In their latest dispatches from abroad, Starks and Murcutt (Along the River that Flows Uphill: From the Orinoco to the Amazon, 2009, etc.) take readers on a pilgrimage to seven monasteries across Spain.
The authors’ use of immersion journalism provides unique insight into the inner sanctum of the monasteries, as they describe glimpses of a variety of treasures, including relics, artifacts and art. Better still is their shared insight into the psychology behind a life dedicated to God. Upon entering one monastery’s refectory, the writers wondered, “Could I eat here? Three times a day in silence? With the same group of people? For fifty years or more?” These questions, while rhetorical for the authors, undoubtedly had real-world ramifications for those who decided to engage in the monastic life. Yet when one monk notes the dearth of new recruits, readers may wonder if the answers to the aforementioned questions have often been a negative, if the monastic life is an endangered species soon to be another casualty of the modern world. While the book begins as a grand parade across Spain, it soon takes on characteristics of a forced march in which the primary difference among the monasteries are the people within their walls. Early on, Starks and Murcutt describe one monastery as “quiet and peaceful with an unhurried pace”—a good description for this book. There is little agency here, and while the authors faithfully report their trip, faith itself plays a minor role.
Lighthearted and occasionally humorous, but not fully engaging.