A posthumous completion of an adventure British author and adventurer Fermor (1915–2011) began more than 70 years ago: a walk from Holland to Istanbul.
In 1933, then 18, “Paddy” Fermor—the subject of co-editor Artemis Cooper’s biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure (2013)—set out on that long trek. As he recounted in A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986), both written half a century later, he encountered all sorts of people, not least of them the Nazis and nationalists who would soon set Europe aflame, whereupon Fermor began a guerrilla life that James Bond would have envied. When he died, he left behind bits and pieces of this closing volume. Why he never completed it is a mystery; as Cooper and co-editor Colin Thubron observe, “The problem remained obscure even to him, and The Broken Road is only its partial resolution.” On reading it, one wishes that Fermor, a fluent and supremely literate writer, had spent more time in closure; the book seems a touch unfinished and not quite up to its predecessors. Even so, he is in fine form as he travels from the Iron Gates of Bulgaria toward his destination, meeting a succession of beguiling women and, as ever, being in the right place at the right time. As readers will learn, the title of the book is just right; and if Fermor encountered endless obstacles as well, his enthusiasm for description and discovery remain undiminished, as he recounts the ethnographic and historical details of life in the Balkans: “When their crust of frowning aloofness is broken, and their guard down and the maddening banter lulled, they are often spontaneous, enthusiastic and—despite the opposite intention—extremely naïve and transparently innocent”; “Brandy in large quantities pumped in a fresh impetus, which was hardly needed by this time, and we danced and sang.”
Incomplete but lovely nonetheless. Admirers of Fermor’s writing will not be disappointed.