Friday, 6 December 2013

In between Mr B’s Reading Year: Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos by Patrick Leigh Fermor (2013)

We managed to get our copy the evening before release at Mr B’s own bibliotherapy session (http://www.mrbsemporium.com/and what a treat we have.  This posthumous publication has been eagerly awaited, the third section of Patrick’s year-long walk from England to Istanbul (Constantinople) made in 1935 when he was 18.  This book has been finalised by Patrick’s literary executors, Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper, using completed sections and notes.  They have managed a potentially very difficult task wonderfully well, creating something that is genuine.  Yet again, the brilliant writing, the descriptions of people and landscapes, shines through.  The lands and people Patrick meets are just fascinating.  The book takes us from the Iron Gates on the Donau through Bulgaria, back to Romania, then down the Black Sea coast to Constantinople.

Interestingly, there are only scattered notes of his stay in Istanbul – no soaring descriptions of the architecture or the bustle of city life we enjoyed earlier this year.  This is curious, but must be a part of the story why the book was never finalised in Patrick’s lifetime.  Perhaps the politics of the Ottoman collapse were too raw.  The final sections describe Patrick’s first time on Mount Athos, visiting the many different monasteries of that Greek isthmus.  Reading these pages, you can see why he was drawn back to the quiet places, as described in his little book on monasteries A Time to Keep Silence

There are some wonderful passages throughout the book – classic Fermor – leaving images in your mind that you hanker after.  A passing violent storm, with rushing rainwater.  The storks flying south - first the vanguard, then the massed ranks at different heights and finally the last stragglers and silence – oh what an image and how I want to see it.  Does it even still occur?  Then the evening with the Greek sailors and shepherds – perhaps the start of Patrick’s love of Greece.  The dancing is mesmeric and ecstatic, with tourist taverna evenings a pale reflection of what he describes.  And the people – friends he makes from all walks of life, who bring their mixed Balkan cultural histories to cloud their behaviour – fascinating and affecting.  A treat!


Istanbul 2013