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A Time of Gifts

(Trilogy #1)

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  6,426 ratings  ·  758 reviews
In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on an extraordinary journey by foot - from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. A Time of Gifts is the first volume in a trilogy recounting the trip, and takes the reader with him as far as Hungary. It is a book of compelling glimpses - not only of the events which were curdling Europe at that time, but also of its ...more
Paperback, 321 pages
Published October 3rd 2005 by NYRB Classics (first published 1977)
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Average rating 4.06  · 
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I’ll have whatever this guy is having. Yeah, the one making the embarrassing noises and eating ambrosia without a care in the world. This ridiculous guy right here. Fermor is kind of my hero. He represents something I've always envied. You know those people who can make a thing, an occasion out of anything, out of doing errands if they must? It’s not just an Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (da da da dah dah da dah da!) thing, it’s a way of not letting a surface presentation of boring be t ...more
This is about a European walking tour begun by the author in 1933. He was 18 at the time and his budget was £4 a month, sent poste restant to him along his route. The book’s unusual intellectual depth derives from the fact that he did not write the memoir until much later in life. This first volume, of three, appeared in his 62nd year.

Leigh Fermor’s departure from London takes the form of a lengthy description of his steamer, the Stadthouder, pulling away from Irongate Wharf under Tower Bridge o
Adam Floridia
This book will forever hold a special place in my heart because it is the first one my son, Jameson Michael Floridia (Jem for short), read:


Actually, it was more like this:


Hopefully, some of Fermor's aesthetically magnificent, dazzling images will dance like sugar plums in his little head. Maybe one day he will be a Wandering Scholar...

Hopefully, Konrad's words will reside latent in his subconscious: "'You see, dear young, how boldness is always prospering?'" (205).

Hopefully (but not likely), I
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
This is a remarkable book; the account of an 18 year old who decides to escape England and walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. The year is 1933 and the Nazis have just come to power and he sets off just before winter starts. He had been expelled from school and wanted to write and he took writing materials with him to record his experiences in a journal/diary. Leigh Fermor has the optimism and enthusiasm of youth; but he also had good powers of observation and the ability to make fr ...more
Sep 07, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nyrb, feces, spurned
Now I fully realize that I have no right to ‘review’ a book of which I’ve read only about forty miserable pages, plus its bloviating introduction. So if you’re a militant Fermor partisan and you’ve arrived here for the purpose of throwing fits and tantrums and tsk-tsking me for bad protocol, then save the exertion of your typing fingers. I’m unmoved by the natural law of book reviewing or its radical adherents. Now where’s my soapbox? This book is the opposite of the kind of books I enjoy. It’s ...more
Apr 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
To enjoy A Time of Gifts you will only need to possess an interest (even a passing interest) in at least one of these three things: the English language, descriptions of land and city-scapes, and the history of European art and culture. Is that more than three things? Possibly. This is certainly the most erudite travel book I have ever read. It is composed of countless magnificent words. I understand this is the case with many books. But this one is a really vivid fabric, each word representing ...more
Roy Lotz
When I began this book, I fully expected to join the universal chorus of praise. The premise of this book could hardly be more promising: a naïve, bookish nineteen-year-old decides to walk from Holland all the way to Constantinople. We have here all the makings of a literary adventure: an author sensitive enough to language and art to appreciate the finer points of culture, and impetuous enough to get into scraps and misadventures. The only book I can think of that holds comparable promise is Ge ...more
Sherwood Smith
May 08, 2011 added it
Shelves: memoir
It took me a long time to comprehend history as a palimpsest.

Fermor seems to have understood it viscerally, if not yet intellectually, as a teenager dropping out of school in order to walk from Ostend to Constantinople. He set out in December of 1933, though he didn't write up his experiences until the seventies. He did keep a travel diary (though he lost the first one, when he left his backpack at a youth hostel in Munich for a day, after having met a pair of schoolgirls who took him in) so th
A true masterwork of travel writing. So much is impressive about this book, starting with Fermor’s journey itself. Over the course of three years, starting when he was just 18, he walked from Holland to Constantinople. I was particularly eager to read this because he passes through a lot of places I went on my train travels this past summer, including Germany, Austria and Bratislava. This first of three volumes covers up until his entry into Hungary.

