Top positive review
13 people found this helpful
on 23 November 2012
This is a very fine account of the experiences of father and daughter partnership Peter and Natasha Murtagh on their pilgrimage to Santiago. I had already read some of Murtagh's very impressive previous work and have done 5 Caminos myself and was looking for an Irish perspective on this very special journey. I had some early misgivings (not shared by any of the other reviewers) but was eventually won over, and found this a very worthwhile read. It both brings back memories for those who've already walked The Way and really sets the scene for those considering it.
Murtagh starts with a major historical gaffe on page 6 when he states that Irish stone carvings dated between 2000 and 3000 BC occurred at the same time as "Homer was writing the Odyssey". For an award-winning journalist (one of his books is about Greece) and who's writing here shows a huge interest in history, this is quite poor. Homer only dates back to the 8th century BC! Similarly his opening chapter where he tries to forge a link between early Irish pilgrimage (especially Croagh Patrick) and Santiago is laboured and totally unconvincing. I felt this chapter was superfluous (but his research could be better used in another book maybe on Irish Pilgrimages?)
The real book starts in France and here the format of both Peter and Natasha alternating their thoughts proves utterly engrossing. In my opinion there was too much historical detail in Peter's accounts, with more information on Church architecture, year of construction, area of stain glass etc, etc than is really necessary. Having already read a lot of the history of the area as well as the Camino itself I found that I was skipping parts of the Dad's accounts, which I found slightly dry, and preferring the more personal and less calculated thoughts of the teenage daughter!
As the book progressed (basically following a diary-like account of each day) Peter starts to express more and more of his own personality and describes more of his fellow pilgrims (the people you meet on the Camino remain in your minds eye for much longer than the buildings) Natasha gradually displays a growing maturity, and their relationship is the real highlight of this book, and any father would feel proud to have helped raise a daughter like her.
The normal occurrences of the Camino - meeting weirdos, blisters, getting lost, losing things, making new friends, nuns, atheists, cheap food etc. are all described in a gentle and generous way. Many of these made me chuckle as I recalled similar incidents myself. There were a couple of statements made by Murtagh senior that I wish to correct to clarify things for potential peregrinos. Saint Jean Pied de Port is not the official starting point of the Camino. It has become the accepted point for most walking the French Way but there is NO official starting point. So you can start anywhere you want! A Dubliner living in Auckland I walked with started at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin which made a lot of sense but not for the reason you might expect. Non-Irish readers may not know that the Brewery's address is St. James' Gate !
Murtagh also voiced the opinion that the only real Caminos had to travel from the east into Galicia. This shows a lack of awareness of the dozen or so paths to Compostela recognised by the authorities. 3 of my walks were the Camino Ingles which comes south from Ferrol, the Caminho Portuguese which fairly obviously comes from the south, and the Camino Muxia (via Finisterre) which comes from the north and then west (and which provided me with no fewer than 3 certificates!). I have one or two other slight quibbles which is why I've docked a star in my rating.
Many will find this book ideal and the historical detail will be a welcome addition for those who need to fill in some background. The authors are lovely people and some of their personal revelations are really moving so this book works on any number of levels. Natasha verbalises her feelings about the Camino in the most articulate way, and any one reading this who was wavering in their intention to walk one of the Caminos will be more tempted than ever.
I'm not going to compare "Buen Camino" with any of the other pilgrimage accounts I've read. There is no definitive book on the Way of St. James and the best book of all is the one you'll bring back with you in your head when you do the Camino for yourself!
See John Brierly's guides for info on all the walks (the French Way and in latter times the Camino Portuguese are the ONLY ones that have the overcrowding from Sarria frowned upon by the Murtaghs and most other long distance peregrinos). 2 other books you may find rewarding are "Sacred Tracks" by James Harper (a leisurely study of 2 millenia of Christian pilgrimage) and "A Walk in the Dark Ages" by Frank Delaney. The latter is a most scholarly and beautifully written imaginary account of Irish monks pilgrimages from Skellig Michael to Istanbul and many points between. Santiago is not included as the setting predates the Camino's origins.