In the winter of 1933, eighteen-year-old Patrick (“Paddy”) Leigh Fermor set out to walk across Europe, starting in Holland and ending in Constantinople, a trip that took him almost a year. Decades later, Leigh Fermor told the story of that life-changing journey in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, two books now celebrated as among the most vivid, absorbing, and beautifully-written travel books of all time.
First published in the New York Review of Books.
The Broken Road is the long awaited account of the final leg of his youthful adventure that Leigh Fermor promised but was unable to finish before his death in 2011. Assembled from Leigh Fermor’s manuscripts by his prize-winning biographer Artemis Cooper and the travel writer Colin Thubron, this is perhaps the most personal of all Leigh Fermor’s books, catching up with young Paddy in the fall of 1934 and following him through Bulgaria and Romania to the coast of the Black Sea. Days and nights on the road, spectacular landscapes and uncanny cities, friendships lost and found, leading the high life in Bucharest or camping out with fishermen and shepherds: in the The Broken Road such incidents and escapades are described with all the linguistic bravura, odd and astonishing learning, and overflowing exuberance that Leigh Fermor is famous for, but also with a melancholy awareness of the passage of time, especially when he meditates on the scarred history of the Balkans or on his troubled relations with his father. The book ends, perfectly, with Paddy’s arrival in Greece, the country he would fall in love with and fight for. Throughout it we can still hear the ringing voice of an irrepressible young man embarking on a life of adventure.
By any standards, this is a major work. It confirms that Leigh Fermor was, along with Robert Byron, the greatest travel writer of his generation, and this final volume assures the place of the trilogy as one of the masterpieces of the genre, indeed one of the masterworks of postwar English non-fiction.
—William Dalrymple, The Guardian
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.
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.
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
Praise for A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, the first two volumes in the trilogy:
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.
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
Those for whom Paddy’s prose is still an undiscovered country are to be envied for what lies ahead-hours with one of the most buoyant and curious personalities one can find in English.
—The New York Sun
Mr. Fermor…is a peerless companion, unbound by timetable or convention, relentless in his high spirits and curiosity.
— The New York Times
We are aware at every step that his adventure can never be duplicated: only this extraordinary person at this pivotal time could have experienced and recorded many of these sights. Distant lightening from events in Germany weirdly illuminates the trail of this free spirit.
—The New York Times
The young Fermor appears to have been as delightful a traveling companion as the much older Fermor a raconteur.
—The Houston Chronicle
[A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water] are absolutely delightful volumes, both for those who want to better understand what was lost in the violence of Europe’s 20th-century divisions and for those who appreciate the beauty and thrill of travel writing at its best.
—The Houston Chronicle
Leigh Fermor is recognizably that figure many writers of the past century have yearned to be, the man of action.
— The Guardian
He was, and remains, an Englishman, with so much living to his credit that the lives conducted by the rest of us seem barely sentient-pinched and paltry things, laughably provincial in their scope, and no more fruitful than sleepwalks. We fret about our kids’ S.A.T. scores, whereas this man, when he was barely more than a kid himself, shouldered a rucksack and walked from Rotterdam to Istanbul.
— Anthony Lane, The New Yorker