The sharpness of memory is astonishing, especi
May 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Ah, these English travellers and their amazing prose--prose equal, fitted to their feats. Virginia Woolf on Hakluyt's Early Voyages:

These magnificent volumes are not often, perhaps, read through. Part of their charm consists in the fact that Hakluyt is not so much a book as a great bundle of commodities loosely tied together, an emporium, a lumber room strewn with ancient sacks, obsolete nautical instruments, huge bales of wool, and little bags of rubies and emeralds. One is for ever untying thi
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
"All horsepower corrupts."

This from "The Walking Man," as good a sobriquet for Patrick Leigh Fermor as you'd want. A TIME OF GIFTS is the sweet story of an 18-year-old Englishman (boy?) who decided to walk to Constantinople. Yeah, yeah. There's that problem of the English Channel and all, but you can't take it so literally. He takes trains, no planes, and automobiles when necessary, but mostly he foots it, and, for a traveler, there's no better way to find local color.

What about his finger-waggi
Sep 03, 2011 rated it liked it
infuriating. the long stretches of five starness (and there are many of 'em) contend with as many instances of passages ground to dust by severe overwriting; as great a command as fermor has over the language, the lush, too often, drops into the masturbatory. and that breezy british omniscience? it just grows tiresome. it's those who are mad and sloppy and damaged who truly excite. i.e. christopher hitchens's (certainly a descendent of fermor) dry, reference-packed, know-everythingness is temper ...more
Grace Tjan
At the tender age of eighteen, on the cusp of adulthood and having been expelled from his last school, young Patrick Leigh Fermor decided to go on a walkabout through the pre-war Mitteleuropa wonderland, all the way to the distant minarets of Constantinople. These are some of the people and things that he encountered along the way:

1. Goose-stepping Brownshirts and beer-swilling S.S. officers

“The song that kept time to their tread, “Volk, ans Gewehr!” ---often within earshot during the followin
Lubinka Dimitrova
What a marvelous book, and what a charming, brilliant, erudite and unbelievably captivating narrator Patrick Leigh Fermor was! After reading his enchantingly rich travelogue, I feel that I literally lack the words to express my amazement. I don't know whether I admire more his adventurous spirit, his acute ability for observation of persons and places of a now obsolete eras, not to mention his insightful remarks on art, architecture, geography, clothing, music, foods, religions, languages. liter ...more
May 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
At school some learning by heart was compulsory, though not irksome. But this intake was out-distanced many times, as it always is among people who need poetry, by a private anthology, both of those automatically absorbed and of poems consciously chosen and memorized as though one were stocking up for a desert island or for a stretch of solitary.

The evidence of the "amazing" rating in this instance is that I sat raptured and read all day long.
It wasn't a diversion or an escape from tedium.

Fermor is considered by many to be one of the great travel writers in our time. I note he waited many years before he wrote of his wanderings. He kept a notebook, several really, and added and embellished what had not occurred to him at nineteen when he was walking to Constantinople. He admits to being a green young thing and, while he had a good education and many gifts, it is his insatiable curiosity and open demeanor that gained him so many friends and helpful companions.

This is what should
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A Time of Gifts is a book I’d been meaning to read since about 1999. I can’t remember who recommended it to me, but I do recall it being mentioned in The Common Reader catalog (sadly defunct) along with Ill Met by Moonlight, a book about the incredible (and successful) mission to kidnap the commanding general of German forces in Crete during WW2. That book was written by W. Stanley Moss, Patrick Fermor’s second in command on that operation, and Fermor was said to have been irritated by the book, ...more

In November 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor was eighteen years old. His scholastic career having been disrupted by being expelled from school, he was studying privately in the hope of being admitted to Royal Military College Sandhurst when he realised that being a peacetime soldier held no attraction. So, in need of a change of scenery, Leigh Fermor decided to “abandon London and set out across Europe like a tramp”, or as he expressed it to himself, “like a pilgrim or a palmer, an errant scholar, a b
Apr 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Have you ever so adored a book that you feel that everyone in the world should have the authors name on their lips and you want to buy every copy so you can force everyone you know to sit down and read it right now? But that the same time this book is so special, so truly unique in your life and also the universe, that to read it is sort of like the time in the Wizard of Oz when it all goes from black-and-white to Technicolor and only truly worthy people deserve moments like that so you also wan ...more
Aug 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on an extraordinary journey by foot - from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. "A Time of Gifts" is the first volume in a trilogy recounting the trip, and in this volume the reader accompanies him as far as Hungary.

