A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube

A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube

4.5 8
by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Jan Morris

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At the age of eighteen, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off from the heart of London on an epic journey—to walk to Constantinople. A Time of Gifts is the rich 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


At the age of eighteen, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off from the heart of London on an epic journey—to walk to Constantinople. A Time of Gifts is the rich 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 and intelligence, Leigh Fermor’s book explores a remarkable moment in time. Hitler has just come to power but war is still ahead, as he walks through a Europe soon to be forever changed—through the Lowlands to Mitteleuropa, to Teutonic and Slav heartlands, through the baroque remains of the Holy Roman Empire; up the Rhine, and down to the Danube.

At once a memoir of coming-of-age, an account of a journey, and a dazzling exposition of the English language, A Time of Gifts is also a portrait of a continent already showing ominous signs of the holocaust to come.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a glorious feast, the account of a walk in 1934 from the Hook of Holland to what was then Constantinople. The 18-year-old Fermor began by sleeping in barns but, after meeting some landowners early on, got occasional introductions to castles. So he experienced life from both sides, and with all the senses, absorbing everything: flora and fauna, art and architecture, geography, clothing, music, foods, religions, languages. Writing the book decades after the fact, in a baroque style that is always rigorous, never flowery, he was able to inject historical depth while still retaining the feeling of boyish enthusiasm and boundless curiosity. This is the first of a still uncompleted trilogy; the second volume, Between the Woods and the Water, takes him through Hungary and Romania; together they capture better than any books I know the remedial, intoxicating joy of travel." — Thomas Swick, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Recovers the innocence and the excitement of youth, when everything was possible and the world seemed luminescent with promise. ...Even more magical...through Hungary, its lost province of Transylvania, and into Romania... sampling the tail end of a languid, urbane and anglophile way of life that would soon be swept away forever.” —Jeremy Lewis, Literary Review

“A book so good you resent finishing it.” —Norman Stone

"The greatest of living travel writers…an amazingly complex and subtle evocation of a place that is no more." — Jan Morris

"In these two volumes of extraordinary lyrical beauty and discursive, staggering erudition, Leigh Fermor recounted his first great excursion… They’re partially about an older author’s encounter with his young self, but they’re mostly an evocation of a lost Mitteleuropa of wild horses and dark forests, of ancient synagogues and vivacious Jewish coffeehouses, of Hussars and Uhlans, and of high-spirited and deeply eccentric patricians with vast libraries (such as the Transylvanian count who was a famous entomologist specializing in Far Eastern moths and who spoke perfect English, though with a heavy Scottish accent, thanks to his Highland nanny). These books amply display Leigh Fermor’s keen eye and preternatural ear for languages, but what sets them apart, besides the utterly engaging persona of their narrator, is his historical imagination and intricate sense of historical linkage…Few writers are as alive to the persistence of the past (he’s ever alert to the historical forces that account for the shifts in custom, language, architecture, and costume that he discerns), and I’ve read none who are so sensitive to the layers of invasion that define the part of Europe he depicts here. The unusual vantage point of these books lends them great poignancy, for we and the author know what the youthful Leigh Fermor cannot: that the war will tear the scenery and shatter the buildings he evokes; that German and Soviet occupation will uproot the beguiling world of those Tolstoyan nobles; and that in fact very few people who became his friends on this marvelous and sunny journey will survive the coming catastrophe." — Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic

Praise for Patrick Leigh Fermor:

"One of the greatest travel writers of all time”–The Sunday Times

“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

If all Europe were laid waste tomorrow, one might do worse than attempt to recreate it, or at least to preserve some sense of historical splendor and variety, by immersing oneself in the travel books of Patrick Leigh Fermor.”—Ben Downing, The Paris Review

Library Journal
Released in 1986 and 1977, respectively, these titles recollect Fermor's walking trip across Europe in the 1920s. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

New York Review Books
Publication date:
NYRB Classics Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.02(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was an intrepid traveler, a heroic soldier, and a writer with a unique prose style. After his stormy schooldays, followed by the walk across Europe to Constantinople that begins in A Time of Gifts (1977) and continues through Between the Woods and the Water (1986), he lived and traveled in the Balkans and the Greek Archipelago. His books Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966) 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 lived 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.

Jan Morris was born in 1926, is Anglo-Welsh, and lives in Wales. She has written some forty books, including the Pax Britannica trilogy about the British Empire; studies of Wales, Spain, Venice, Oxford, Manhattan, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Trieste; six volumes of collected travel essays; two memoirs; two capricious biographies; and a couple of novels—but she defines her entire oeuvre as “disguised autobiography.” She is an honorary D.Litt. of the University of Wales and a Commander of the British Empire. Her memoir Conundrum is available as a New York Review Book Classic.

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A Time of Gifts (New York Review Books Classics Series) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
kjlarson More than 1 year ago
Upon discovering Patrick Leigh Fermor's amazing books only recently, I have given this particular one as a gift many times. I wish I had known about him or lived in his day and age. It is inspiring and full of historical information that is far from boring. I will view any trips anywhere with my eyes more open and notice details like birds, architecture, faces and music. I have read many other books by him also., including BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER, which is part two of his journey across Europe. An amazing man who lived a full and colorful life. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book felt like traveling in time to a place that no longer exists. Though a lot of Fermor's tangents about Classic (and some European) literature and history went over my head—I am not as erudite as he was then, or had since become—I really enjoyed his rich, sensual descriptions of cities, towns, villages, fields, pubs and insides of people's houses, glimpses of other lives. Also, loved his descriptions of the art he encounters on his way. He seems to miss no detail, no smell, no association. Somehow, he was able to convey "a feel" of the place, which, of course, is a highly subjective thing. But I bought into his particular feel. The book is a little uneven and at times was a bit too slow and bogged down with too much historical detail. In fact, instead of another paragraph on the Hapsburgs, I'd rather hear even more about how the presence of the Nazis is changing people's daily lives, the economic situation. He, after all, has the benefit of the hindsight. Some places that Fermor visits blend into one (just like Fermor himself confesses happens in his memory). I suppose it's only natural. Overall, Fermor is a smart, ecstatic and funny companion and guide, and I enjoyed this journey. I would have enjoyed it even more if I was more versed in history of the region, or maybe Fermor could have explained it better (like Ian Frazier does in Travels in Siberia). I could compare this book to W.G. Sebald's "walking books": The Emigrants, Vertigo, The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz. Only the last one has what one could call a destination, an articulated goal of the journey. Sebald's books, as opposed for Fermor's, have a much slower pace and are much more "philosophical." Sebald invests more time and detail into characters, whereas Fermor portrays them more like people seen standing on a platform as he rushes by on a train. Figuratively speaking, of course. He actually tried to avoid transportation as much as possible and just walk. This is in line with his conceit.
Pombal More than 1 year ago
While not as well known as Jan Morris (a great choice to introduce the volume), Fermor is an equally engaging writer on a par with Colin Thubron. This first volume tells the story of his journey across Europe beautifully evoking the spirit of many places and the encounters with individuals that are the human faces of his journey. Exquisite prose enhanced, not diminished, by an masterful vocabulary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this book and its sequel the youthful author experiences central Europe at a critical time. The warmth and friendliness of his personality combine with the ready intelligence and his openness to experience, to give a unique preview of events that would shake the world. The anchoring in one person's view gives the events more "reality" than many presentations that take a more pretentious look at them. The author also writes extremely well, which is a decided plus.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this is a good book because it is about a teen just like me on a long journey across parts of Europe in 1933. I think it is ne of the beter books I have read in the past year.