As well as poring over Miam Miam Dodo, and Brierley’s guide to the camino, I’ve been reading some more narrative accounts of people’s pilgrimages. Here are three that I’ve read so far, and what I thought:

Immortelle Randonnée by Jean-Christophe Rufin

Jean-Christophe Rufin is a renowned French writer in his own right, and it shows. His account of the Camino del norte is deeply entertaining, brutally honest and unexpectedly poignant. Whilst I’m not walking the camino del norte myself, much of what Rufin experiences and learns about himself is universal – so it doesn’t matter if you are following (or intending to follow) the same route as him, or if indeed to want to do the camino at all. Rufin’s conclusion (if you could call it that) is interesting: “the camino is a Buddhist pilgrimage”, he says. As a non-religious -but yet open-minded- pilgrim, Rufin recognises that the walk refines him, like a diamond in rough: crushed and polished until it reaches perfection and simplicity.  His airs and graces (well-established over years as an award-winning writer, and ambassador) are swiftly discarded as he begins to recognise that he occupies a solitary and sometimes invisible role in this new order – that of a lowly pilgrim. He neither rejoices in this fact, nor does he refute it: it just is.

I enjoyed following Rufin on his journey, and would encourage any French speakers to give Immortelle Randonnée a go.

I’m Off Then by Hape Kerkeling

Hape Kerkeling (for those that don’t know – I certainly didn’t!) is a famous German comedian – a fact that he mentions more than once in his account of the Camino Francés. At first I didn’t really know what to make of this book: Hape himself seemed a little self-important, and only funny in that cringy Eurovision way (I suspect that this is just the translation, though, which is a little wooden in places).  Not only this, but he doesn’t actually walk the whole camino. He takes the train at some points. But you know what, I grew to love this book, and Hape himself. After all, who am I to criticise? I, who have yet to walk a single step of the camino.  I loved this book, because Hape is so honest and actually quite self-disparaging  – he took the train, and he couldn’t bring himself to stay in dowdy refugios (preferring nice hotels and good food), but at least he admits it.  His warts-and-all self-portrayal is about as comical and fecund as his descriptions of his fellow pilgrims that he meets along the way, which read like comedy sketches, and are just as engrossing.

This one is available in English, and don’t let the translation put you off – it gets better, I promise!

The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

Before I tell you about the book, let me say this: It is my suspicion that a ‘Coelho’ gene exists, enabling some lucky few to find profundity and spiritual solace in his works. I do not possess this gene.  When picking up The Pilgrimage, I was hoping for an account of the journey that Paulo himself made, in all its mundane detail – after all, what is not mundane about putting one foot in front of the other, day after day?  I like mundaneness, for that’s what life is about, and that’s what came across in both Rufin’s and Kerkeling’s books. Coelho’s was different: he takes a more mystical approach to the Camino, to the extent that the journey recounted seems to have occurred on some dreamlike plane very far away from everyday Spain. There are actual devils and quasi-magical people on this dreamlike plane.  This, for me, made it very difficult to connect with. That’s not to say that I’m not a spiritual person – I am. I just didn’t feel as if I possessed the ‘key’ to unlock this book. Whereas Hape and Jean-Christophe handed it to me, and guided me along, Paulo Coelho left me in the dark.  I am still none the wiser.

Have you read any of these books, and what did you think of them?

Which Camino-themed books would you recommend? I am looking for something else to read, and would welcome any suggestions.

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