From the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner, a pilgrimage to find religion—or truth, or the way—that pleasingly blends memoir, travelogue, and history.
The latest from Egan (The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, 2016, etc.) will make readers want to make a journey of their own. In a fascinating page-turner, the author chronicles his travels, mostly via foot but also via car and train, along the Via Francigena, a 1,200-mile medieval route that runs from Canterbury to Rome, where he sought an audience with “a pope with one working lung who is struggling to hold together the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics through the worst crisis in half a millennium.” Egan traversed this route in search of God or some type of significant spiritual experience. A skeptic by nature and Catholic by baptism, he realized that he needed to decide what he believes or admit what he does not. “I start [the journey] as a father, a husband, an American deeply troubled by the empty drift of our country,” he writes. “And for the next thousand miles or so, I will try to be a pilgrim.” Any pilgrimage is a rough test of faith and one of the most unpredictable and independent adventures on which to embark. Along for the ride on this quest are St. Augustine, St. Paul, Joan of Arc, St. Francis, and Oscar Wilde, among others. Egan’s Jesuit education inevitably crept into his mind during his stays at monasteries and visits to cathedrals to view their relics and learn about the events and myths that comprise their histories. Pope Francis, a man who embraces reason and promotes peer-reviewed science, brings the author a sense of hope after the church’s decades of inflexible leadership. Finding people and places warm and welcoming in each village and city, allowing himself to be amazed, lingering to rest blistered feet, and discovering soul-stirring spots—all this kept him pushing on, and readers will be thankful for his determination.
A joy and a privilege to read.