The broken road : from the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Hardcover, 2014




New York : New York Review Books, [2014]


"In the winter of 1933 eighteen-year-old Patrick ("Paddy") Leigh Fermor set out to walk across Europe, starting in Holland and ending in Constantinople, a trip that took him the better part of a year. Decades later, when he was well over fifty, Leigh Fermor told the story of that life-changing journey in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, two works now celebrated as among the most vivid, absorbing, delightful, and beautifully-written travel books of all time. The Broken Road is the long and avidly awaited account of the final leg of his youthful adventure that Leigh Fermor promised but was unable to finish before his death in 2011. Assembled from Leigh Fermor's manuscripts by his prize-winning biographer Artemis Cooper and the travel writer Colin Thubron, this is perhaps the most personal of all Leigh Fermor's books, catching up with young Paddy in the fall of 1934 and following him through Bulgaria and Romania to the coast of the Black Sea. Days and nights on the road, spectacular landscapes and uncanny cities, friendships lost and found, leading the high life in Bucharest or camping out with fishermen and shepherds: in the The Broken Road such incidents and escapades are described with all the linguistic bravura, odd and astonishing learning, and overflowing exuberance that Leigh Fermor is famous for, but also with a melancholy awareness of the passage of time, especially when he meditates on the scarred history of the Balkans or on his troubled relations with his father. The book ends, perfectly, with Paddy's diary from the winter of 1934, when he had reached Greece, the country he would fall in love with and fight for. Across the space of three quarters of century we can still hear the ringing voice of an irrepressible young man embarking on a life of adventure"--… (more)

Media reviews

I have said that Patrick Leigh Fermor’s first two books about his great adventure lacked the satisfying structure of Bildung narratives. The irony of the publication of his final, posthumous work is that it creates, retrospectively and almost accidentally, something of that meaningful arc for the entire trilogy. By the end, the lacquered manner has dissolved, and a different, far more touching and sympathetic hero emerges.
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Given how the shortcomings of this book so tormented Paddy's last decades, few of us thought it likely that it would contain any material to equal its great predecessors. The wonderful surprise is that, while the book is certainly uneven, and contains some jottings and lists that are little more than raw, unworked data, overall it is every bit as masterly as Between the Woods and the Water, while some passages – such as his marvellous account of a love affair in the old Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – are the match for some of the great passages of A Time of Gifts.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Caomhghin
Certainly broken backed in places though the old magic creeps in before it dissipates and then returns. He still meets wonderful people and is acutely observant of them. The part on Athos is just a journal and is not uninteresting in seeing what sort of material he started with when he wrote the other books. Did he embroider or elaborate. I think so. There is a scene in a cave by the Black Sea. He reaches it after almost dying and joins a singing dancing group of fishermen and sailors. It is quite mesmerising and easy to imagine in the glittering torchlight as he describes it. Did it happen that way? Probably not but it is a thrilling piece of prose.

The text also has gaps where he doesn't remember what happened.
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LibraryThing member vguy
All autobiography is really fiction, said somebody; perhaps it applies to travel writing too. This is a strange reading experience: ghost written in an almost literal sense. It's been edited together by Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron from his notes and drafts, which themselves were written many years after his travels in 1930s Balkans. The bulk of it - edited - reads much like the earlier works in the sequence, brilliant sensual style, a sense of fun and historical scholarship in every phrase. A virtuosic example is a single paragraph history of the Manichaean heresy and its legacy culminating in the etymology of the English word "buggery" . Another is the refuge of an exhausted Paddy L-F in a cave inhabited by a dual community of Greek and Bulgarian fishermen who then exalt themselves in dance, in a style he manages to trace back to early Byzantium.
An odd disappointment is the final section on Mount Athos, the text here apparently as he wrote it at the time. The style is flat, insight is lacking, the scholarship missing, though the actions are similar, namely wandering through exotic history-laden terrain and being made welcome by the high and low. Characteristic here is his description of one monk after another as "a nice chap". The Paddy L-F qualities are evidently kneaded into his texts painstakingly over many years, in part the product of the process of recall. What we read when we read Leigh Fermor is something quite remote from his actual experience.
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LibraryThing member Figgles
I approached this final posthumously edited volume of Patrick Leigh-Fermor's with some trepidation, which I initially felt was justified as the opening chapters of the broken road felt a little like ersatz PLF. However, about one third of the way into "The Broken Road" I felt the familiar voice return (or perhaps I became used to the tone) and experienced the wonder of the youthful Paddy set against the wisdom and erudition of the older writer remembering his journey through Bulgaria and Roumania. Sadly Leigh-Fermor recorded little of his arrival or time in Constantinople so I was glad that the editors took us a little further and reproduced the diary record of the time he spent visiting the Monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece, the country that was to become his love and his home. A fine completion of the trilogy that began with "A Time of Gifts" and continued with "Between the Woods and the Water"… (more)
LibraryThing member devenish
After many years this the third of Leigh Fermor's famous travel books is finally published. It takes the reader on a trek from Rumania to Constantinople with a final diary section touring the monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece. Needless to say this volume which completes a wonderful trilogy makes fascinating reading.
LibraryThing member bodachliath
This conclusion to the three part saga of Fermor's epic walk across Europe forms a fitting tribute to the late writer. Like the previous two parts (A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water) it is an entertaining mixture of picaresque adventure and erudite travelogue. Although the book was incomplete at the time of Fermor's death, what remains is in keeping with the earlier books.… (more)
LibraryThing member JBreedlove
The third in PLF's trilogy of travel between the WW's. Written in recollection as an old man this last book finished his travels in Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece. Lacking in description of Constatntinople but detailed in all else it is a look at another time and an even older time that was fading out.
(the pre-WWI world). Not quite as good as the first too but still a great read.
What a start to a well travelled, curious and effictive life with an influence on so many including Robert Kaplan of Balkan Ghosts fame. Looking forward to reading more of PLF.
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