Monday, 22 August 2016

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

One of the reasons I love the Sydney Writer's Festival so much, is the way that it introduces me to new authors that I may not have otherwise come across.

Rufin is a doctor who co-founded Medecins San Frontieres and has worked as an ambassador for France, which is interesting enough on its own. But he is also a writer and one of the growing band of pilgrims who has walked the North Route of the Camino Way.

I'm a walker. I prefer to walk to work, the shops, to the park, out for dinner or just for a Sunday afternoon stroll. I have completed the 27km 7 Bridges walk in Sydney, but I baulk at the idea of walking hundreds of miles through all weathers just to end up at a church that supposedly contains the relic of some saint I don't believe in.

Rufin's book, The Santiago Pilgrimage, attracted my attention though, as he also approached the religious aspect of this pilgrimage with a great deal of scepticism. Instead, after a very busy period of his life, he simply decided he needed to go for a long walk to clear his head.

His travel memoir, provides a little background information about the pilgrimage, but then he goes on to outline his approach to this long walk with humour and humility.

Rufin tells us about the 'real' pilgrims from the 'fake' ones, the various ways to travel, ones choice of baggage (physical and emotional) and how you do 'not take the Way, the Way' takes you.

I learnt that the various Way's are not necessarily lovely scenic, wild tracks - 'the wonders of the Way do indeed exist but they are not constant'. At times the pilgrim has to walk 'through charmless suburbs and alongside motorways'.

Rufin's descriptions of the joys and woes of the solitude of walking brought to mind the various phases I went through when I lived alone for many years.

I enjoyed his tale. The translation was easy to read and entertaining. At various times I felt the urge to join him on his pilgrimage, but by the end, I felt less inclined to attempt this particular walk. If I ever head off on a big walk, I have plenty of beautiful walks much closer to home.

16/20 Books of summer (winter)

P.S. I'm quite keen to try one of Rufin's works of fiction. Have you read any? Which ones have been translated into English?

I also noted on the back cover that Rufin won the Prix Nomad in 2013 for this book. I couldn't find anything about this award anywhere on google, so have to assume it's a book award for travel books?

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful..thoughtful review! This morning I needed to clear my head too. I went to a local park, listend to the fountain, drank my coffee and imagined myself in my favorite place, Jardin du Luxembourg Paris. In your mind you can travel anywhere...and I'll try to get this book (read in French to keep up the skills) and follow Rufin, the pilgrim!

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