An adroit, assured first novel which avoids overstatement of the ironies inherent in the chronicle of a contemporary Basque peasant's cross-carrying pilgrimage from a village in Navarre to Rome. Supposedly armed with a 1863 authorizing letter from the Pope, Juegas volunteers to be the last pilgrim to carry the village cross. Since there is no feeling for the pilgrimage any longer the cross is to be returned to Rome. Juegas trudges forth on the punishing trek, driven by both a sense of challenge and vague hopes that ne will improve his family's prospects. But like the statue of Christ in ""La Dolce Vita"" which is trawled by helicopter over Rome, Juegas and his cross pass through an exclusive landscape. Joining the pilgrim here and there is Paolo, who is filming for TV; Juegas, for the most part ignored, is once attacked by a street gang, and the cross is propped up in restaurants, hung on a utility pole and is shunted into a freight elevator in a posh hotel. But Juegas himself -- simple, dogged, insular -- between stops at religious houses (mostly Holiday Inns of spiritual service) does experience a strength in the struggle, beginning to sense divergences and contrasts. There is pain and healing, curious states of consciousness, and play in a cold sea. But the cross is refused at the Vatican (no one bothered to write ahead) and Juegas seeing ""the vestige of effort from every step. . .flown from his soul,"" saws the cross in pieces. The author writes with a cool cinematic eye which focuses on the beehive complexity of societal rituals where the pilgrim in transit is a momentary silence in an orderly, if meaningless, buzz.