an extreme rarity. It is one that I cannot imagine ANYONE NOT enjoying. Strapping young precocious Fermor, bounced out of school and knocking about London with some chums awaiting, in Fermor's case, with many misgivings, the military rigours of Sandyhurst, decides to chuck it all and go gadding about Europe during the interwar years toward Constantinople at the age of eighteen (He turns nineteen about halfway through.). The result, culled from memories and diaries that survived, and penned decades later, is a bouncing picaresque jaunt through the heartland of Europe, all seen (save for the occasional aside) through the coruscating eyes of youth, is one I simply can't imagine anyone wanting to miss, especially given that this is a world now lost to us almost completely. Interlarded herein are disquisitions on literature, architecture, and history, history, history (a witches' brew of real and apocryphal). Add to this delightfully unguided rather than misguided quest a cast of characters ranging from the homeless seeking shelter to the aristocrat in his schloss whom the author chances upon the way and you have a simply irresistible and sui-generis narrative. You have this book which, regardless of how many grey hairs age has snowed upon your head, will make you feel young and in love with the world again.----5 lofty, swirling stars.
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79 of 83 people found the following review helpful By The Reader from California on June 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
You are certainly off the beaten path if you are reading this review. But trust me, you're in a good spot. It was an unintended and yet happy serendipity that I bought Fermor's "A Time of Gifts" at a used book shop at the far end of Crete, in Paleohora. It wasn't until later that I appreciated the coincidence. I thought my prep school education and university BA in ancient history and German grounded me pretty well in things European. After reading Fermor, I realize I "don't know jack". This is a great book. The writing is fine, the content superb. It is wonderful for all the adventures and carefree wanderings. Yet this story is poignant: not only for the glimpses of what is to come in WWII, but also because Fermor passes through a world that is gone forever. His journey would be impossible today. Read it and keep it. Happily, I came across the second book, "Between the Woods and the Water" in another used bookstore, the Green Apple in San Francisco.
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56 of 61 people found the following review helpful By William Apt on January 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
A TIME OF GIFTS is Fermor's lively autobiographical account of his walking tour of 1930s Europe as a charming, precocious and astonishingly brilliant teenage dropout. It encompasses not only the rake's progress, but acute observations of persons and places of that now vanished time, and remarkably erudite discourses on art, architecture, literature, history, anthropology, ethnography, linguistics, geography, and theories of cultural influence, as well. A TIME OF GIFTS is as enthralling as it is difficult. If the reader is willing to cross-check Fermor's frequent unexplained references and allusions; to consult a good dictionary with disheartening regularity; to become accustomed to Fermor's complex English prose style that, at times, is akin to learning a new language; and to not become frustrated with his dizzying flights of descriptive fancy that leave the reader grasping at his coattails, one will thoroughly enjoy this book. In other words, A TIME OF GIFTS is not for lightweights: it is great art, and great art demands one's full attention. And if one gives it one's full attention, one will emerge on the other side giddy with accomplishment . . . that same elated feeling one might recall from college having completed challenging courses taught by demanding but rewarding professors, done well, and expanded one's intellectual horizons beyond imagining.

While A TIME OF GIFTS is about many things, a central theme remains constant: the kindness of strangers. That and that we are children inhabiting an earthly paradise called life who stand to reap the richest gifts from the most unlikely sources by merely playing nicely with others.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By "maya_ar" on December 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Patrick Leigh Fermor possesses the bard's gift, transporting his reader into the time and place he tells of. This wonderful book, which should be read along with "Between the Woods and the Water", recreates his travels across 1930s Europe in spell-binding fashion. He is at once wonderfully erudite and refreshingly spare of phrase.
Another reviewer requested details of his exploits in war-time Crete. Readers may perhaps want to watch "Ill-met by Moonlight", starring Dirk Bogarde, which is a dramatization of Fermor's adventures, along with Billy Moss, in the kidnapping of General Kreipe, the commander-in-chief of the German forces in Crete.
Other not-to-be-missed books by Fermor: The Travellers Tree, Vanishing Greece, and Between the Woods and the Water. Patrick Fermor is currently a Companion of Literature, an honour conferred by the Royal Society of Literature on a select company of up to 10 writers at a time. Other current Companions include V.S.Naipaul, Seamus Heaney, and Harold Pinter. Past holders of the title include such luminaries as Samuel Beckett, Anthony Burgess, Winston Churchill, E. M. Forster, Graham Greene, Aldous Huxley, W. Somerset Maugham, and Stephen Spender.
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