Crete Paperback – Jan 16 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Booker Prizewinning novelist Unsworth (Sacred Hunger, etc.) travels with his wife to the ancient island of Crete, where, according to the Greeks, "everything began." The island's history is gruesome due to centuries of occupation by Venetian, German and Turkish conquerors, so Crete can "sometimes seem a patchwork of stories, from primal myth to heroic legend, to the embroideries of local gossip." Just as the "Cretans love stories," so does Unsworth, and on visiting the wonders of the island-the "holy cavern of Psychro" (the supposed birthplace of Zeus), the gorges of Samaria and Therisso, the Lasithi Plateau-he infuses his narrative with historical facts, mythic lore and a deep appreciation for nature. His keen understanding of history and legend also illuminates his visits to the island's churches and monasteries, and particularly the ruined palace at Knossos, where the hero Theseus was said to have defeated the "monstrous Minotaur." A reverence for Crete's flora and fauna pervades Unsworth's exacting prose ("the scrub glows with a soft burnish, flame-colored, forming a landscape almost too beautiful to be quite believed in"), and he often couples these descriptions with sadness over Crete's invasive, oppressive tourism industry. The people of Crete, Unsworth notes more than once, are "of great spirit and generous hospitality [but also possess an] implacable vindictiveness," often still upholding "blood feuds" that originated centuries ago. Despite Unsworth's bouts of melancholy and occasional frustrations, the author's thoughtful journey eventually finds peace and comfort in "the vitality and warmth of the people and the unfailing charm of the landscape."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Novelist Unsworth's report of his and his wife Aira's recent sojourn on Crete is nothing if not counsel to slow down and smell the flowers and, more to the point on this island, see the light, which, brilliant and caressing, highlights every detail yet gathers one into the totality of the place. Ironically, the brevity mandated by the National Geographic Directions series imparts a rushed quality to the book. He and Aira seem always to be frantically driving until they really must walk, either because the way becomes vehicularly impassable or too lovely not to saunter along. They visit great vistas and imposing natural features (on Crete, mainly its dramatic gorges, the last refuges for some unique island species); caves in which gods were born, saints later resided, and religious and patriotic martyrs suffered; and the remains of the first great European civilization, that of the vanished people archaeologist Arthur Evans, their discoverer, dubbed Minoans. About all of this Unsworth is informative though pensive, for he sees everywhere the depredations of tourism. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The bottom line is that this is not an exhaustive treatment of the history, geography or culture of Crete, nor is it a picture book; it is a throwback to a time when travel was not the commodity of the everyday man, a time when we lived vicariously through the likes of Hemmingway and Stevenson. If all you want is to see beautiful scenery, there are any number of picture books or web sites to entertain you, but if you want to experience Crete without the trip, you will want to read this book.
Unsworth's glimpse at Crete is by no means comprehensive, but fills in the gaps that he proposes- What kind of place Crete is, some interesting things to see there, and an outline of his tour with his wife Aira. His style is unashamedly first-person reflective, and he gives a fair and balanced account of the island which becomes saturated by tourists each summer. Barry has whet my appetite for visiting this island without overwhelming me with his own ideas and opinions. Do not look for a detailed history; instead look for an impressionistic accounting of the caves, gorges, churches and urban labyrinths of Crete. Fans of Unsworth and thoughtful travellers will enjoy this novella immensely.
I'm still returning to it and will use it on my next trip!
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