- File Size: 720 KB
- Print Length: 340 pages
- Publisher: NYRB Classics (September 14, 2011)
- Publication Date: September 14, 2011
- Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
- Language: English
- ASIN: B005EH3DJY
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,762 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Print List Price:||$16.95|
Save $5.96 (35%)
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Price set by seller.
Your Memberships & Subscriptions
A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (Journey Across Europe Book 1) Kindle Edition
|New from||Used from|
|Length: 340 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
|Page Flip: Enabled||
Switch back and forth between reading the Kindle book and listening to the Audible book with Whispersync for Voice. Add the Audible book for a reduced price of $11.99 when you buy the Kindle book.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
About the Author
Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
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.
Fermor sleeps in barns and hostels and castles, depending on the chance of the day, and describes everything he encounters, from boatmen to barons, barnyards to the most exalted examples of European architecture and art. He has a voracious curiosity about whatever crosses his path, and this book made salutary reading for a person who has for the moment lost a sense of life’s wonder. Hitler has just come to power but Fermor does not overpower the narrative with political concerns or foreshadowing: the narrative remains resolutely in the present as he experienced it, without a lot of “if only I knew then what I know now.” As he moves eastward, he takes an ever greater interest in cultural artifacts, so a tale that begins heavily weighted toward encounters with people gradually takes on a more literary and art-critical flavor.
The writing is nearly always gorgeous, full of rich, finely observed detail and original imagery. I tend to love writerly prose, and many of the passages were for me like taking a long scented bath in words. One example:
“‘In cold weather like this,’ said the innkeeper of a
Gastwirtschaft further down, ‘I recommend Himbeergeist.’
I obeyed and it was a lightning conversion. Spirit of
raspberries, or their ghost—this crystalline distillation,
twinkling and ice-cold in its misty goblet, looked as though
it were homeopathically in league with the weather.
Sipped or swallowed, it went shuddering through its new
home and branched out in patterns—or so it seemed after
a second glass—like the ice-ferns that covered the window
panes, but radiating warmth and happiness instead of cold,
and carrying a ghostly message of comfort to the uttermost
Okay, another, as he climbs a hill along the Danube:
“Increasing height laid bare new reaches of the river
like an ever-lengthening chain of lakes, and for those
rare stretches where the valley ran east and west, the
sunrise and sunset lay reflected and still and an
illusion lifted each lake a step higher than its predecessor
until they formed gleaming staircases climbing in either
direction; and at last the intervening headlands lost touch
with the other shore and the watery stairs, now far below,
cohered in a single liquid serpent.”
Each scene is described in all its particularity and no place he brings to life feels like any other place on earth. The same goes for the people, each encountered only briefly but all glowing as unique sparks. Among my greatest pleasures in the reading were his passing encounters and the characters so lovingly sketched.
All this language (and his formidable vocabulary) requires an intensity of focus that demands slow reading; I could not manage more than thirty pages at once most of the time. Occasionally, it must be said, Fermor tips over the line into turgidity. Amid the Rhenish vineyards (perhaps after enjoying their harvest too freely) he writes, “Pruned to the bone, the dark vine-shoots stuck out of the snow in rows of skeleton fists which shrank to quincunxes of black commas along the snow-covered contour-lines of the vineyards as they climbed, until the steep waves of salients and re-entrants faltered at last and expired overhead among the wild bare rocks.” But over-the-top moments like that were few for me and massively outweighed by the beauty and insight.
If you like travel narratives and don’t mind a spot of intellectual challenge in your reading, *A Time of Gifts* is a feast of delights.
Top international reviews
The gap between erudite and arcane becomes very narrow, though there are some homely touches, as when the writer describes columns as 'grooved like celery stalks'. His 'douceur de vivre' he says, 'pervades the whole of life' , but the reader feels excluded from the opulence of his genius too often. The sheer tedium of some of the architectural feature-spotting, pages and pages of it at times, may well wear you down, but the putteed ruggedness of this Byzantium-bound Odysseus wins the day. With Hitler beginning to emerge from the feculent bog of fascism, the placid rationality of this charming young genius holds you fast to his footsteps wherever he goes.
This is not an easy read, especially in the absence of maps, but there's a sincere, authentic and rawly naïve voice here, striding ever onward. The descriptions of his walks over the surreal, Breughel-like winter landscapes are compelling. Hang in there, however laborious it seems, for there's always a deep slumber in the hay barn waiting for you at the close of day.
His eulogizing over different architectural features may well have a great degree of scholarly knowledge of the subject but I can only imagine such fulsome descriptiveness, page after page of it, will be lost on all but the most erudite of architectural professionals, or constructors of the more arcane features of medieval fortifications. I found myself skimming through too much of his undecipherable prose, feeling shortchanged.
It seems to be and have the strong flavour of embellished reminiscence (aided by some diary extracts) of an older, wiser sage, than the teenager who marched out in his hob nailed boots into a Europe about to disintegrate into fascism and war.
