A Time of Gifts
A Time of Gifts
New York Review of Books, Paperback, 9781590171653, 321pp.
Publication Date: October 3, 2005
At once a memoir of coming-of-age, an account of a journey, and a dazzling exposition of the English language, "A Time of Gifts" is also a portrait of a continent already showing ominous signs of the holocaust to come.
Jan Morris served as an intelligence officer with the 9th Queen's Royal Lancers, studied at Oxford University, and was a reporter for the Times and the Guardian before launching into a successful career as a novelist, history author, and travel writer. Her other books include Last Letters from Hav, Fifty Years of Europe, Conundrum, Hong Kong, Oxford, The World of Venice, and Farewell the Trumpets.
"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.” —Norman Stone
"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
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.”–Geographical
“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.” –Evening Standard
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