Menu
Menu
Search
Search
Search
Close

Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor

We have gathered all the fantastic reviews our Book Club Members have sent us this month.

Click on each name to read the review. If you would like to become part of the Viking Book Club, sign up here >>

Expand All Collapse All

Judy Murray

Between the Woods and the Water is a remarkable story, which makes an excellent travel companion particularly if on the "Passage to Eastern Europe" Cruise. It describes an overland journey, frequently on foot through Hungary and Romania, from Budapest to the Iron Gate in 1934.

It is entertaining and extremely informative with vivid descriptions of his natural surroundings, different people the author met and how he communicated with them. His experiences were unique considering the absence of mass tourism and technology at the time.

It is strange to know that the lifestyles he described, both idyllic and basic would be destroyed within a decade but he made the most of his extensive experiences, whether he was staying with a Count or roughing it with gypsies.

I found introductions by the author and Jan Morris helpful, as they explained how the main body of the story, which took place 80 years ago, is embellished with historical explanations written 30 years ago. The index is useful for checking up on details about the many historical facts.

Dorothy Ainsley

Having been to the countries that this particular book covers I was eager to start reading it.

The author visited this region 5 years before the outbreak of the World War II when he was only nineteen - the actual book was not written until many years later from his notes. His linguistic and historical knowledge used throughout the text as well the eloquent language he uses to describe the various people he met and places he visited are not that of one so young and I think the book would have been very different if it had been written just after his journey.

Having said that, the book gives a fascinating insight into a world that no longer exists. One minute he is meeting and staying with a member of the local aristocracy and the next he is sleeping under the stars and sharing a meal with gypsies.

Joy Galley

This tells the author's journey on foot (most of the time) to Constantinople - now Istanbul - from the Hook of Holland in 1933/34. It is the second of a trilogy narrating his journey across Europe.

He meets people of different races and religions. Many of the people, who do become firm friends, give him the names of contacts he can meet further on his journey along the Danube. At one time he was lent a horse called Malek. He carried a rucksack which contained all his belongings. His original heavy one was stolen in Munich but he was given a smaller one by one of his Baltic Russian friends. His soldier's great coat was folded into a tight 'sausage' and strapped onto his rucksack. This coat came in useful for the many times he slept under the stars. His descriptions of the countryside and people are very vivid.

A lot of history going back to the first century was gleaned from the people he met. Many of the places have changed their names so it is difficult to trace the journey on a modern map. At times he sensed the signs of what was to come.

Sheila Corkill

I came to this author unprepared, knowing little of the youth, fresh from school, taking a momentous journey, nor of the older statesman he became. The latter man laid out the journey in eloquent prose. This comprehensive foray across Europe, outlining its variety of histories and habits was utterly captivating.

One enters a world of complex, vivid illumination, stands at his shoulder as he follows rivers, treks terrain, wild and otherwise. Languages are many, the author resorts to Latin, its base being common to some en route or known through education. There are peasants and noble aplenty providing extremes of hospitality and importantly, subsequent referrals for more.

Patrick Leigh Fermor's early venture across Europe, his outlining the variety of histories and habits is entrancing. Throughout, [his] deep appreciation, valuing of people met, enjoyment of customs, [is] riveting.

Much of the delight is surely his language, complex, apt, joyful in its depth. Ah readers regret - so much portrayed is no longer visible, lost, but captured here.

To Viking Book Club, thank you for opening another door!

Penny Shone

This is the second volume of the trilogy in which the author describes his pre-war travels across Central Europe.

The book starts at the Danube Bridge between Slovakia and Hungary and finishes 600 miles downstream at Orsova, near The Iron Gate, but with many detours away from the Danube. Along the route he explores Hungary, Transylvania and the Carpathian Uplands, falls in love and avails himself of the hospitality of an array of landed gentry, only occasionally reverting to his original intentions of austere travel. The author is an accomplished wordsmith and many of his descriptions are delightful. One of his hosts had 'a touch of Evensong about him' while some gypsy women were 'like tattered mendicant rainbows'.

Despite making journal entries during his trip the book was written some fifty years later, producing a disconcerting mixture of naivety overlaid by decades of experience and study. He does not wear his learning lightly and there are pages of history and genealogy which were not easy to assimilate. It was the youthful Paddy who was my preferred companion with his enthusiasm for fresh experience, and his idyllic account of the natural history between the woods and the water.

John Robson

The cover has a "crit" which starts, "The finest travelling companion we could ever have...." In truth it is the opposite. The book consists of the unorganised ramblings of an upper class waster scamming his way across Europe, recounting disjoint bits of historical and geographical detail.

This would for me be the travelling companion from Hell. Think of the worst accounts relatives may insist on giving you of their holidays, which they pursue at extraordinary length, not noting your boredom, or failure to stay awake. Compared to this book they would be full of interest.

I assume the author wrote this book with the same self-deluded idea that his travels would be of interest to others, but I think he might have difficulty finding a kindred spirit to listen to no less than three volumes of this stuff (actually he died before completing this mission, this book being volume 2). How a publisher was found must be one of the mysteries of the universe, let alone the book being re-issued nearly thirty years on!

I got from cover to cover, with boredom increasing. Fortunately I can speed read. Avoid!

(I'll pass my copy to Oxfam. It might still raise some cash to do some good.)

Sheila Holt

This review is a series of firsts for me, my first book review, my first encounter with Patrick Leigh Fermor's work and the first time I had read this genre so it was with a completely open mind that I started this book.

