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on May 2, 2000
Like most literary masterpieces this marvelous book has a outer vehicle that develops an inner theme. The vehicle is a journey on foot, horseback and barge across Europe in the 1930's when the author was 19. The inner theme is a resolution of polarities and opposites of all kinds. First there is the overriding polarity of solitude and company. He enjoys spending time with friends and friends of friends at their country homes in Hungary and Roumania and passing hours in their sometimes fabulous libraries but he finds refreshment and spiritual renewal in long solitary walks in wooded mountains and along the banks of the Danube where he meets an occasional deer or golden eagle. He relishes staying with his wealthy, worldly and sophisticated hosts but also enjoys the company of peasants, gypsies and lumberjacks. He likes passing comfortable nights in reasonably soft beds with clean linens but doesn't shrink from sleeping in hayricks or under sheltering oaks. The interplay of past and present are another polarity he weaves into the narrative. His knowledge of history and use of it in this work is both magnificent and enviable. Leigh Fermor is in fact one of the most cultured contemporary writers I have had the good fortune to read. He is a good linguist, a masterful historian and , surprisingly, a knowledgeable theologian. But that is only half the story. He is also a super-macho man of action completely aware of his body and its interaction with the environment. This we know from his activities, almost heroic feats, during WWII, especially in Crete. In the present book he coordinates his mental and physical endowments to produce a gorgeously textured masterpiece of English prose. Sex is not absent from the narrative but it is never described in terms that could be considered even remotely graphic. Acts are kept in the wings while he concentrates on the social, intellectual, and aesthetic dimensions of his relations with women. Unfortunately does not keep an ample stock of Leigh Fermor's works, so I had to purchase my copy from I may be impatient but my sense of company loyalty is unimpeachable. No?
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on June 26, 1999
I have recently re-read and completed this book (borrowed from the library!) after having lost my own copy on a plane in Europe over a decade ago. The writing is exquisite, often amusing, as this vigorous youthful traveler - mostly on foot but also on horse, the occasional car, and Danube steamship -- is brought back to life by his seasoned self 50 years later. And, though written in the 1980's, it is sometimes eerily relevant to 1999. A quote, "I stayed the night at a bargeman's tavern in Mohács in order to see the battlefield where Suleiman had overthrown King Lajos: one of history's most dark and shattering landmarks: a defeat as fatal to Hungary as Kossovo to the Serbs and Constantinople to the Greeks." Later, he refers to "the tragic region of Kossovo, where old Serbia, Macedonia, and Albania march." These passages are interspersed with playful romps with Hungarian aristocrats, parties, nights spent with Rumanian shephards, orthodox rabbis and their lumberjack families, and other unforgettable people whose lives were about to be forever changed by World War II and its aftermath. A gorgeous read as was the earlier Time of Gifts and hopefully the last volume through Rumania and Bulgaria to the Black Sea.
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on September 20, 1999
Patrick Leigh Fermor not only fills the 'unforgiving minute' but describes that experience in a way that transports us to that minute. One line from "Between the Woods and the Water" stays in my mind. "The heat and weight of the summer bore down and not a leaf stirred". Or, how about, "the newly distilled spirit had taken out the peasants like sniper". For a feeling of 'being there' he can't be beaten, certainly not by Ernest Hemingway who tried and failed by appearing too contrived. The writers who achieve this power to transport, as musicians or painters do can let us ignore their presence and I think that is their artistic intention, to merely present (with all their craftsmanship but so it doesn't show). Paul Bowles is such a writer as is Elmore Leonard. But that's another story.
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on January 11, 2004
I loved this book and other writing by the Author. Reading this book is like travelling with a friend. The author tells a beautiful tale of Europe just before the war. His style and tempo are close and personal, and when you reach the end of the trip, you know that you have encountered the Europe of a bygone era. Here in Canada many of my friends parents' were born in Germany, Hungary, and Romania. I tell them that this book is required reading.
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on April 13, 2010
This book--and its companion A Time Of Gifts--is a jewel. The writing is magnificent. Patrick Leigh Fermor is national treasure. I hope he lives long enough to complete the long awaiting third and foinal installment of his youthful trip to Constantinople. I've never read anything like it.
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on November 7, 1999
I am not aware of any other account of Ada Kaleh, the island in the Danube populated by a Turkish enclave that was lost when the river was dammed in the '40s. I found an old postcard of the island in Hungary, and it's one of my favorite possesions.
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on October 25, 2014
these books are very popular but I just couldn't warm up to them
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