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A Time to Keep Silence (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – October 30, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Delightful…His book is not only an admirable piece of travel writing; it is also a brilliant piece of human exploration." — The New Statesman

"Prose lapidary and evocative enough to please even the hardiest skeptic." — The Washington Post

"His shortest book (and to my mind his best)…its hammered terseness is…a good match for the sobriety of the subject." — Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

"Fermor writes logbooks of discovery, keenly meandering through architecture, music, art, history and the minutiae of everyday life…[His] erudition and courage are matched by his discerning compassion, which shapes the probing character sketches that populate his books, including A Time to Keep Silence." — Los Angeles Times

"A most successful attempt to portray the reactions of the man of the world (in the literal sense) when confronted with the monastic life." — Daily Telegraph (UK)

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.

Karen Armstrong, a historian of religion, spent seven years in a Roman Catholic religious order; she has written about this experience in Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. She is also the author of many books, including A History of God, The Great Transformation, and, most recently, The Bible: A Biography.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (October 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172442
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172445
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #127,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"A Time To Keep Silence" is travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor's beautifully written account of visits to a number of European monasteries (Benedictine and Cistercian) and later to the ruins of an even older Turkish desert community in his efforts to understand the continuing appeal of the monastic way of life. An outsider, Fermor frankly acknowledges his contemporary bias, making it clear he's a man of the world whose direct intention is not to seek a believer's purification of soul. Instead, he wants to discover why an initially unattractive way of life, one that must strike a big-city dweller like himself as filled with deprivation and sadness, has continued through the centuries to exert its appeal upon men, men of a sort he discovers through his own experience to be not only psychologically balanced, but largely happy.

The telling insight Fermor receives from his initial stay at St. Wandrille's, one reconfirmed after visits through the years to other Benedictine abbeys, is that hidden within abbey walls is something truly magical, "the slow and cumulative spell of healing quietness." Whereas the abbey had struck him first as a place about as exciting as a "graveyard," it becomes one where he discovers, after a painful adjustment, that he can dispense with interfering trivalities and begin to look at life steadily and whole. Not surprisingly, when he returns to the outside world, he has to adjust once again, the world now seeming after his monastic stay "an inferno of noise and vulgarity entirely populated by bounders and sluts and crooks."

Fermor's insights in this book are equally matched by his extraordinary descriptive powers. Like any true poet, he is enough a lover of the world's body to give it a memorable description.
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Format: Paperback
The other night, needing a calm book after an agitating day, I re-read this short but typically-- granted this author's ability to convey much depth in a few pages-- account of the famed travel writer's visits to monasteries. His simple account focuses on a long stay at St Wandrille's in Belgium, a bit of Solesmes, more at La Grande Trappe in France, and the journey later among the ruins of Cappadocian foundations in Turkey.

Fermor knows his limitations in retreating to such places in search of solitude to work on his own manuscripts. He tries to take on the mystery of the call to silence even as he tries to put it into words, to account for its appeal to a few and its strangeness to many of us. The results may not please all readers, for Fermor submits to the difference he encounters, and so by his lay status must remain too at the margins of what the monks take decades to live within. Writing well before Vatican II, Fermor conjures up an astonishingly austere regimen that he glimpses among the Trappists at their motherhouse; the Belgian Benedictines, by contrast, earn much more time for study and scholarship.

I wondered, in the decades since, how many monks remain at such European houses. Fermor provides us with efficiently told summaries of the past depredations and recoveries of such venerable communities, and one closes Fermor's depictions of life as it was lived there a half a century ago with a realization of how close it was to observances centuries older. Again, such a description leaves me to ponder how much as been altered and how much remains the same given the enormous shifts in Catholic practice and the decline in vocations since then.
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Another great book by a great travel writer. This is a very quick read, but absolutely stuffed with erudition. For all but the most educated, it wouldn't hurt to read this with Wikipedia as a companion piece. As with his other travel books, the mix of architecture, history, linguistics, and an obvious personal touch lend an air of familiarity which, in the end, help give the impression that you have experienced these things yourself.

I once read a review which stated this book concluded that the vow of silence and other retreats from secular life were not effective or warranted in some circumstances. In my opinion, this conclusion was not reached by the author. The opposite appears to be true - Fermor's return to secular life seemed to be more traumatic than his adjustment period during his first visit. His understanding is remarkable and serves as a good lesson to the casual reader - his hosts honestly believe they are suffering in order to atone for the sins of the world, and they ask for nothing in return.
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Format: Paperback
I am a Benedictine, and I just finished reading A TIME FOR SILENCE by Patrick Leigh Fermer. I am distressed by the fact that he seems to think that Benedict's Rule is strict and severe. "Au contraire!" Of course he was writing before Vatican II, which might account for that impression. I realize some of our practices might seem difficult. Take silence for instance. Our world is so filled with noise and distraction that silence can be a very hard discipline for one who is not accustomed to the richness of it. I guess I would like to tell Mr. Fermer that Benedictine life isn't about asceticism for its own sake. Aspects of our life that may seem ascetical are really about clearing away anything that might distract us from the spiritual journey - a journey that's not just for monastics but for everyone! Other than that, the book is an interesting read as a travelogue. I was especially interested in the bit about the abandoned rock monasteries of Cappadocia. I knew nothing about them.
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