George Psychoundakis (1920-2006) was born and raised in the remote Cretan village of Asi Gonia, where he received a rudimentary education. When the German army invaded in 1941, he left his work as a shepherd and joined the Resistance. He would eventually run messages for the British Special Operations Executive, and was noted for his speed and intimacy with the landscape. After the war he was mistakenly imprisoned as a deserter and began writing what would become The Cretan Runner (published in English in 1955 and in Greek in 1986) while in prison. In addition to his memoir, Psychoundakis wrote The Eagle's Nest, a study of the customs of Cretan mountain dwellers, and translated works by Hesiod and Homer into the Cretan language. In 1945 Psychoundakis received the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service, and in 1981 he was recognized by the Academy of Athens for his translations. He lived on Crete, with his wife and three children, until the end of his life. Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) chronicled his youthful walk across Europe to Constantinople in a trilogy comprising A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water, and The Broken Road. After serving on Crete during World War II, Leigh Fermor settled in Greece and his books Mani and Roumeli attest to his deep love for the country. In 2004 he was knighted for his services to literature and to British-Greek relations.
"Psychoundakis was able to master challenges that would stagger an
Olympic athlete: he could scramble snowy cliffs with a sixty-pound
pack on his back, run fifty-plus miles through the night on a
starvation diet of boiled hay, and outfox a Gestapo death squad
that had him cornered."
"Psychoundakis's effortlessly poetic account reflected a passionate love of his homeland and its people, a geologist's and botanist's eye, chortling bemusement at the habits of the upper-class British agents, and deep comradeship with his fellow resistance fighters." --Simon Steyne, The Guardian "There have been other memoirs of wartime Crete but those were visitors' books. George's story, as Leigh Fermor points out in the introduction, is unique." --Allison Pearson "Any fresh volume on the subject would need to be exceptional. The Cretan Runner not only competes but transcends; it is not exceptional, it is unique." --The Times Literary Supplement "The book has at once a calm of a race which takes it for granted that life is full of death, and the excitement of a fighter who wildly enjoys his own part of the dangerous business. It is full of jokes and full of pride." --Sunday Times "But now Psychoundakis's style seems the fresher, a scrappy, honest account of a temporary alliance with, and allegiance to, an external force in order to rid Crete of its occupiers. And with all the frustrations, disagreements, misunderstandings and damaged pride, as well as boozy parties and heroism, that entailed." --Vera Rules