It's a fake Rolex watch on a street-hawker's tabletop where they spell Rolex wrong. Phases of the moon ? You bet, right here on the Rollecks, young siIt's a fake Rolex watch on a street-hawker's tabletop where they spell Rolex wrong. Phases of the moon ? You bet, right here on the Rollecks, young sir.
It's Bond's illegitimate mini-me, or a teen-aged Johnny Quest, it's commercial-trend-mining at its most blatant, and, I suspect, pretty cliffhangerishly awful.
But come on -- Whirling dervishes, a comely, simpatico Turkish girl, devious agents, exotica, mystery and the Balkans in dangerous, imagined-coldwar guise. I read this when I was 11. And then reread it, four more times. This may be my Rosebud.*
(I'm actively tracking down a copy; for some reason the finer vintage booksellers aren't much on color-pvc-jacketed tween kitsch from the sixties. Wonder why that is.)
*Then again, more appropriately, this may actually be my Monkees. I had already begun reading my father's Ian Fleming collection years before this came out, and for some reason this 'teen agent' business just hit home for an eleven-year-old in ways that Bond's cold appraising stare couldn't comprehend. Fully fake though it may be.
So a lot like the (very same) recordlover who put his Hard Day's Night to the side when the Last Train To Clarksville steamed through--- this was my beautiful, counterfeit, tweenage daydream. And a phony, guilty pleasure if ever there was one. I remember large type, broad margins, and not a heavy page-count; and unlike those racy-cover Flemings, I didn't need to read it in the garage. ...more
Here in Part II we're carried along with the journey begun and paused at the edges of the Danube in Fermor's A Time Of Gifts. There are most of the asHere in Part II we're carried along with the journey begun and paused at the edges of the Danube in Fermor's A Time Of Gifts. There are most of the aspects of that volume here, too, and with a far more exotic landscape, that of Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria rather than the preceding western and central Europe.
Make no mistake, though, any of this completely willful and enigmatic journey is a fascinating story, taking place as it does in the pivotal era that was 1934 and freely, unconcernedly being the early impressions of a very young man just seeing the world. What a world it was, and Fermor valiantly tries to bring it back alive.
What isn't immediately apparent here is how the distancing (lists, explanations, updates and overall a lot of what couldn't have been known by the young author) effects arise, and for that we are glad to have the introduction by veteran travel writer Jan Morris. Whereas A Time Of Gifts relies on journals and ready, firsthand memories, this volume wasn't published till the eighties, and is cobbled together from fragmented or secondary sources. So inescapably we have the informed, worldly reflections of the elder author in his seventies re-assembling this account, and while the fact-checkers may be much happier here for that reason, the voice, and the stay-up-all-night-in-the-magic-spell-of-europa spirit ... is nearly gone.
We have here a strange brew of the young man's pathways and adventure, as filtered through the older man's better knowledge and reflection. Even still, occasionally the sheer outrageous scale of the endeavor will break through, as when, coming down out of the wolf-ridden Carpathians, we encounter the 'Baths Of Hercules', a posh spa hideaway in the mountains where formal wear for dinner and waltzes on the terrace are the norm. Or as Fermor is getting thru yet another later-life listing of what he might have seen, the present of the narrative crashes through and a Perseid meteor shower rains down above the high Balkans. Immediately, the old-man author has shut up and we gaze enraptured with the young man's eyes again.
In his defense, Fermor makes oblique apologies that note lost journals and notebooks, and we do seem to have more wine and women in this act of the play, too. I'm giving this four stars even though it doesn't deserve it, as much to say that Time Of Gifts... or the grand, fearless, reckless nerve of the whole project... deserved much more. And as with that first volume, sometimes the planets just align for Fermor, and we are carried right along :
It was getting late. The sun left the minaret, and then the new moon, a little less wraith-like than the night before, appeared on cue in a turquoise sky with a star next to it, that might have been pinned there by an Ottoman herald. With equal promptitude, the hodja's [muezzin's] torso emerged on the balcony under the cone of the minaret. Craning into the dusk, he lifted his hands, and the high and long-drawn-out summons of the izan floated across the air, each clause wavering and spreading like the rings of sound from pebbles dropped at intervals into a pool of air. I found myself still listening and holding my breath when the message had ended and the hodja must have been half-way down his dark spiral ...
Let's not forget that the object of this long walk across Europe in 1934 is the former Byzantine capital, Constantinople, the gate to the mysteries of The Orient. Here by the end of book two of three, we've only gotten near the goal, and we leave off there, with Book Three still not published here in May of 2013. Fermor has passed away, and there are all kinds of rumors about whether he ever finished Book Three. But there are also some indications that something will be published by Fall 2013. It has a name, The Broken Road, and it has, needless to say, interested readers ...
