Peripatetic ruminations on the meaning of life and finding a sense of direction accompany Lewis-Kraus across three very different countries.
Whatever one’s reasons for undertaking the Camino de Santiago—spiritual, touristic, to lose weight, or just for the opportunity to complain about the blisters—the experience is memorable. For the author, a freelance essayist, the trip began as a spontaneous diversion, a chance to temporarily leave behind the tediousness of everyday life and reconnect with a friend who similarly had too much free time. Sardonic discussions about the meaninglessness of blindly following an ancient footpath seamlessly give way to nuggets of personal insight both sacred and secular, and Lewis-Kraus was moved to follow the trek with a Hasidic pilgrimage to Ukraine and a circuit of 88 Buddhist temples in Japan. Pilgrims, beyond “look[ing] at each bus going by with the affection Robert Frost had for woodpiles,” spend much time deep in conversation about subjects as diverse as giraffes, the apostles and the “lazy geographical determinism of Northern Europeans.” However, the humor and the physical torment mask an inner journey through the realm of relationships, aspirations and the soul. Using the not-entirely-dissimilar legends and disciplines of Catholicism, Judaism and Buddhism as a spatial framework and scenic background, Lewis-Kraus explores the subtle impulses that drive people to follow certain paths. High-minded flights of intellectual fancy, however, are only so much use when the physical world, in the form of “a flatulent mixture of schwitz and acrid stewed kasha” intrudes.
Thought provoking and engaging in the style of Bruce Chatwin or Paul Theroux, with ample sides of Thomas Merton and Augusten Burroughs.