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A Time to Keep Silence (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – October 30, 2007
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"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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Unusual in that it was written by an agnostic, it has the beauty of seeing through the eyes of a true outsider. But agnostic though he was, Fermor was a poet with a keen eye and an appreciation for love and beauty that is not sullied by cynicism. My book came via Sweden Post, and is evidently the UK version. It lacks the pompous, bland, and nearsighted introduction by Karen Armstrong (which accompanies the American version). That intro has about the same effect as trying to visit a beautiful cathedral with someone who won't stop talking. This book does not need an introduction.
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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I first read this book in 1958, shortly after it was published, and vowed to re-read it sometime.Read more