At best, the darkly tinged tale of a circle of Foreign Legation Brits who intersect with a city nearing the crush of an ever-expanding European war; mAt best, the darkly tinged tale of a circle of Foreign Legation Brits who intersect with a city nearing the crush of an ever-expanding European war; memorable characters and very well-noted atmosphere. The streets and parks of Bucharest are alive with the expectation, the inevitability, of undefined disaster arriving any day.
At worst a little bit soapy and round-robin with the wonder-what-Harriet-will-say sort of mechanisms gluing it all together. But readable and adult, while tasteful and reserved enough to keep the reader on the track for the whole trilogy. There is the considerable weight in these pages of the real thing happening in real time with consequences that will only play out with time.
Worth saying that Manning is a shrewd judge of what to leave out, where to cut away, and the general strategies she uses pay off; the parallel arcs of the theatrical rehearsals and the eventual news of the fall of Paris are expert. The play itself and its description are meticulous and well plotted. It is hard not to like this writer.
Seems to me that this volume and the others are probably best taken as a complete trilogy, as the characters and timeframe move on directly from here. So I'll leave this here for now....more
“Better a ship at sea, or an Irish wife, than a house in Macedonia.”
Semi-sprawling novelized memoir of Brits circulating through the occupations and
“Better a ship at sea, or an Irish wife, than a house in Macedonia.”
Semi-sprawling novelized memoir of Brits circulating through the occupations and evacuations of the world war in Rumania and Greece.
Author Manning deftly takes the reader along for an unpredictable and dangerous ride through the distant outposts of the Balkans, as Europe swarms with turmoil. Atmosphere and character are well crafted here, with portraits of people that could only exist in that time and place. Manning has a writerly sense of conveying the terroir of a new setting, or an unfamiliar situation. Part of the charm of the story is that the reader is left to contemplate whether the war makes the man, or vice versa .. As morality shifts, somehow identity shifts as well.
Layered underneath the basic narrative is the recognition that nothing about the way Civilization conducts itself-- would really ever be the same again. Convention and tranquility crash to the ground with the onslaught of annexation or invasion on the horizon. The ideas of Border or Frontier may be understood as metaphor here, wherein people re-align and transfer themselves toward something less like vulnerability and more like strength. Possibly.
And stitched into every page is the recognition that humor and humanity don't leave their critical qualities behind, even as all the characters become refugees :
He often himself hinted that he was engaged in espionage, but everyone knew that was just a little joke ... Spies were shot. Even if he were not actually shot, he would be ordered out of the country. And where could he go? Bad as things were here, Bucharest was the last outpost of European cooking. Levantine dishes upset his stomach. He could not bear the lukewarm food of Greece. He sat up, all pleasure gone from the bath, and considered the possibility of safeguarding himself by acting as informer. That would never do, of course ...
The Balkan Trilogy can get a bit soapy at times, social drama overtaking the ennui before a fall. But Manning wants us to see the panorama of the applied-stress of wartime, where dysfunction, insight or even heroic action-- may be derived from the ghastly impetus of mass violence....more
"Östlich von Wien, fängt der Orient an." -Metternich .. East of Vienna, the Orient begins ..
Off the start-mark at a run, A Time Of Gifts begins as a yo"Östlich von Wien, fängt der Orient an." -Metternich .. East of Vienna, the Orient begins ..
Off the start-mark at a run, A Time Of Gifts begins as a youthful dash toward freedom and maybe even civilization itself, exiting deliriously from the stuffy attic-rooms of academia. From a gritty mooring by London Bridge, Fermor hitches a ride on a tramp steamer and arrives in the Hook Of Holland, eager to explore one continent right after the next in a headlong rush. Although this is an overland journey, it is the rivers and waterways that draw the narrative, from the Lowland canals toward the Rhine and then to the Danube :
Even before I looked at a map, two great rivers had already plotted the itinerary in my mind's eye: the Rhine uncoiled across it, the Alps rose up and then the wolf-harbouring Carpathian watersheds and the cordilleras of the Balkans; and there, at the end of the windings of the Danube, the Black Sea was beginning to spread its mysterious and lopsided shape; and my chief destination was never in a moment's doubt. The levitating skyline of Constantinople ...