On the bonus side the few references to Brown shirts, the SA, Sturmabteilung and other vermin in the streets and beer halls are sometimes quite revealing as to the prewar atmosphere pervading in Germany/Austria.. None the less the more academic/aristocratic acquaintances that seemed to be his main contacts appeared to be above such mundane matters, living in a detached Belle Epoch seemingly untouched by the hyperinflation or chaos of the Weimar Republic.
The narrative ends abruptly before reaching the Balkans and Turkey, again leaving me feeling a bit shortchanged. I wouldn't have wanted to have not read this book (parts). There are some really nice passages and the author comes over as at least likable, but neither would i give it an unconditional recommendation. And so sadly only three stars from me!
It's an exceptional book. Published years after the event, in 1977, it still perfectly captures the wonder of his extraordinary journey and the many fascinating people he met on the way. What elevates this magical book are Patrick Leigh Fermor's gifts as a writer and the resultant delightful prose; his enthusiasm for knowledge and learning which peppers every page; and his personal charm which makes him as welcome in aristocratic homes as hostels or the homes of farm workers or labourers.
Patrick Leigh Fermor also provides an alternative cultural history of central Europe. His gifts for languages and history result in musings about Yiddish syntax, Byzantine plainsong, and most memorably the whereabouts of the coast of Bohemia as mentioned by Shakespeare (turns out it existed for 13 years but also turns out Shakespeare probably couldn't have cared less), and much much more.
So, in summary, a beautifully written travel book, that also serves as a history book, and in the company of the most charming and enthusiastic teenager it's possible to imagine. A remarkable book by a remarkable man. I look forward to the next volume, Between The Woods And The Water, though plan to read the recent biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper first. All in all this feels like the start of another beautiful relationship.
Fermor's descriptions of being alone in nature, for example the feeling of laying down to sleep by a river far from home, where "silence transcended ....and.... stillness and infinity were linked in a feeling of tension"
his sketches of the men and women that he met, and their individual and collective stories
his descriptions of the doings of major and petty historical actors of the regions
His enthusiasm for archtecture did not resonate with me.
I had seen a reference to this book in a lyrical essay, and when I read the excerpt on Amazon was immediately drawn to it by Fermor's introductory letter to his comrade in arms from WW2. This and the story which follows express youthful love and joy without reference to personal mortality. Now that Fermor's life is over, his story has for me the heroic flavour of mythology.
ps: I bought this book in paper format. Fermor's narrative includes many arcane terms unfamiliar to me. Kindle format would have enabled clarification whilst minimizing disruption of the flow.
He was utterly free to go where he pleased apart from being at pre-arranged destinations to pick up monthly cheques written out for four pounds. He had no bed and board booked; he lived on his wits. Providence being what it is, he met many generous people who put him up and fed him. Some of the accommodation was that of peasants whilst others were manor houses and castles of the landed gentry.
What absolutely makes this book is its superb, mellifluous and intelligent writing. The author’s intelligence shines through every page. This is so much more than a journal, a day-by-day account of his journey. The landscapes that the author passes through; the people that he meets; and the architecture of the towns and cities he walks to, stimulate in him wide ranging thoughts and perceptions. Too you will learn much of European history by reading this book.
Given that this was an inter-war journey it is represents an absolutely priceless snapshot of Europe between the wars. The ascent of the Nazis in Germany is evident. Bar a few notable exceptions, the German people that Leigh Fermor encounters are lovely. There is much pathos, in particular, when he talks of the Jewish people that he met in Germany and Austria, because of what horrors lay in wait just a few short years away.
I can’t recommend this book enough and I can’t wait to read about the second half of his walk to Constantinople.
It is difficult to know how much of this book is the product of the 18 year old that did the journey and how much derives from the more mature man who produced it later in life. If the former, it is an incredible work. In either case it is a polished, evocative and lyrical description of an age that cannot return. We have here a picture of a Europe that, to our loss and shame, is gone for ever. That an 18 year old had the fortitude to embark alone on such a journey and, moreover, to see it through is enough in itself. To describe his exeriences as he does and also to bring the historical, backgound and knowledge of languages to it that he does makes it, in my view, a work of genius.
The early parts of the book are better, in my view, because the writing is more exuberant and uncluttered, particularly the opening chapters in Holland and north Germany. The pace slows and the writing becomes more restrained (except in Vienna) as the polymath traveller enters Austria, where architectural descriptions take hold. Remarkably, and tediously, there is at least one word on almost every page which I did not know - but don't let that put you off.
A word about the title which is a little obscure for a travelogue, however unusual and distinguished. It is taken from a line of poetry by Louis MacNeice and in my understanding honours the people who were so kind and generous to him along the way. One must remember he was not yet nineteen when he first set out and his youth, good looks and sense of humour charmed very nearly all he met and he certainly displayed a supreme ability to get along with just about anybody.
"Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait".... Sixteenth century Henri Estienne who first coined this oft-repeated phrase was nicely side-stepped by PLF. Here is an odyssey seen through the eyes of a most intelligent and curious teenager, full of enthusiasm and courage, written up by a man of vast experience half a lifetime later ! No wonder the result is like no other, so amazingly different and distinguished !
