Book Review

“FUMBLING” by Kerry Egan

The book is described as “a pilgrimage tale of love, grief, and renewal on the Camino de Santiago”. This greatly understates the interest to anyone who knows the Camino.

Kerry Egan was brought up as a Catholic, and at the time of her journey was a divinity student at Harvard. One of the many interests of the book is her description of the uncertainties of her faith, and discovering where the true roots of it were. Her religious background, deep interest in the subject, talent for research, and clear style of writing throw a focussed light on a whole range of subjects, including the nature of pilgrimage, the background to the cult of relics, the subtle but important details about indulgences, and indeed the nature of grief. Added to this, her writing about episodes of the journey, such as the Cruz de Ferro near Rabanal and hens in the cathedral of San Domingo de la Calzada, make one see one’s own experience in a more thoughtful light.

I was left feeling that my own Camino journey had been retrospectively enhanced by reading this book. For people who are imminently thinking of undertaking the journey, it might make the pilgrimage seem more complicated and difficult than, for most people, it actually is, but they would gain in understanding why this is not just a long walk, and be more receptive to their experiences along the way. And for people who know they do not intend to do the pilgrimage, it would give a very good idea of some of the rewards others have gained from spending a month of their lives on the Camino. She succeeds in conveying what is special about the Camino, and why, for so many people, it continues to influence their lives long after their return:

“A pilgrim is in an in-between space for a little while, a time both of great transition and great potential. In this place you can learn and experience things that it would be possible to learn while not on pilgrimage. A pilgrim experiences communitas, the elimination of differences between people of different ages, classes and nationalities. Barriers between people are thrown aside as a great feeling of unity and connectedness brings people together in a way seems impossible within the regular structures of society.”

I personally found the sections concerning her feelings about the death of her father too long, and, to me, not very interesting. However, even these sections could be useful to those trapped by unresolvable grief, and help them in finding a way out.