This is the second book in the series and I soon found I was wishing that I had read A Time of Gifts first. Although Between the Woods and the Water is a very good read in its own right I felt I had missed out on the detail of the original motivation for this extraordinary journey. By the end of the book I was eager to read the final volume The Broken Road to enjoy the last stage of the journey.

The book itself is beautifully written with amazing detail and you can just imagine yourself in that landscape, although it has changed so much since his adventure. The attention to detail is phenomenal and I realised how sadly lacking was my knowledge of both the history and geography of middle Europe. The book has sparked a desire to learn more about this part of the world and I look forward to visiting the area in the summer when we cruise along the Danube. I hope to then read all three books in the series and appreciate even more the splendid descriptions in this work.

Caron Gaw

I loved the description, language and history. The descriptions are vivid and engaging. I found this book stimulating and wished I had done the walk. I had to keep a dictionary close to look up some of the descriptive words. Beautifully written.

Tricia Arnold

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s narrative is a delight and transports the reader to a Europe and European way of life that no longer exists. From the opening paragraph a sense of adventure emerges and inspires one to read on and follow the author, step by step, drinking in the sights, smells, people and culture of the many places he visits. There is a wealth of historical knowledge interwoven with his journey, which gives a deeper understanding of the regions and their inhabitants. This information, coupled with the author’s ability to write so evocatively, makes one wish that they could travel back in time to see and experience these wonderful places as he did.

The book is a joy to read and can only encourage the undecided or hesitant traveller to explore further to try to capture that same sense of excitement, adventure, fun and serenity that Patrick Leigh Fermor portrays in abundance.

Marian Hall

This account of the author's travels, mostly on foot, across middle Europe in 1934 when aged 19, is part two of his journey from Hungary through Romania and Transylvania.

His descriptions of the landscape, wildlife, the places he passed through and the people he met are covered in such great detail that it was easy to imagine being there. He was befriended by local people, sharing their food and drink. Often he slept outdoors; at other times, he was the guest of aristocratic hosts, enjoying their hospitality and home comforts.

Covering an area of Europe unfamiliar to me, I was looking forward to his tales, and found much of the book enjoyable. Helpfully included was a map showing his route.

There are many historical sections throughout the book, and whilst such information may assist in understanding the background and culture of the local peoples, I would have preferred them kept as an appendix.

Apart from this, the book is an interesting account of a vanished way of life, across a region shortly to be changed in so many ways with the outbreak of war. It is sad to think that this journey could never be repeated.

Martin Scott

Between the Woods and the Water, recounts Patrick Leigh Fermors travels to Budapest and then across the Great Hungarian Plain, before travelling through Transylvania and the upper Carpathian Mountains. This journey was undertaken on foot, horseback, by car, on a boat, and by train, with his enjoyable and colourful descriptions bringing both his journey and his various travelling companions to life.

Paddy’s travelling companions and hosts are both varied and a delight, ranging from an Orthodox rabbi, Transylvanian shepherds, communities of Gypsies and aristocratic hosts with whom he stayed for sometimes long periods of times.

The book captures the spirit of days gone by, with the words building captivating images of people, cultures and places as they used to be (some don’t now exist).

At times you forget Paddy was only 18 at the time of his trip, a great busman’s holiday that any modern day student would be proud to undertake.

A real gem of a book, following on from A Time of Gifts.

Hard to put down once you pick it up and perfect for a leisurely day whilst cruising down the Rhine, on a Viking river cruise.

Mark Harvey

I have to say from the outset that this is not a book I would usually read and as a result it was a little hard to get into, having started to read it and then stopped on a couple of occasions it was on the third attempt courtesy of a long rail journey that I finally got beyond chapter five. What surprised me about this book is that it is a travel book but it is written as literature. It is the second of a trilogy. It is the travelogue of a young man touring Eastern Europe just before the outbreak of WW2 and the shame is that a lot of the sights have long gone. It is a great book for anyone who is interested in history and wants an understanding of the region.

Irene Murdoch

This travel memoir relates a young man's trek through Europe in the 1930's. The language and description evoke a more colourful, lost age and each leg of the journey takes the reader to magical and exotic-sounding places which seem to be populated by larger than life characters from Gypsies to Aristocrats. I enjoyed travelling along with the writer and the vivid descriptions brought the book to life. This is the second book of three and I would be interested to read the others too.

Vic Heard

You will love this book or hate it. It starts where A Time of Gifts, the start of his account of a walk from Britain to Constantinople, leaves off, on the bridge at Esztergom.

What follows describes decaying aristocrats in castles, penniless but able to put Fermor up with endless wine, schnapps, and cigarettes, before lending him a horse to ride to the next aristocrat. There are hussars with curved swords, gypsies dining on hedgehogs, minorities with quaint customs left over from ancient waves of invaders, each overwhelmed by the next. All is described in detail, all aristocrats have names and nothing is omitted in setting out the "way it was" in the 30's.

However he did not keep a notebook or write it till 1986. He cannot have remembered so much. Some of his assertions are wrong. The Latin speaking Romanians are not descendants of wandering tribes, they were latinised after Trajan's conquest of Dacia. The Ottoman, Lithuanian and Byzantine empires are not mentioned. Yet Moldova is shown on his map as Bessarabia, the Byzantine name.

Enjoy it as a work of fiction: it probably never was "the way it was".

Top