- Series: New York Review Books Classics
- Paperback: 344 pages
- Publisher: NYRB Classics; First Edition Thus edition (October 3, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781590171653
- ISBN-13: 978-1590171653
- ASIN: 1590171659
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 221 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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"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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And that is what these three amazing books are about. Fermor is an unusually keen observer, and his vivaciousness and immensely likeable personality combine with his brilliant observational power to create this compelling personal odyssey. The first volume carries Fermor from the Hook of Holland through fascist Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia; the second takes him through Hungary and Transylvania; and the third winds through Rumania and Bulgaria and ends up with him being deposited in Greece, where the hair-raising wartime adventures he later became famous for were to occur. He sleeps rough in the country sometimes, sometimes in the fantastic castles of middle Europe, sometimes in barns with bucolic peasants. But everywhere he is observing, and writing everything down compulsively in battered notebooks.
The detailed notebooks from this amazing journey became the wellspring of the three beloved classics, but how this voyage became the three books is a great story in itself. His first notebook was stolen and lost forever in Munich in the first volume, a minor disaster. But then a major disaster happened in the third volume: his rucksack was stolen in Rustchuk, a Bulgarian town on the Danube, and ten months of notes were lost. Miraculously, however, the rucksack and the notes were recovered and they were ultimately put away for safe-keeping during the war at Harrod’s where they were later destroyed, unclaimed. And that was the end of the notebooks. Then life intervened: World War II and a brilliant literary career that carried Fermor into the first rank of English writers of the 20th Century.
Then, late in a long and well-lived life, the accomplished author returned to his memories, without the benefit of contemporary notes, to see if he could make something of his unaided recollections. The books themselves were written when the wandering boy had become an old man, a great writer at the height of his powers. The first volume came out in 1977 when I was at Oxford, but somehow I completely missed them until now, to my great loss. The second volume appeared in 1986. Both attracted universal critical acclaim, and the world waited patiently for the concluding volume. But Fermor died in 2011 with the trilogy incomplete. In 2013, it was finished and lightly edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper and, although the third volume is not quite as brilliant as the first two, it is extremely well done and eminently readable. It beautifully completes this remarkable saga.
Undertaking this journey today would be most unwise. To do it in 1933 at the age of 18 seems positively insane. What Fermor saw is now a completely vanished world, of course. Imagine walking across Europe at that young age and in that time, walking across Germany just as the Nazi terror was coming to power, strolling observantly through a wonderful world that was about to vanish forever, in flame and death. The elderly author sees sensitively through the eyes of the young traveler, and the reader is keenly aware of having the benefit of both perspectives. The young Fermor observes the charming folk traditions of the gypsies of Bulgaria, and the reader knows they will all surely be liquidated in the coming fascist occupation. There is a bitterly poignant air that hangs over this trilogy -- of aching beauty, doom and death, love and loss, an irrepressible zest for living overshadowed by the reader’s knowledge of what was about to befall these beautiful countries and these lovely people.
I am enchanted by the reveries he invokes and how in these books you can hear both voices, see both points of view, read the one writer enthusing about a wonderful experience while understanding it is being told by another writer who knows all of that world vanished forever in an evil conflagration. So you get both points of view, one feelingly perceived by an adventurous boy and the other well crafted by a gifted older man, both writing about a beautiful and bucolic world the boy perceived and from the perspective of the older man who knew it was a doomed world. Enthralling.
- There were no motorways
- There were no modernist architecture
- There were no global brands
- There were no tourist
- There were no immigrants
That year a young man decided to walk from London to Istanbul with a notebook. In 1977 he decided to write about his first foreign journey. What an accomplishment it is. He writes totally without sentimentality. I love the youthful attitude of bewilderment and wonderment. I instantly feel like wanting to recreate his trip. The landscape has changed so it is no longer possible to walk and meet people so it has to be by car (or maybe I just don't want to spend two years). However, even more, I love the author's prose. He writes in a beautiful way. The descriptions are very direct and detailed. I want to read slowly to really savour the writing. I also want to understand the nature of his writing. It is interesting how the old author writes about the younger self. Beautiful writing.
Another travelogue is The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography; a book about the lost cultural diversity of what is now France. Also immensely interesting. These two books have made me think about the lost cultural diversity. It is impossible to keep people and ideas from moving across countries. However, we need to think more about protecting the diversity that once was. Books and museums are fine, but not sufficient.
Leigh Fermor's trilogy certainly took some time to write; first volume in 1977, second volume in 1985, and third volume in 2013. The author died last year almost 100 years old. A life well lived.