A fondly admiring account of the English wayfarer captures his enormously infectious spirit.
An author of nonfiction travelogues not well-known on this side of the Atlantic, Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915–2011) made his swashbuckling reputation during World War II when he and his fellow British Special Operations Executive agent W. Stanley Moss and Cretan resistance fighters abducted the Nazi general of the occupation of Crete. Subsequently, Leigh Fermor was hailed as a Greek hero and was even graced by a 1957 Hollywood film version of the escapade, Ill Met by Moonlight, based on Moss’ memoir of the same name. British author Cooper (Writing at the Kitchen Table: The Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David, 2000, etc.) was well-acquainted with the personable, loquacious Leigh Fermor and has edited his Words of Mercury, deriving much of this material from his own extensive memoirs as well as from interviews. What emerges here is the energetic, devouring spirit of the intrepid traveler, who never had the money to be a true bon vivant but who managed to find plenty of well-connected ladies to pay his bills. Channeling a restive youth between ill-suited parents who lived, separately, in India and London, “Paddy” resolved to postpone entry into the army in order to make a yearlong trek by foot through Europe starting in December 1933. It would prove his education, coming-of-age and entree into life as he forged many of the acquaintances that would direct his future, such as that of Princess Balasha Cantacuzene, a mysterious older painter of Greek-Rumanian extraction who took young Paddy in during the next several years. The war scattered many friends, yet his notoriety prompted continual interest in his travels.
A solid biography that should introduce more readers to Leigh Fermor’s work.