I first came across this wonderful book when in Athens. I had wandered into an antique/curios store, as is my habit, and caught sight of a small pile of books in the corner on the floor – irresistibly intriguing. Right on the bottom of the pile was this book and as we were sailing to the Greek Islands, it seemed a necessary purchase – and how wonderful a purchase it turned out to be.
I devoured this book and it was with excitement that when we arrived at each island so evocatively described by Durrell, I felt I had already been there is a previous life and that I was rediscovering the Island again with new eyes. There is so much knowledge, so much love and creativity in this book that it seems almost wrong to try to encapsulate in a few words. His chapter on Crete is magical, his description of Santorini almost too perfect, and his chapter on Rhodes is so full of history and anecdotes that you almost travel there as you read.
I know we tend to pack our bags with the latest in travel guides and they certainly have their place but if you do plan to ever travel to the Greek Islands or indeed are travelling there, do yourself an immense favour and buy a copy of this book – read it before you go, but most importantly put it in your luggage for you will read it again and again.
Let me conclude with a few of his words….
“You journey back from the Greek islands to the mainland less with regret than with a feeling that you have touched the fringe of a mystery. We shall never know, presumably, who the Greeks really were or really are; and any brief history only deepens the mystery…This small country, so repeatedly raped and shattered and ground to powder, and then reduced to the bare calc of its desolate capes and headlands, never had any fixed geographical borders. It was a state of mind. And the traveller will not be wrong, if he detects even today, after so many centuries of so called decline, a pulse-beat at the heart of Greek light, which still thuds with the old anxious curiosities and concerns. Greece may be all ashes, but the phoenix is still there, waiting for its hour.”
Look for the phoenix – it is there, and Lawrence Durrell has given us all a tool to see it in this wonderful book.