100 word review – Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts

Very difficult to classify, this account of the first stage of PLF’s epic 1933-35 walk across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople is part travel memoir (he started the walk aged 19, he wrote a Time of Gifts in 1977 when he was 63), part historical exploration, part philosophical rumination, and so on. Its prose really has no parallel, eclectic, erudite and humorous in equal parts, at one moment the author is discussing the echo made by a cliff on the Danube, the next a totalising theory of the move from Medieval to Romantic architecture in central Europe. As others have said on many occasions — not least Jan Morris in her foreword to the version I read — the book captures two lost worlds: a pre-war Europe (and the book has some fascinating ‘street level’ accounts of the rise of Nazism in Germany and — to a lesser extent — Austria) and a lost carefree youth, walking toe paths, sleeping beside rivers and musing on the nature of art, language, music and history. It is, of course, cliched to call books ‘masterpieces’ but this really is an incredible literary artefact and is required reading.

This review is more than 100 words. But you will want read more, so look at this website dedicated to PLF’s writing (he died in 2011) and in particular this interview with one of his close friends. I must also thank my Uncle-in-Law Reĕhȁr for suggesting the book in the first place.


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