Travels With My Donkey: One Man And His Ass On A Pilgrimage To Santiago, by Tim Moore
If you are familiar with the author and his work–this is the third book of his I have read , you know where this is going. This is the sort of book that is advertised with comparisons to such classics of the man against nature travel book as ‘A Walk In The Woods .’ And for the most part these comparisons are just. This is a comedy book about the author’s travels in Europe, where his being a clueless and monolingual English tourist is part of the larger metajoke that is poking fun of the cluelessness and linguistic ineptitude of his target audience. This is the sort of book where when you are tempted to laugh at the novel for being totally unable to take care of a fairly lovable donkey along the trip across northern Spain along the Camino Real you need to remind yourself that to laugh at the author is to laugh at oneself. Would one do a better job taking care of a donkey? Probably not. Ultimately, the donkey himself, nicknamed Shinto, becomes a particularly sympathetic figure with his sufferings from ergot poisoning and his need for Sabbath rest that the author casually and cruelly disregards.
If you have read a book by this author, you know the drill by now. The book begins with a discussion of what inspired the author’s crazy idea to travel along the Camino Real to Santiago with a donkey because he doesn’t want to carry the weight himself. Most of the book consists of the author’s discussion of the various stages of the trip. We read the author’s mock complaining about the cheating that people do along the journey to serve as faux pilgrims, the infrastructure of housing and feeding people on such extended trips, the history of the route going back to pagan times, the care and maintenance of donkeys, a task at which the author is sadly ill-equipped, and so on. The author talks about the visit of his family and how his young daughter apparently was able to get along well with her donkey, far more so than the author, probably because she realized how easy it is to like donkeys . The author also spends a lot of time talking about the desolation and remoteness of northern Spain and its essential economic hopelessness apart from religious tourism. Although a book of humor, there is a poignant note about human suffering and the burdens of history to be found here for those readers who are attuned to the melancholy.
So, what does one ultimately get from a book like this? Much depends on what you expect. Those who come looking for more zany fun from the author, who presents himself with a level of clueless English ineptitude that calls to mind Mr. Bean, will find much to laugh about here. Those who are looking for some thoughtful commentary on the social and economic history of rural northern Spain and the long-term repercussions of Spanish isolation under Franco as well as centuries of economic malaise will find much here of interest as well. Those who are looking for a future film adaptation of travels if they can remove the animal abuse parts to get the PETA recommendation will find much to appreciate here as well. There is one thing, though, that one will not find, and that is the author seriously reflecting on the issue of faith. The author’s lack of faith, and his gleeful focus on the fraudulent nature of many holy relics, is in clear relief here. On the trip, though, the author does not seem to find many people of faith and he seems to have the same opinion of those he does meet as M. Scott Peck did in his pilgrimage trip , which is to say a bad one. This book therefore is a missed opportunity for the author to add more layers to his commentary, such as one that can address matters of supreme and serious importance without a reflexive reliance on humor and irony.
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