ABDUCTING A GENERAL, a memoir by Patrick Leigh Fermor, reviewed by Rory McCluckie • Cleaver Magazine
ABDUCTING A GENERAL by Patrick Leigh Fermor NYRB, 206 pages reviewed by Rory McCluckie In 1933, aged only 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor began walking from Rotterdam to Constantinople. Clad in an old greatcoat and a pair of hobnail boots, he had left his native England on the deck of a Dutch steamer and set off on foot with a few letters of introduction, some notebooks, and a copy of Horace's Odes in his rucksack, It was an extraordinary thing to undertake but we've long known that Leigh Fermor was an extraordinary man; a skilled linguist, a vivid, ebullient writer, and a lover of literature, people, and the world in all its variable wonder—of life, essentially—he has become celebrated for enjoying an existence so improbably charmed that his travel books often read like stirring, romantic fictions. When Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, Leigh Fermor—then living in Romania—returned home and was accepted as a candidate for a commission in the Irish Guards, a posting he quickly came to regard as dull. It was with some relief, then, when the Intelligence Corps took note of his lingustic capabilities and offered him courses in military intelligence and interrogation before dispatching him, in 1940, to the Mediterannean as a member of the British Military Mission. At this point, Greece had been invaded by Italy and it was the Mission's primary responsibility to help the occupied country in any way they could. In April 1941, this difficult task was rendered almost impossible when a German blitzkrieg tore through the Balkans, forcing most of Britain's troops from the European mainland. Some, Leigh Fermor among them, managed to flee to Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, and were soon treated to a fresh barrage by the Nazis who, sensing an advantage, sought to capitalize. While the islanders' resistance was noble, the outcome was inevitable; luckily for the author, the Royal Navy evacuated him to Egypt before the Axis powers could impart a less merciful fate, and it was in Cairo that Leigh Fermor proposed a plan to return to Crete in order to kidnap a German general.