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A time of gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

A time of gifts (original 1977; edition 1999)

by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Daniel Whistler

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1,874435,916 (4.24)242
In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on an extraordinary journey by foot - from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. A Time of Gifts is the first volume in a trilogy recounting the trip, and takes the reader with him as far as Hungary. It is a book of compelling glimpses - not only of the events which were curdling Europe at that time, but also of its resplendent domes and monasteries, its great rivers, the sun on the Bavarian snow, the storks and frogs, the hospitable burgomasters who welcomed him, and that world's grandeurs and courtesies. His powers of recollection have astonishing sweep and verve, and the scope is majestic.… (more)
Title:A time of gifts
Authors:Patrick Leigh Fermor
Other authors:Daniel Whistler
Info:London : The Folio Society, 1999.
Collections:Folio Books, Your library

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A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977)


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English (39)  German (2)  French (1)  All languages (42)
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this first half of his travelogue and intend to read the second book. While the writing is often dense and slow paced (the small font size doesn't help) it's in a casual, pleasant way. Like overhearing an interesting story in a cafe. Sometimes I skimmed, but not with bad feeling, the digressions of extensive information and detail (about artists, architecture, history, etc) that I know aren't going to stick in my mind. He comes off well as a traveler and person. The kind you'd be happy to sit next to on a bus, plane or train and be amazed and humbled by their stories.

If it's to be believed that the excerpts from his journal in the later part of the book are direct and mostly unedited, then he had a talent for writing that was well developed early on. ( )
1 vote reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
Fascinating account of a trip by foot in the middle of winter. His knapsack is stolen once, but no other disasters. How much literature he has read at the age of 18! He has a few family contacts and from these and others he meets we get an insight into the upper classes as well as peasants. How different those times seem! People in different countries wear different clothes. Few people speak English. People are immensely hospitable, having seen few foreigners. You get a concept of an intelligentsia, something strange to the English-speaking world. In a way, sad that the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up, though in a democratic age it could never have survived, based as it was only on marriage alliances of past centuries. The more cosmopolitan European world of today has found another route to cross-national harmony, allowing for national differences without oppression. But it is still on thin ice.
  jgoodwll | Feb 2, 2020 |
I started reading with great expectation. I quit reading with great disappointment. Not so much a travel essay as an introspection on how wonderful and learned the writer thought he was. Very difficult to read with his over-the-top descriptions - scattered foreign phrases - and other nonsense. Very over rated in my opinion. ( )
  repb | Oct 18, 2019 |
Patrick Leigh Fermor was quite the character. Living to the ripe old age of 96 despite a penchant for up to 100 cigarettes a day, he was a wonderful mix of scholar and travel writer, as well as being a decorated solider in WWII. At the age of eighteen, after many years of being troublesome and difficult to tame at school in London, Fermor decided that the army wasn't (yet) for him, and on a relative whim set out in the depths of winter 1933 to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. This book chronicles his journey through a pre-WWII Europe as far as Hungary.

Reading this book truly transports you to a bygone era, where a traveller's welcome and hospitality awaits in every town and village, rural peasants still wear the traditional dress of their culture, and beautiful medieval German towns have yet to be destroyed by the war which is only a few years away. As Fermor wrote this book some 40 years after his journey, what ensues is a mix of travelogue embellished with detail from subsequent cultural and historical learnings, peppered with interesting insights which the passing of time and hindsight enabled him to draw different conclusions on than may have been apparent during his travels (for instance, the spread of Nazism in many German towns).

Despite a shaky start to his education, Fermor clearly was a natural scholar and intellectual, and at times his knowledge on the complexities of the changes of European power through the centuries in relation to various castles and cathedrals was dizzyingly dense and detailed. In an ideal world, this is a book that should be read slowly in complement with a study of European history, as in places it was challenging to keep up with the pace of Fermor's expansive knowledge.

The first half of his journey was my favourite, as Fermor travelled through the Netherlands and followed the Danube through Germany. We feel more of his journey experience at the time rather than the historical detail that makes up some later parts of the book, but I suspect that's a point of personal interest as I enjoy social history, whilst others may enjoy more of the political and historical architecture sections. Although I suspect he liked to downplay his background, Fermor was clearly from a privileged family, and despite travelling on a shoestring budget his stays in hay lofts and hostels were interspersed with stays in magnificent homes and castles of European gentry.

This is a beautiful book written in a dense, literary style which requires close reading (and sometimes rereading) of passages to fully absorb it. It truly is an insight to an era that we will never see again; a romantic perspective no doubt, but one that leaves you longing to experience that magical Europe of old when a traveller was something of a rarity (how difficult to imagine that nowadays where the places Fermor visits would today be crushed by heaving swarms of tourists).

4 stars - a wonderful book which transports you to everyday life across Europe at a time when the horrors of war are just around the corner. ( )
1 vote AlisonY | Aug 26, 2019 |
Published in 1977 when in his 60s, this travel memoir is of the first leg of Fermor's journey from England to Constantinople, undertaken in 1933. The lucky return of his travel diary, found in a Romanian castle years later, allowed for his story to be told. This is a densely detailed memoir of a very bold, resourceful and energetic 18-year old's walk (mainly), which he astonishingly begins in the heart of Winter. Of course, in essence these are two stories in one - the observations of a teenager, albeit an intellectually engaged teenager - and the worldly-wise reflections of a much-traveled writer from a distance of several decades, and a massively changed Europe.

What I most enjoyed here was the author's telling of his remarkable adventure itself. Included is his affable use of connections, so that after tramping through snow all day, "..by dusk I was sitting with Dr Arnold and his family drinking tea laced with brandy in one of the huge baroque rooms of Schloss Bruchsal." The wide-eyed discoveries of an adventurous, unassuming spirit comes through enchantingly from time to time. My biggest objection, and it's influence for me is sharp, is Fermor's overreaching digressions into culture and history. Some of these sidetracks are interesting, and add perspective with the benefit of time's remove. However, so much of the discourse is achingly erudite, and for me it only served to distract from the pure journey I wanted to engage with. (I was frustrated previously with the same tendency to protract in his MANI: TRAVELS IN THE SOUTHERN PELOPONNESE.)

Nonetheless, a worthwhile read, and by a quite intrepid character. My first intro to Fermor was in the book he translated and brought to fruition, THE CRETAN RUNNER, also published by NYRB. Not strictly his story, but he weaves in and out of it. (That book I highly recommend) ( )
1 vote ThoughtPolice | Jan 25, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Patrick Fermor was only 18 when, abandoning a proper education in England, he decided to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. His accounts of that journey, which lasted from December 1933 until January 1937, were quickly declared classics of travel writing when they were published in 1977 - a verdict unlikely to be overturned even though the projected third and final volume has not appeared. .... Jan Morris calls Mr. Fermor a "born irregular." He is also a peerless companion, unbound by timetable or convention, relentless in his high spirits and curiosity.

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Leigh Fermor, Patrickprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Craxton, JohnCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, JanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I struck the board and cry'd 'No more;
I will abroad'.
What, shall I ever sigh and pine?
My life and lines are free; free as the road,
Loose as the wind.
-- George Herbert
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Dear XAN,
As I have only just finished piecing these travels together, the times dealt with are very fresh in my mind and later events seem more recent still; so it is hard to believe that 1942 in Crete, when we first met - both of us black-turbaned, booted and sashed and appropriately silver-and-ivory daggered and cloaked in white goats' hair, and deep in grime - was more than three decades ago.
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An account of the first part of a journey on foot across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople; 1933/34.
Memoir, travelogue, historical and cultural overview.
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