A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful by Gideon Lewis-Kraus is a memoir of the author walking a famous pilgrimage trail while working on his own issues. While this book can be considered a travelogue, I believe it is something more.
Gideon Lewis-Kraus finds himself in Berlin after breaking up with his girlfriend in San Francisco. Still feeling empty, Gideon embarks on a quest to feel whole. He immerses himself in Berlin’s artistic culture but despite the free-spirited nature of his circle, he still feels like an outsider (A Jew... in Berlin?).
The famous Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage in Spain has Gideon’s name written all over it, and together with friend/author Tom Bissell they go on an arduous 500 mile journey on foot. While there, Gideon contemplates the nature of the pilgrimage and continues on to Japan for the 88 Buddhist temples on the Japanese island of Shikoku where his real quest beings: to mend his relationship with his father.
A Sense of Direction is less about the scenic road and more about the internal journey towards self discovery. At first I was excited to read this book (until I saw the comparison to Eat, Pray, Love which I didn’t care for); the writing is sharp and funny and Mr. Lewis-Kraus lives a life that could only resemble a Larry David sitcom (son a rabbi whose father decided to come out of the closet after years of marriage. And by the way, his mother is a rabbi as well, but he’s secular).
The more I read, the more I enjoyed the literary aspect of the book and was entertained by the travel writing. On the other hand, the author comes across as indulgent, a perpetual teenager with no means of support, albeit funny, good natured and interesting, but angry over his father’s perceived betrayal of the family unit. The excellent travelogue stops in strange places, skips days/weeks to either continue or go on a tangent as if nothing happened. The impression I got was that the pilgrimage was an excuse to travel (as it was in olden days) and meet women (a good excuse), but wasn’t essential to his personal growth.