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Crete [Paperback]

Barry Unsworth

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Book Description

Jan. 16 2007 Literary Travel
"His keen understanding of history and legend...illuminate[s] his visits." —Publishers Weekly

"A vivid picture of the island." —Associated Press

"It is hard to think of anywhere on earth where so many firsts and mosts are crammed into a space so small," Barry Unsworth writes of the isle of Crete. Birthplace of the Greek god Zeus, the Greek alphabet, and the first Greek laws, as well as the home of 15 mountain ranges and the longest gorge in Europe, this land is indisputably unique. And since ancient times, its inhabitants have maintained an astonishing tenacity and sense of national identity, even as they suffered conquest and occupation by Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians, Ottoman Turks, and Germans.

Throughout this evocative book, now in trade paper, Unsworth describes the incredible physical and cultural proportions of the island—in history, myth, and reality. Moving and artful, Crete gives readers a comprehensive picture and rich understanding of this complex—and indeed, almost magical—world of Mediterranean wonders.

With the same keen eye and clear, eloquent prose that distinguishes his acclaimed historical novels, Barry Unsworth delivers his readers a two-fold traveler's reward, at once a wonderfully detailed panorama of Crete's many layers of history and an evocative portrait of an island almost literally larger than life.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic; New edition edition (Jan. 16 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0792255585
  • ISBN-13: 978-0792255581
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 14 x 1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #397,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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 the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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 the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Travel Log Sept. 18 2004
By David Stapleton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I had thought that the advent of film and television had banished this genre from the book stores. After all, why read about a place when you can turn on the travel channel and see it in living color? Well, for one reason, it's reading! But, I'll try not to climb up on my soapbox. Unsworth does a wonderful job of presenting a textual picture of the people, culture and history of this cradle of civilization. His insights on travels to the scenic countryside, tourist Mecas and ruins of past civilizations on this Mediterranean island provide the reader with more than just pictures; he provides us with the flavors and smells, awakening the senses of our imagination more than any passive media presentation.

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.

P-)
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars delightful May 8 2007
By Aaron Lipka - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was surprised and pleased to find a new Unsworth book- particularly since I am planning a trip to Greece this summer. I have perused several travel guides, but this book stands out, despite its brevity (or perhaps on account of it).

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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read before you visit Crete May 20 2013
By M. Francis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is essentially a travel diary of Barry Unsworth's visit to Crete in 2004. He gives you personal insight as to what you should try and see and what to expect. Along with that, he goes through the history of the sites that you will see along the way. Maybe it's a little dated at this point, things can change. Still if you're planning a trip to Greece, and going to the island of Crete, then this book will help you to plan your visit to see the most important spots.
3.0 out of 5 stars Taking you off the beaten track May 21 2014
By keetmom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
This book is part of a series commissioned from distinguished writers and published by National Geographic. Some worked it seems, others didn't depending on how enthusiastically the individual writers took to their task. Barry Unsworth chose to write about Crete, a part of Greece he clearly know very well. He shares much of this special insight especially in his choices of what aspects of the island's culture, history and landscape to highlight. As a result he takes his reader off the beaten track much of the time. This is both welcome and interesting other than the parts where he complains about the other tourists.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great traveling companion Dec 28 2012
By Marian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
One of the best and easiest travel guides I have owned.
I'm still returning to it and will use it on my next trip!

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