Itinerary in hand, Fermor proceeds to track a serpentine and unpredictable path through the northern Europe of 1933. It is an adventure, and both hazard and history are close behind. What's very interesting here is that Fermor is not only learning his fundamentals, in the travel sense and the culture sense, but he's learning to write as he goes. There is a lot of time on the hike, we gather, to develop both themes and organizing principles, creating and editing as he walks. Often the bleak lost-in-blizzard moment is deftly transitioned to the lap-of-luxury moment, by mere chance and good luck, as is customary in this kind of 30's memoir.
Some of the episodic accounts aren't really successful, but come off as charmingly youthful and romantic. The reader is altogether captivated by a cosmopolitan Baron in Slovakia; likewise the brief but ecstatic interlude where our author is adopted by Anna and Lise, age-similar housesitters in Stuttgart, where their absent father's grammophone and vintage wines were included. Sometimes, the unsuccessful moments go without an excuse, though, and the text reads like a long list in a tourism book.
Occasionally, though, the stars align, subject meets interpreter on a level landing, and Fermor goes on perfect, soaring autopilot... as with this passage on Danube School artist Albrecht Altdorfer :
"Here, at the northern most point of the river, a hundred and thirty miles upstream from the Abbey of St. Florian, the ancient stronghold of Ratisbon spans the Danube with a bridge that rivals all the great bridges of the Middle Ages. Those battlements and steeples, wrapped in myth, dominate one of the most complete and convincing mediaeval cities of the world. Anyone who has wandered in these streets can understand why the holy pastorals which his colleagues turned into dialect folk-tales, shift, under his hand, into the mood and the scenery of legends. The episodes of scripture—which are nowhere more splendidly manifest than in his great altarpiece at St. Florian’s—are suddenly clothed in the magic and the glamour of fairy stories; fairy stories, moreover, where the Mantua-Antwerp axis, uncoiling brilliant strands into the fabric, has been most potently spinning. Under the gothic interlock of cold whites and greys that canopy hallowed scenes in Flanders, the Biblical characters, clad in robes of lilac and mulberry and lemon and the shrill sulphur hue Mantegna loved, evolve and posture with convincing Renaissance splendor. Pontius Pilate—velvet-clad, mantled in dark sapphire, tasseled and collared like an Elector and turbanned like a Caliph—twists his sprinkled hands between ewer and salver under a magnificent baldaquin of scumbled gold. Through the lancets and the cinquefoils and beyond the diamond panes, the fluted rocks ascend and the woods and cliffs and cloud-banks of Gethsemane frame a luminous and incandescent sunset that presages Patinir. Though the centurions are knights in dark armour, no mortal smith ever wrought those helmet-wings and metal flourishes and knee-flutes and elbow-fans, even on the anvils of Augsburg and Milan in Maximilian’s reign. It is the fabulous harness that flashed later on every pre-raphaelite Grail-seeker and greaved and gauntleted the paladins in the Coloured Fairy books. Shifting from Divinity to sacred fable, the same ambience of magic isolates lonely knights among millions of leaves and confronts St. Eustace and the stag with its antlered crucifix, in a forest full of hazards and spells."
This is a young writer still learning his craft, but Place and Time have conspired to give us a near-perfect piece of Period Travel in this book; this one leaves off at Hungary, so much more from this ambitious road trip still to come. ...more
Deliberately slow and methodical portrait of the Hapsburg empire, its glories, grandeur, oversights and failures. By the time we reach the death of heDeliberately slow and methodical portrait of the Hapsburg empire, its glories, grandeur, oversights and failures. By the time we reach the death of heir-to-the-throne Franz Ferdinand and inescapable Great War, author Roth has guided us through multiple layers of his society, diverse angles on the era and the empire, all via characters representing the various levels.
Reminiscent of Lampedusa, Musil, Mann & Schnitzler at various points, we get the keynote personae and events as we go: the Duel At Dawn, the Darkly Mysterious Mistress, the Baccarat Tables, the Militarist Culture, the whole familiar Spectacle Of Empire : Headgear with bright plumage, jingling silver spurs, stamping Lipizzaner stallions in winter courtyards, the bitter-sweetness of the waltz, cognac in etched-crystal stemware, strolls through white-barked aspens in the glimmer of the Austro-Hungarian twilight..... while backstage ticks the clock of history.
This novel makes its way toward the inevitable-- Sarajevo and the assassination-- with stops, starts, and agonizing routine, keeping a close watch on authenticity as it goes. The last chapters are beautifully done, the audience with the Emperor, the rained-out gala at the castle are standalone cinematic gems ... And as war closes in, even the ravens know... By turns fogged-in with ennui and desolation, and even then exploding with the desires, fatalism, and extinguished hopes of the players, this is clearly meant to mirror the emotional tenor of the time.
Just depends on whether you'd like to go there too, I guess.