The book varies from the colloquial to dense thickets of Byzantine prose that sends most conscientious readers scrabbling for their dictionaries. His lyrical descriptions of the monastery at Melk are a case in point, but there are many other passages that with less talented writers would be labelled "purple prose" but with PLF generally manage to be quite sublime. In Germany he had at least one brush with a young Nazi supporter but as far as history is concerned the strength of the book is in describing a way of life that was to disappear with the Second World War. His precociousness and erudition, his real interest in languages, migration and demographic change led to introductions to the educated and the titled who then effectively passed him on from "schloss to schloss" ! When a four-poster in a crenellated dwelling was not available, in Germany and Austria at least he was often able to be put up by the village mayor in a local hostelry, something that was more or less a traditional privilege in those days for wandering scholars.
There are plenty of adventurous moments that every reader can empathize with... like losing his passport in Munich together with all his belongings. They disappeared from a youth hostel to which he could not return for the night as a result of passing out drunk at the beer festival. But PLF always manages to get out of every scrape with flying colours !
Here and there the old man writing up the story may have gilded the lily just a little, or been parsimonious with the exact truth concerning his amorous escapades, but there is something in his writing, the way he can level with the reader, that convinces that every essential in the long-running saga is absolutely true. The second installment is called "Between the Woods and the Water" and was published as recently as 1986. It finished with the 'implacable words' "To Be Concluded". The third installment - not alas to be written up by Paddy himself - is believed to be still in gestation !
Perhaps Amazon will allow me to conclude with a little plug for "Google Earth". My already huge enjoyment of this book was greatly leveraged by being able to follow PLF on the map with very precise detail. The photographs of historic buildings he saw and visited (when not destroyed by the war) are there in their thousands and are sometimes complemented by street views or 360° Dioramas which will actually place you in the middle of the picture.
The third volume, which will complete his journey to Constantinople, was never finished but, based on an early draft and Patrick Leigh Fermor's original diary, The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos will finally be published in September 2013.
Based on those original diaries - and supplemented by knowledge he gained in the intervening years - 'A Time of Gifts' takes the reader through the Europe that existed in the years before the Second World War. His knowledge of European history - both secular and religious - comes across as being near-absolute but Patrick Leigh Fermor has no difficulty in weaving that knowledge into a compellingly beautiful story. On the journey we encounter, at one extreme, the down-and-out inhabitants of the worker's hostels and, at the other, the last vestiges of an aristocracy still living in their slowly decaying castles.
Hitler had yet to achieve absolute power and, through the eyes of the German people Leigh Fermor met, we see an almost dismissive attitude to the rising menace of Nazism and the horrors that, in a few year's time, were to be unleashed on the world.
Despite what happened in those ensuing years, I had no difficulty in recognising the Vienna I fell in love with almost 40 years ago.
But, as Artemis Cooper recounts in her book Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure Leigh Fermor was far more than simply an accomplished historian and writer. During the Second World War, as a Major in the SOE (Special Operations Executive), he kidnapped and abducted a General of the German army of occupation in Crete. Then, dressed in German uniforms and with General Heinrich Kreipe pinned down in the back of the car, he and a colleague drove through Heraklion, the German headquarters town, bluffing their way through checkpoint after checkpoint in the process. By the time they were taken off in a boat to Alexandria he and General Kreipe, having discovered a mutual love of the Latin odes of Horace, had become almost friends.
In 1944 Leigh Fermor was awarded a DSO for his part in the saga whilst, in 1957, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger released a film ( Ill Met By Moonlight ) based on the abduction and starring both Dirk Borgarde and Marius Goring. 'Paddy' Leigh Fermor was knighted for services to literature in 2004.
Read and enjoy. 'A Time of Gifts' is a genuinely beautiful story.
Fermor's master of English is paramount (the richness of vocabulary and fluency of narrative testifies to it) and one is forced now and again to decide if she reads the book because of beauty or because of content.
The story is peppered with heart rending scenes full of humanity and sensibility like when, later in the WWII, he was hiding in the Cretan mountains with his prisoner the head of the German forces in that island and both stared at each other eyes after Fermor segued a quote from Horace by his prisoner when both contemplated dawn among snowed peaks.
My not being English allows me to consider him and his life as heroic without my being jingoistic....
Yet this is not the point. The book was published forty-four years after the event. The travelogue is merely a framework for for Leigh-Fermor's ravishing descriptive prose. It provides his means of imparting a history of Central Europe, perhaps triggered by the teenager's inquisitive mind, but now fully researched. It plots the fall of the Roman Empire, the movement of warlike tribes through the dark ages, and the rise and fall of the Holy Roman Empire. It combines sensitive descriptions of the countryside and its flora and fauna with scholarly understanding of works of art, churches and monasteries culminating in a soaring 'high baroque' eulogy on the Benedictine Abbey of Melk. The text leaps effortlessly between subjects and is the travelogue of a teenage boy embellished with the literacy and scholarship of the polymath. Not for a second is a translation of Latin quotations considered necessary. The reader can take it in his stride.
For those who embark on this illuminating journey, read and reread Jan Mosley's instructive introduction and Leigh-Fermor's own introductory letter. They are there to unlock the treasure trove of some exquisite writing.