A Time to Keep Silence
Publication Date: October 30, 2007
While still a teenager, Patrick Leigh Fermor made his way across Europe, as recounted in his classic memoirs, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. During World War II, he fought with local partisans against the Nazi occupiers of Crete. But in A Time to Keep Silence, Leigh Fermor writes about a more inward journey, describing his several sojourns in some of Europe’s oldest and most venerable monasteries. He stays at the Abbey of St. Wandrille, a great repository of art and learning; at Solesmes, famous for its revival of Gregorian chant; and at the deeply ascetic Trappist monastery of La Grande Trappe, where monks take a vow of silence. Finally, he visits the rock monasteries of Cappadocia, hewn from the stony spires of a moonlike landscape, where he seeks some trace of the life of the earliest Christian anchorites.
More than a history or travel journal, however, this beautiful short book is a meditation on the meaning of silence and solitude for modern life. Leigh Fermor writes, “In the seclusion of a cell—an existence whose quietness is only varied by the silent meals, the solemnity of ritual, and long solitary walks in the woods—the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear, and much that is hidden away and all that clouds it floats to the surface and can be skimmed away; and after a time one reaches a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world.”
Patrick Leigh Fermor was born in 1915 of English and Irish descent. After his stormy schooldays, followed by the walk across Europe to Constantinople that begins in A Time of Gifts and continues through Between the Woods and the Water, he lived and traveled in the Balkans and the Greek Archipelago. His books Mani and Roumeli attest to his deep interest in languages and remote places. In the Second World War he joined the Irish Guards, became a liaison officer in Albania, and fought in Greece and Crete. He was awarded the DSO and OBE. He now lives partly in Greece, in the house he designed with his wife Joan in an olive grove in the Mani, and partly in Worcestershire. He was knighted in 2004 for his services to literature and to British-Greek relations.
Karen Armstrong, a historian of religion, spent seven years in a Roman Catholic religious order; she has written about this experience in Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. She is also the author of many books, including A History of God, The Great Transformation, and, most recently, The Bible: A Biography.
"I can't remember when I was so pleased by a group of reissues as the Patrick Leigh Fermor books that the New York Review of Books is putting out...Mostly, the Europe he wrote about is long gone, but the books are as fresh as ever because they're about the spiritual connection between place and person. I would particularly recommend A Time to Keep Silence, a lovely 1957 book about Leigh Fermor's time spent in a couple of monasteries in France and Italy." --The Fort Worth-Star Telegram
"For the past three centuries, British writers have gone on trips to remote areas or exotic places and lived to tell the tale...Patrick Leigh Fermor, 92, has carried this great British tradition into our own time." --The Wall Street Journal
"Fermor writes logbooks of discovery, keenly meandering through architecture, music, art, history and the minutiae of everyday life...[His] erudition and courage are matched by his discerning compassion, which shapes the probing character sketches that populate his books, including A Time to Keep Silence, which has been reissued by New York Review Books." --Los Angeles Times
"[A Time to Keep Silence] is his shortest book (and to my mind his best)." –Anthony Lane, The New Yorker
"A gem of a short book." –Los Angeles Times
"Delightful…His book is not only an admirable piece of travel writing; it is also a brilliant piece of human exploration." –New Statesman (UK)
"Prose lapidary and evocative enough to please even the hardiest skeptic." –The Washington Post
“Introspection, history, reportage have their balanced places in a well-written book…measured and lucent.” —The Sunday Times (UK)
“A most successful attempt to portray the reactions of the man of the world (in the literal sense) when confronted with the monastic life.” –Daily Telegraph (UK)
“A pleasure and an instruction to read.” —Irish Times
"There is only one complaint I can think of making about Patrick Leigh Fermor's books: They appear too seldom. When they do appear, they offer that kindest of pleasures open to a reviewer--the chance of unqualified praise." –The New York Times
"...one of the greatest travel writers of all time" –Sunday Times (UK)
"...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 (UK)
“The genius of Patrick Leigh Fermor is a many splendored thing. Soldier, traveler, writer, Phihellene…he has already dazzled and delighted…It is some time since more truth and beauty were distilled into a hundred pages.” –Stewart Perowne
“The English language is still a superb instrument in the hands of a writer who has a virtuoso skill with words, a robust aesthetic passion, an indomitable curiosity…and a rapturous historical imagination.” —Philip Toynbee, The Observer (UK)
“Patrick Leigh Fermor is a stylish, superb master of words, which he savors like the choicest vintage.” —The Times (London)
“The greatest of living travel writers.” –Jan Morris