Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Patrick Leigh Fermour's time of gifts

I am belatedly catching up with the news that Sir Patrick Leigh Fermour, the acclaimed writer and adventurer has died, at the fine old age of 96

From walking across Europe as a teenage boy in the 1930s to kidnapping a German General in wartime Crete, there was not much in Leigh Fermour's life story that wasn't dazzling.

It wasn't just that he was just a man of action, he wrote like an angel. His two volumes about a teenage odyssey from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople are the among the best books I have read.

My friend, Calum, presented me with "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water" as we prepared to embark on a post-Ceausescu tour of Romania many years ago. I thought we were going to witness the aftermath of a dictatorship, but Calum explained that Leigh Fermour was the real reason we were traveling.

The books were written some 50 years after the event but Leigh Fermour blended the exuberance of youth and the wisdom of age into incredible prose. As an author he rendered the history, topography and culture of central Europe with such vivid strokes of the pen that it changed that trip and ever other journey I have undertaken since. That was quite a gift for any book to bestow.

He leaves a third volume, completing the journey to the Bosporus, in draft form and an official biography, by Artemis Cooper, is due out next year.

The Daily Telegraph obituary columns give a good account of his "Ill met by moonlight" adventures on Crete and subsequent literary career. You read it and you think what a guy, what a life, what a writer.

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