A Time Of Gifts

“I knew it was my last night in Holland and I was astonished how quickly I had crossed it. My heels might have been winged. I was astonished, too, at the impressive, clear beauty of the country and its variety, the amazing light and the sway of its healing and collusive charm. No wonder it had produced so many painters!” (page 29)

I was browsing around Amazon one day a few years ago and I came across a book called A Time Of Gifts. It sounded interesting and it had pretty good reviews so I decided to give it a try.  I am really glad I did because Patrick Leigh Fermor quickly became my favorite author!

a time of gifts

“The scene was beginning to change. My path followed a frozen woodland stream into a region where rushes and waterweed and marsh vegetation and brambles and shrubs were as densely entangled as a primeval forest. Opening on expanses of feathered ice, it was like a mangrove swamp in the Arctic circle. Encased in ice and snow, every twig sparkled. Frost had turned the rushes into palisades of brittle rods and the thickets were loaded with icicles and frozen rainbow-shooting drops.” (page 128)

In 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor left London and headed to the Hook of Holland. From there, his goal was to travel to Constantinople… on foot.  A Time Of Gifts covers the first part of his journey and as soon as I started reading it I knew I was going to love it.  The way he describes his experiences – from the people he meets and the places he travels through – is wonderful and he is never short on details. It’s not unusual for several pages to be used to describe an architectural style or the transformation of a certain region’s clothing over the years. “We shall never get to Constantinople like this. I know I ought to be moving on; so does the reader. But I can’t – not for a page or two.” (page 238)

I think my favorite part about Fermor’s writing style is his ability to bring history to life. His knowledge of the history of most of the areas he travels through is outstanding and I find myself jotting down notes about people and places I would like to know more about. “It was an amazing vision. Few stretches of Central Europe have been the theatre for so much history.  Beyond which watershed lay the pass where Hannibal’s elephants had slithered downhill? Only a few miles away, the frontier of the Roman Empire had begun. Deep in those mythical forests that the river reflected for many days’ march, the German tribes, Rome’s Nemesis, had waited for their hour to strike…” (page 80)

About The Book: In 1933 at the age of eighteen, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off from the heart of London on an epic journey – to walk to Constantinople. It was to be a momentous experience, and one that would change the course of his life.
A Time Of Gifts is the rich and sparkling account of his adventures as far as Hungary, after which Between The Woods And The Water continues the story to the Iron Gates that divide the Carpathian and Balkan mountains. Acclaimed for its sweep, intelligence and observation, the moment in time that it captures is remarkable: he heads through the Lowlands to Mitteleuropa, the Teutonic and Slav heartlands, the Gothic north, the cockpit of the Reformation and the Thirty Years War and the baroque remains of the Holy Roman Empire; up the Rhine, just after Hitler came to power, and down the Danube into the old Balkan and sub-Byzantine realms.
With a ‘lifeline’ allowance of a pound a week, he planned to live ‘like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar’, sleeping in work-houses, monasteries and barns. But a chance introduction in Bavaria led to a counterpointing of this rough existence with leisurely sojourns in castles: one night he would be kept awake by cattle, the next by heavily-embroidered coronets on the linen of a rococo four-poster.
At once a memoir of coming-of-age, an account of a journey, and a dazzling exposition of the English language, it is also a portrait of a continent already showing signs of the holocaust to come.

Just One More Thing: “There is nothing more absorbing than maps of tribal wanderings. How vaguely and slowly nations float about! Lonely as clouds, overlapping and changing places, they waltz and reverse around each other at a pace so slow as to be almost stationary or work their expanding way across the map as imperceptibly as damp or mildew. What a relief it is when some outside event, with an actual date attached to it, jerks the whole sluggishly creeping osmotic complex into action!” (pages 159-160)

This Edition: Paperback published by John Murray (2004)

Other Books In This Series: Between The Woods And The Water, The Broken Road

You Might Also Like: They Were Counted by Miklos Banffy


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