Tag Archives: backpacking

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

A Time of Gifts

I read this book on the recommendation of my wife. It’s a memoir, published in the 1970s, of the author’s walking trip across Europe, from the coast of Holland to Constantinople, in the early 1930s. (This volume takes us as far as Hungary.) In addition to serving as a sort of chronicle of a lost world, it shows us the Continent through the eyes of a well educated British teenager of the time. When one reads about halfway through, “It had struck me in Holland that an average non-expert, gallery-sauntering inhabitant of the British Isles would know the names, and a little of the work, of scores of Dutch, Flemish and Italian painters and of twenty Frenchmen at the very least,” one can 1) pause with amazement, marveling at the loss of cultural literacy since then, 2) think about what it means to be entitled, and/or 3) roll one’s eyes. I did my share of each but found myself migrating from 1 to 3.

The book is full of lush descriptions and the joy of being young and ready for whatever the road ahead offers. Because our traveler is so well versed in European history and culture, there’s a running undercurrent of expectations met and baffled as the landscape becomes gradually more exotic, and we witness him communing/grappling with figures of the past, getting into the mind of Shakespeare or Dante or Bruegel. The narrator has a gift for befriending people from all walks of life and benefits from an almost universal inclination to help the young traveler via various traditions of hospitality, a notable exception being one of Hitler’s brownshirts he encounters along the way. You might find this travel companion fascinating or tiresome (or both), but there are plenty of memorable moments if you’re willing to indulge and occasionally share in his enthusiasms.

Availability:  USMAI
Review Submitted by: Eric Blomquist
Rating: Recommended with Reservations