A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

You probably have the same experience I have, that is – whilst you read through your huge pile of ‘to be read’ books, it never gets any smaller as it’s common for one book to mention several others that you feel you just must read too. That’s what happened to me when I started reading some of Deborah (Mitford) Devonshire’s books, the name Patrick Leigh Fermor kept coming up, so when I saw some of his books in a second-hand bookshop, I pounced.

A Time of Gifts was first published in 1977 and it’s an account of his journey on foot from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube. He set off from London at the age of 18 with the intention of walking all the way to Constantinople. It was interesting times indeed as when he reached Germany Hitler had just got into power, he was still regarded as something of a joke by the majority of the population and was absolutely hated in Austria.

This book is a great eye-witness account of the state of Europe in the early 1930s, but apart from that the writing is beautifully descriptive without being purple-proseish.Here’s a wee taster:

The gables of the Rhine-quays were gliding past and, as we gathered speed and sailed under one of the spans of the first bridge, the lamps of Cologne all went on simultaneously. In a flash the fading city soared out of the dark and expanded in a geometrical infinity of electric bulbs. Diminishing skeletons of yellow dots leaped into being along the banks and joined hands across the flood in a sequence of lamp-strung bridges, Cologne was sliding astern.

Don’t you wish you had been there – I felt I almost was! Fermor was one of those unruly children who had been expelled from various schools, this journey seems to have been just what he needed at this time of his life, but I can imagine that his mother’s heart must have been in her mouth when he told her of his plans.

He wrote about the second part of his journey in his book Between the Woods and the Water which I’ll be reading soon.

In World War II he became famous for kidnapping the German garrison commander on Crete, his exploits were made into a film called Ill Met By Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogarde.

12 thoughts on “A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

  1. I had never heard of him til I read Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing – and then he turned up in the books I was reading about the Mitfords. I loved this book, I think it has some of the best writing I’ve ever read – while as you say not overdone (I love “purple- proseish” !) I’ve found two of his other books (Mani and The Traveller’s Tree) but haven’t read them yet.

    • Lisa,
      Yes, he’s a great combination of lovely writing and fascinating subjects. I only have copies of Between the Woods and the Water, and The Violins of Saint-Jacques (his only novel) but I’ll be looking out for more. I read Howards End is on the Landing too but I was a bit disappointed in it, it wasn’t what I had expected it to be somehow.

  2. Same story as above. I now have Words of Mercury, A Time of Gifts,A Time to Keep Silence and In Tearing Haste with Deborah Devonshire. Very interesting fellow.

    • Lorraine,
      So many books of his to look for! I tried to get In Tearing Haste from my library today but someone got to it before me, I’ll have to put in a request for it.

      • I buy many used books on Amazon. Got the hardback for just a few dollars. Once in a great while the condition may be less than described, but generally in very good condition for a low price.

        • Lorraine,
          I usually try the local second hand bookshops first, just to give them the custom as there are so few of them about nowadays. Amazon, Alibris and Awesome Books have all been good sources of books for me in the past and I have been fairly lucky with the conditions. I hope you enjoy the book!

  3. This is very interesting and the author is totally new to me. And I have a copy of Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing mentioned in the comments, so I will go read what she said also.

    • TracyK,
      I hope you enjoy his writing when you get around to him. As I said before, Howards End is on the Landing wasn’t as good as I expected it to be. I think that just about any enthusiastic reader would have been able to write a better book about their books and reading – but that’s just my opinion. I’ll be interested to read what you think of it when you get to it.

      • Katrina, I am about halfway through Howards End is on the Landing and stuck there. It was not as good as I expected. So I think you and I are in agreement on that.

        • TracyK,
          Yes, I did plough on to the end, ever hopeful of it getting better, but it didn’t really. Very strange really because you would think it would be an easy subject to write about, especially if you are a writer!

  4. I’ve heard so much about Fermor and his books sound amazing. I will have to add him to my ‘someday’ list as I am trying to save money for my trip to London next year and must stop spending so much on books!

    • Anbolyn,
      Ah London yes – but don’t forget to save the pennies for Edinburgh too! You’re in a perfect position to just borrow books instead of buying them. I try to do that whenever possible now so we can save more for Jack’s retirement, waste not – want not, and all that.

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