It's an exceptional book. Published years after the event, in 1977, it still perfectly captures the wonder of his extraordinary journey and the many fascinating people he met on the way. What elevates this magical book are Pa
Aug 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a unique and impressive and special and fascinating and ... worthwhile book, but ... I just didn't love it. Indeed, much as I appreciated it, I struggled to stick with it. (I mean I ... really ... struggled....) As a result, I literally chipped away at it, reading it in chunks - some smaller, some larger - over the course of more than a year (which, for me, is highly unusual). In all fairness, when it did strike my fancy, I enjoyed lengthy sections, but ... over the course of nearly 16 m ...more
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: 3Ms
Recommended to Bettie by: Carey Combe
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Will Ansbacher
This was good, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, based on other rave reviews.

Fermor had a privileged but unconventional childhood, and in 1933 at the age of 18, skipped out of an expected career path to walk across Europe to Constantinople. This is his account of the first half of that journey, and what makes it unusual is that Fermor did not write this book until more than 40 years later, and then it was in the form of a letter to an old friend from WW2. References to that p
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A Time of Gifts

Patrick Leigh Fermor was a hero of mine long before I had read one word of his work. I was, perhaps, ten or eleven when my father took me to the film "Ill Met By Moonlight." This was not a filmic interpretation of Shakespeare but rather a rousing tale of derring-do on the island of Crete in the depths of World War Two. Leigh Fermor, dashingly played by Dirk Bogarde, was part of a team of British Special Operations Executive operatives who infiltrated the German occupied island to
This is a really wonderful armchair travel book. You cannot find better. A nineteen year old travels on foot from Rotterdam to Budapest, well actually almost to Budapest. He gets over the Slovakian border into Hungary. The next book covers his travels from Budapest to Constantinople: Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland : The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates. I will have to read that too!!!

If my own knowledge of history had been better I would have g
Daniel Polansky
Patrick Leigh Fermor, when he was eighteen, decided to walk from London to Constantinope, and this is the first third of that trip. I suppose this isn't quite Marco Polo but amongst travel writers in the 20th century it reigns pretty much untouched.. To have been able to explore this last fragment of pre-modern Europe – Germany before it was turned to ash, Central Europe before fifty years of a Soviet yoke! – is something that no serious traveler cannot look upon without undisguised jealousy. An ...more
Gumble's Yard
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2007
Travelogue by author written in 1970’s recounting his travels as an 18 year old in the early 1930’s. Having being expelled from a series of schools he decided to set out on his travels. Initially intending to sleep in the open and in barns – he found at first that he was often put up by people he met and then via a fortuitous had letters of introduction to various members of the remnants of the lower ranks of the nobility and spent much of his travels staying in castles.

His account is very deta
Abigail Bok
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A Time of Gifts is an extended love letter to Western culture—but don’t let that deter you from picking it up. In 1933 Patrick Leigh Fermor, a British nineteen-year-old dropout struck with wanderlust, took it into his head to walk across Europe from the Netherlands to Constantinople/Istanbul. In 1977 he took his memories and journals from this adventure and produced a remarkable three-volume memoir of his travels, of which A Time of Gifts is the first volume.

Fermor sleeps in barns and hostels an
Jul 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This travel book may be one of the most beautifully written books in the English language. Patrick Leigh Fermor's prose is stunning, it flows like a hypnotic river, it mesmerizes, it shines, sentence after sentence. But there's much more to this wonderful non-fiction book than just exquisite writing: by retelling the journey that he undertook as a very young British man, in the thirties, and which brought him to Holland, Germany, Austria, and the next door Eastern-European countries, P.L.F. brin ...more
Patrick Leigh Fermor spends part of his journey rather unhappy how few poems he can remember by heart, and in only, like, five languages. Poems that he recites to alleviate loneliness as he wanders the Rhineland, having occasional all-night philosophical conversations with barons, nasty run-ins with Nazis, romantic encounters with the daring young ladies of Munich, and all the while musing about Roman history, literature, botany, architecture, the Reformation, and the intertwinings of humanity a ...more
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Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, OBE, DSO was a British author and army officer who played a prominent role behind the lines in the Battle of Crete during World War II. He was widely regarded as "Britain's greatest living travel writer".

Other books in the series

Trilogy (3 books)
  • Between the Woods and the Water
  • The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

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