Kirkus Reviews QR Code
I’M OFF THEN by Hape Kerkeling

I’M OFF THEN

Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago

By Hape Kerkeling (Author) , Shelley Frisch (Translator)

Pub Date: June 16th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4165-5387-8
Publisher: Free Press

The English-language debut of an international bestseller about an unlikely pilgrim who dispenses life lessons while hiking through northern Spain.

In 2001, Kerkeling—a celebrated German comedian who was suffering from a host of physical, mental and spiritual ailments—decided to embark on the strenuous pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trek that begins in the French Pyrenees, winds through the Basque country and culminates in the Galician area of northwestern Spain, where Saint James was supposedly interred. The author hoped that the journey would “help me find my way to God and thus to myself.” His travel diaries offer amusing, offbeat observations about the trials and tribulations of an overweight, self-described couch potato attempting to hike 12 to 18 miles per day along a rugged trail with a 25-pound backpack slung across his shoulders. Kerkeling’s comic sensibility shines through when he describes the motley assortment of individuals that he encountered along the way, from a fraudulent Peruvian shaman who argued that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was one of the best books ever written, to a perpetually squabbling couple the author nicknamed “Beaky and Billy Goat.” The most touching moments involve the friendships that he established with fellow pilgrims and how the camaraderie helped him complete the arduous route. Kerkeling is less adept at conveying his internal spiritual transformation, largely because he neglects to provide sufficient details about his life before the pilgrimage. Moreover, his musings on spirituality are often rendered in hackneyed prose. He makes assertions such as, “I view God the way I do outstanding films like Gandhi: award-winning and superb!” and ends each chapter with an “insight of the day”—a nugget of homespun wisdom that reads like the inside of a greeting card. Examples include “The heart is always right” and “Do what life demands of you.”

Amiable but trite.