Top critical review
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on 13 May 2009
I came to this book after watching Adam Graham-Brown's spellbinding and beautifully filmed documentary on Satish Kumar; Earth Pilgrim, A Year on Dartmoor. Desiring to know more about the subject, I soon learned about the story of the ''Peace Walk'' undertaken by Kumar and was intrigued by the idea of walking across continents without any means of support, for whatever the cause it might be. Surely an astounding story is there to be read. In this I was sadly disappointed, both in the detail and the omissions. It was far too brief, whole countries rushed past in short paragraphs, and poor old Belgium didn't even get its own sentence. It gave a sense of a reluctance to tell this part of his story - or forgetfulness, perhaps; it was a while ago.
What came before the walk, his childhood in India, life with the Jains, and following Ghandiism, was fascinating and interesting. However, after the walk the story develops into a mixed bag of banal living in the west: business endeavours, house-hunting, family-raising, schooling, seasoned by a slightly incongruous, though thankfully brief, spell of adulterous sex-farce. Honesty all well and good but this was putting me off somewhat. Still, I persevered.
I'm glad I did. The pearl in this book is the longer account of his pilgrimage to Iona to mark his fiftieth. Taking in the length and breadth of Britain, he does this in the spirit of his earlier walk: on foot, mostly, and relying entirely on the goodwill of his friends and his magazine readership. It is brilliantly described and, unlike the earlier walk, I sensed he wanted to tell this story in full. I also felt I learned more about the man in this chapter than in the rest of the book. At the end of the second walk he mentions undertaking two further pilgrimages though gives us nothing about them. This is a shame as I feel, if these had been told as half as well as Iona, the three together would have made an excellent book on their own.
The book ends with an interesting and enlightening interpretation of Ghandi's tenets which Kumar follows and would like others to appreciate. This is the ''life changing'' bit they warn you about, I expect, and what better place to finish (although having said that, this could be a book I'd selectively revisit).