Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago

I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago
Hape Kerkeling
Free Press (Simon and Schuster), Jun 16 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416553878

In 2001 thirtyish German comedian Kerkeling decided to search for God by hiking the 500-mile sacred Camino de Santiago, which starts at the foothills of the Pyrenees and ends at the Shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He was following the route of Christians who have taken this pilgrimage for at least twelve centuries. With just under forty stops, Kerkeling understood he would need to walk at least 12 miles a day to complete the tour in less than two weeks. He also knew he was an unhealthy couch potato. Still he began his trek heading to the first of just under forty recognized stops on the trail and came close to quitting right then.

His version of the pilgrimage is interesting especially when he talks with workers at the sacred pit stops (irreverent but that is what these locales sound like) and with fellow pilgrims to understand their motives and gain a group inspiration to finish the arduous journey (think Canterbury Tales). Although the readers knows how far Kerkeling traveled in terms of miles/kilometers, the comedian fails to provide a baseline beyond doubting couch potato status so his spiritual awakening never fully comes across. Still his trek from the disenchanted to the enlightened is a profound journey of the soul.

Harriet Klausner

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