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  • Writer's pictureAnna Karras

Book Review by Anna Karras

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

A Time of Gifts

Late summer is a time for travel and vacation. If, for whatever reason, you are unable to join the throngs of tourists flocking to Europe this summer, try this classic travel narrative about a time that no longer exists. Armchair travel has never been so engaging or exciting.

With a thirst for adventure from a young age, Patrick Leigh Fermor wanted to walk the length of Europe. And so, he did. Starting from the Hook of Holland on December 8, 1933, he walked all the way to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey). It took him a little over two years to complete his journey. A Time of Gifts is a chronicle of the first half of his travels, from the Netherlands to the Danube.

Walking with only a rucksack containing a few clothes he often slept in barns and hayricks. But he also had letters of introduction that helped him into some of the most famous sitting rooms in Europe. In the years between the wars, we see a time of faded gentility and crumbling castles. Fermor uses his critical eye, charming prose, and masterful storytelling to lay the scenes before us. He includes humor and good spirits that take him across the landscape.

From the snow-covered Rotterdam to the beer halls of Munich, to the banks of the Danube in Prague and Budapest, we see the landscape between the wars. Rumbles of conflict can be felt in Munich where Fermor encountered thuggish Brown Shirts and the terrifying black-clad SS. His descriptions are rich and full of detail and his escapades are humorous and full of good fortune.

This is not a book to be rushed. Instead, savor the travels a piece at a time. Linger over the almost-poetic phrases, and laugh at the mishaps. And if the book is a pleasure, continue his story in Between the Woods and the Water. (Bicycle polo, anyone?) The travel writer for his age, Patrick Leigh Fermor folds us into his story and paints with words to bring us to a place far from where we sit.


∞ Author's Profile

Patrick Leigh Fermor (known to his friends and Paddy) was an adventurer and travel writer. Born in London in 1915, he received a classical education, including languages. He eventually joined the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in World War II and was parachuted onto Crete to help with the resistance. Along with his comrade-in-arms, Stanley Moss, he successfully kidnapped a German general, marching him over the rugged White Mountains to a waiting submarine on the coast. He and his wife, Joan, built a house in Kardamyli, Greece. He died in 2011 at the age of 96.


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