11 March 2010

Comparing travelogues

I'm Off Then: My Journey Along the Camino De Santiago
by Hape Kerkeling
link here

The Places in Between
by Rory Stewart
link here

I read these two books in the last couple months and wanted to compare and contrast them a little. Both were written by European men who took a walk - a long, long walk across chunks of countries. One a comedian by trade and the other a historian, author. One walked one of the most walked/famous pilgrimages in the world and the other across a recently liberated from the Taliban Afghanistan. 

I tend to read mystery fiction as my first choice of books, but one of my favorite books of all time is a travelogue by Peter Mayle about moving and living in the south of France which I find intriguing since it is not my usual reading choice.

"I'm off then" was recommended to me by a German friend who is married to a Spaniard. It was a real book of spiritual exploration on the camino which runs across the north of Spain. I was interested because of both the spiritual aspect and the Spanish aspect. I've been fascinated by the camino but not enough to actually walk my behind across it for weeks at a time. I enjoyed his self depreciating humor, his willingness to complain and not glamourize the journey. The spirituality of it was perplexing because he was raised with a Roman Catholic version of God and came to embrace a somewhat ethereal, esoteric version on his journey which as one raised in evangelicalism was somewhat uncomfortable for me, but interesting all the same to see so intimately into someone's spiritual thoughts.

"The Places in Between" was something I found exploring the travelogue section of a book store in Arizona. I'm interested in learning more about the Islamic cultures and that is why I bought it. The author had walked across several countries in the region and had skipped Afghanistan because of the Taliban and found an opportunity to walk it in 2002. It is a much more serious book with strong introspection, neutrality on much of the culture while describing it fairly. The physical aspect of his journey was frank but no complaints or humor were involved. It had more flowery descriptions that could only be described as literary. I feel I learned a lot about Islamic perspective through an outsider's eyes and I don't regret the read.

I feel I learned and enjoyed both books, but "The Places in Between" was more like researching than pleasure reading for me and "I'm off Then" was more light and enjoyable while still strong on provoking thoughts.

It was interesting to accidentally read two books of walking journeys in close succession with such different perspectives. Depending on your taste in books, they both had value, but were very different. I surprise myself a little that I read them both.

Oh, and I receive no royalties or kickbacks, or free books for that matter, for this "review."

1 comment:

  1. Part of me thinks that a journey like that would be exciting and a perfect means for introspection and learning. I'm not going to be walking my behind down a long path for weeks on end either, though.