A trepid traveler bonds with his donkey during a picaresque and picturesque walk across northern Spain.
Moore (French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France, 2000, etc.) brings his hilarious, smart-alecky sensibility to bear on this—well, tale about a 500-mile journey in company with his ass and with some fairly asinine fellow pilgrims. The narrative plan is hardly unique (he begins at the chronological beginning, ends at the end), but he manages the difficult task of maintaining a highly ironic and even sarcastic tone throughout. What makes it all bearable, laughable, and enjoyable is the pure vein of self-deprecation that also runs from start to finish. Moore very rarely waxes superior to anyone (or anyass) but instead chronicles his myriad difficulties in convincing a particularly willful beast of burden to walk with him across Spain at anything like a predictable clip. Along the way, the author visits many of the relevant sites and shrines (the route was walked by some 60,000 pilgrims in 2001) and does an unobtrusive job, when the situation calls for it, of leading us back to the Middle Ages for some explanation and expatiation. (A little history alongside the humiliation.) Small miracles occur on the camino (for example, a Swiss mule expert actually arrives to help with some donkey lameness), but Moore is not seeking any religious significance in things. He appears to be a nonbeliever who very rarely maligns those who do believe. But his conclusions—such as they are—are steadfastly secular. He describes the profane (there are numerous accounts of his donkey’s—and even his own—excretions) as well as the sacred, and he swiftly characterizes (if not caricatures) some of his fellow travelers: a German who insists on saying “monkey” instead of “donkey”; a woman who looks like a Barbie doll; a man who resembles the young John Travolta. Few donkey puns go unexploited (“I was ready to kick some ass”).
Biting words, rollicking entertainment. (16 b&w line drawings)