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
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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
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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.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member RobertDay
And so we come to the final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor's (PLF) peregrination through 1930s Europe, 'The Broken Road'. Unlike the other two books, this one was left unfinished by PLF at the time of his death, and had in any case been a work in sporadic progress for some thirty years. He took aid
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and advice from his biographer, Artemis Cooper, and his literary executor, Colin Thubron, and at various times this third volume of his youthful travels stuttered towards some sort of birth. He was still editing it at the time of his death at the age of 96 in 2011, although much of the final text dates from the early 1960s.

To recap: Patrick Leigh Fermor set out, at the age of eighteen in 1933, to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (as he continued to call Istanbul), having dropped out of boarding school. The first two volumes of his account brought him to the Iron Gates, the gorge on the Danube where Bulgaria meets Romania. This book set out to be the account of the last 500 miles of his journey; but his account of reaching Contantinople is missing, save for a few fragments. He arrived there shortly before New Year 1935; his account suddenly takes up again, this time in full detail, as he leaves Constantinople for Greece, where he has resolved to visit Mount Athos, the ecclesiastical semi-autonomous state that was then and still is a centre for Eastern Orthodoxy, with twenty monasteries which have been continuously occupied for some 1,800 years. Why he chose to do this is not recorded, though it seems to have been part of the process which cemented his love of the Balkans and their peoples in him. The last 80 pages of the book is his day-by-day account of his visit to each of the monasteries, the monks he met and the physical aspects of the Athosian peninsula. He seems to have treated his four weeks on the peninsula as a sort of literary retreat, reading Byron and working at his writing.

The account of his visit is of particular interest because in many ways Mount Athos is a closed society. No women live on the peninsula, and indeed access is barred to women. Furthermore, any male visitors have to secure permission from the ecclesiastical authorities to visit in advance; numbers are strictly limited and visits are time-limited. PLF's account therefore makes an interesting pendant to his European odyssey and prepares readers for his later accounts of other travels around Greece, 'Mani' and 'Roumeli'.

In his second book, 'Between the Woods and the Water', PLF began to apply some retrospective reflections to his travels. This is much more pronounced in 'The Broken Road'. It is the perspective of an older man looking back on the exploits of his youth. This is added to by Thubron and Cooper, who fill in some of the gaps in their introduction and in some of the footnotes. We find out, for example, the identity of 'Angela', with whom he shared a brief relationship in Transylvania; and we find out how it was that he was able to recover his last lost notebook, the "Green Diary", some thirty years after writing it. It is connected with the fate of the woman with whom he lived in Romania before the war; and without dwelling on events outside the scope of the book, we get an idea of how the divisions of Europe affected people in all walks of life and of all backgrounds for so many years.

Before Mount Athos, though, there was Bulgaria and another excursion into Romania. Bulgaria was a revelation to PLF, as it was a step into the former Ottoman Empire; and the influence of Islam was completely new to PLF. Throughout, he exercised his ability with languages and made connections between the opposed worlds of East and West; in particular, his account of the prejudice shown by Bulgarians to Romanians and vice versa is recounted with humour. His final stretch of his walk along the Black Sea coast seems to have perhaps been the hardest part; it is an area little appreciated even now, and it is possible that he gave up writing his notes out of sheer exhaustion.

This might be seen as an unsatisfying end to the story started in 'A Time of Gifts' - we barely get the merest glimpse of Constantinople, which for three books we have shared as a goal with PLF. It might be said that the reader is denied the closure of the completion of that journey, and the Mount Athos account, because it is inserted without any justification or motive, could be seen as scant compensation. But this would be unfair. PLF's 'Great Trudge' across Europe was just the beginning of his story, and the concluding volume of his account is aptly named 'The Broken Road' (a name selected by Cooper and Thubron). But the man's story continued; the road may have been broken, but it was not shattered. In later life, PLF counted people like Ian Fleming and Lawrence Durrell as friends, as well as many in Greece, where he and his wife lived for part of each year. 'The Broken Road' may not be the perfect travel book, but in setting the scene for the continuing tale of Patrick Leigh Fermor, it is a vibrant and worthwhile account.
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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
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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 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
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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 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
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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"
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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
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fascinating reading.
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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
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was incomplete at the time of Fermor's death, what remains is in keeping with the earlier books.
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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
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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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LibraryThing member jgoodwll
Interesting conclusion of Patrick Leigh Fermor's journey. Illuminating insights into Mount Athos.
LibraryThing member PDCRead
It is not often that you encounter trilogies outside fiction, but this book is the final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor's journey from the Hook of Holland to the exotic Constantinople. He begun the walk in 1933, just shy of his 18th birthday, but never actually got around to writing the first book
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in the 1970’s and the second volume in the mid 1980’s. He had started on the manuscript for this, the final book, but sadly died before it could be completed. Thankfully Artemis Cooper, friend and biographer, and the travel writer, Colin Thubron have been able to complete it from his notes.

The Europe of the 1930’s was very different to what we find today, northern Europe had been shattered by the first world war, but very little had changed in southern Europe when Fermor walked through it. By the end of the decade, this land would also be affected by the next war that would sweep across Europe.

I don’t know if it is his youth, bonhomie or gift for languages, but what comes across is his natural ability to get along with people from all levels of society, moving from palaces to shepherds huts, hovels to seedy hotels he observes the people and the places with a fresh and untainted eye. His engagement with the people and not just be an observer is what makes this book special too. He is the recipient of the local’s generosity too, from shelter and food and invitations to the parties and celebrations, or just the time spent smoking in others company. He also manages to survive on the budget of £1 a week too, an amount today that wouldn’t even get you change from an item out of a vending machine.

The final section is taken from his notes on his visit to Mount Athos. It is a Greek peninsula which is home to a number of orthodox monasteries. It is a time for reflection, and the monks are generous with their time, food and conversation with him.

Cooper and Thubron claim that the draft that they picked up and edited for publication has ‘scarcely a phrase that is not his’. That may or may not be the case, as it has the heart of a Fermor book, but compared to the first two volumes, it doesn’t quite have the soul. This is not entirely their fault as they are both fine authors; Thubron is one of my favourite travel writers. But the long process that Fermor took, along with the time gap between the events and the writing may not have helped.

That said, I am glad that they have made the effort to bring this to publication, because any book by Fermor is worth reading, and this is a worthwhile conclusion to his ‘great trudge’ across Europe.
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LibraryThing member nmele
The final, not quite finished volume of Fermor's trilogy about walking from the North Sea to Constantinople is full of his precise, vivid descriptions of birds, people and places and of his adventures on the roads of Balkan nations, primarily Bulgaria. Sadly, he never finished his account of the
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journey, which ends near the border between Bulgaria and Turkey. A sample of his fragmentary diary entries from Constantinople ends the journey, but his more complete journal of his first visit to Mount Athos rounds out the book--this section is fascinating; Fermor focuses much more on the personalities of the people he encounters than on the icons or liturgies, but what details he recounts are acute, entertaining and fascinating.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
Virtually flawless; on this evidence, Fermor spent too much time redrafting his already wondrous work.


British Book Award (Shortlist — 2013)
Independent Booksellers' Book Prize (Shortlist — Adult — 2014)



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