on August 27, 2007
By his own words, a walker, but secular, agnostic, not particularly spiritual, travel writer Robert Ward is not one who you would expect to do a sympathetic rendering of the experience of modern day walkers on this 1000 year old pilgrimage trail. Nevertheless, he has done exactly that.
For a number of years the author resisted the lure of the Camino, feeling spiritually unqualified, but in 1999 walked from St. Jean to Santiago and found that as in times past, sinners, heretics and non-believers were welcome as well as the faithful. In 2000 he walked again, twice. A ten day segment, and then again from St. Jean to Santiago. This time gathering information for Virgin Trails, a book following depictions of the Virgin Mary. In 2003 he returned for a two-week walk, and in 2005 he returned again to walk the entire route from St. Jean, this time taking notes for All the Good Pilgrims.
The main thrust of All the Good Pilgrims is the 2005 journey, and the people the author meets, but a secondary thread is the search for people and places from earlier trips. The author clearly has a good command of French and Spanish, as well as English, so he talks to everyone, the bartenders, the pilgrims, the people in the street, and they all have something to say. There is a humanity in the way people are depicted. It is easy to caricature other travelers, particularly if you don't understand their language and are never going to see them again. The people in All the Good Pilgrims come across as real people, sometimes flawed, sometimes funny, but treated with respect.
In most Camino books, I get caught up in the author's experiences as they overcome the various obstacles the Camino puts up. The feeling is a little different in this book. The other walkers the author meets during his walk keep popping up. Some are never seen again, but I am following all those pilgrims across Spain, not just the author.
This is a good read. Normally when I finish a good book, it goes on my wife's in pile. This time she wanted it when I finished, but I went back to page one and read it again.