Jim's Reviews > Three Letters from the Andes

Three Letters from the Andes by Patrick Leigh Fermor
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's review
Jun 16, 12

bookshelves: latin-america, adventure, travel-classics, reread
Read in June, 2012

I'd read this one decades ago, before I read or knew anything about Fermor. Now I am in the situation of going back over his work after I have come to regard him as a great writer.

There is something singularly dense about Fermor's writing. It has to do primarily with his incredible erudition and his keen sense of observation. Three Letters from the Andes consists of three long letters to his wife Joan written during a six-week trip to Peru with several friends in 1971. They go to Cuzco, mountain-climbing in the Andes from the Urubamba Valley, then off to Puno and Lake Titicaca on the border with Bolivia (just as Bolivia is having one of its frequents coups), and finally to Arequipa and back to Lima, from whence they return to England.

Here is one of Fermor's incredible paragraphs which one hopes never to come to the end of:
Our hosts were Mr and Mrs Hugh Morgan, friends of Michael and Demaris Stewart and extremely nice. It was a large dinner and I had a charming, very quiet and beautiful neighbor called Doña Diana de Dibos: she was English, moreover, and first married to a Spaniard who fell in the Civil War, and then -- now -- to a Peruvian. Exchanging-life stories, she told me she and her brother had been brought up by her father, who was a retired British admiral, half on shore and half on a yacht, at St. Tropez, when it was a little fishing town, of which her father had been affectionately styled 'the mayor' ... Suddenly I realized who she was: the sister, that is, of Mike Cumberlege, that amazing buccaneerish figure (very funny, very well read, and with a single gold earring) who used to smuggle us into German-occupied Crete in little boats; he captured later by the Germans trying to blow jup the Corinth Canal, held prisoner for three years in Flossenberg concentration camp and, tragically, shot four days before the armistice: a marvellous almost mythical figure; Xan and I knew him well. His sister Diana and I fell into each other's arms and I told her lots of stories about him she'd never heard.
By the way, during WW II, Paddy Leigh Fermor and a handful of Cretan insurgents captured the German commander of the island and hustled him over a couple of mountain ranges to a waiting British sub. The whole story is told by a fellow guerrilla, W. Stanley Moss, in his excellent book Ill Met By Moonlight.

There is little about Fermor that is NOT remarkable. I was heartbroken that he passed on in 2011. But more than anyone I know, le lived, he saw, he stored up wonderful images, and he wrote them down in a mere handful of books that I see now I will spend the rest of my life re-reading.

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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim I am sad to hear of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor's death. He was one of the greatest of all travel writers, though the term is too limiting when one considers the richness of his oeuvre.

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