Cover image for The road to Santiago
The road to Santiago
Harrison, Kathryn.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : National Geographic, [2003]

Physical Description:
150 pages : map ; 21 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DP285 .H37 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Displaying her "real talent for conjuring far-flung times and places," Kathryn Harrison tells the mesmerizing story of her 200-mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. In the spring of 1999, Kathryn Harrison set out to walk the centuries-old pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. "Not a vacation, " she calls it, "but a time out of time." With a heavy pack, no hotel reservations, and little Spanish, she wanted an experience that would be both physically and psychically demanding. No pain, no gain, she thought, and she had some important things to contemplate. But the pilgrim road was spattered with violets and punctuated by medieval churches and alpine views, and, despite the exhaustion, aching knees, and brutal sun, she was unexpectedly flooded with joy and gratitude for life's gifts. "Why do I like this road?" she writes. "Why do I love it? What can be the comfort of understanding my footprint as just one among the millions? ... While I'm walking I feel myself alive, feel my small life burning brightly." Throughout this deeply personal and revealing memoir of her journey, first made alone and later in the company of her daughter, Harrison blends striking images of the route and her fellow pilgrims with reflections on the redemptive power of pilgrimages, mortality, family, the nature of endurance, the past and future, the mystery of friendship. The Road to Santiago is an exquisitely written, courageous, and irresistible portrait of a personal pilgrimage in search of a broader understanding of life and self.

Author Notes

Kathryn Harrison lives in New York with her husband and their children.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

On the first night of their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, Harrison and her daughter checked into a picturesque hotel. Overcome by the scenic beauty, Harrison threw open the hotel-room window shutters and exclaimed, Look at the mountains! From behind her, 12-year-old Sarah ecstatically waved the television's remote control and shouted, French MTV! So began a voyage distinguished by a mother getting to know herself through her daughter. For hundreds of years, thousands of worshipers have trekked, like this mother and daughter, on foot, the 400 miles from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, to the sacred shrine of the apostle James, the brother of Jesus. Everyone who endures the inhospitable weather, poor road conditions, and exhaustion does so not so much to enjoy the shrine as to survive the pilgrimage, a time-out-of-time penance. Harrison had taken the journey before, alone, and learned something about herself. Her account of her accompanied, reprise journey and what she learned, part of the National Geographic Directions travel series, endears with its wit and sensitivity. --Donna Chavez Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

More memoir than travelogue, Harrison's contribution to National Geographic's Directions series is reflective and deeply personal, yet still manages to recreate a physical place in all its rugged, peaceful glory. The titular road is a 400-mile path beginning in France and ending in Santiago, in northwestern Spain. A thousand-year-old pilgrimage route, the road can be walked in segments or in total, and Harrison (Seeking Rapture; The Kiss; etc.) touches upon her three separate trips along the camino. She bravely-some might say illogically-makes her first pilgrimage (in 1992) solo (solita), when she's seven months pregnant. Her second-and perhaps most significant-voyage along the camino comes seven years later, alone again. The third trip, which she makes with her 12-year-old daughter, is the one that begins this book, and kicks off the series of lessons Harrison learns along the way. Traveling with an adolescent, Harrison discovers "the grace to quit." As she walks "toward the invisible, the improbable, the ridiculous," the author discards extra soap and leaking bottles of sunscreen in an effort to lighten her pack (although she refuses to toss the pages of her novel-in-progress, as it defines who she is). She meets other pilgrims and some intriguing locals, continually "putting one foot in front of the other," an act which, on its own, is not dramatic, but "can wreak inner havoc." In rearranging her priorities (e.g., does she have enough water to make it to the next town?) and admitting defeat (which has an oddly relaxing effect), Harrison comes to learn-and indeed, teaches readers-the importance of acceptance. Map not seen by PW. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Harrison, the author of five novels (e.g., Poison) and one best-selling work of nonfiction, now rewards readers with personal perspectives of her experiences in Spain, namely her 400-mile pilgrimage from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the site of a shrine to the Apostle James. Although twice before she had made this pilgrimage solo, she decided to revisit it once more with her 12-year-old daughter, Sarah. In this candid memoir, written in diary format, she shares with readers the day-by-day challenges and joys of their journey while offering a delectable sampling of the history, geography, and environment of the region. She also provides insight into the complexities of mother/daughter relationships and liberally shares her self-analysis and reflection. Although relatively short, this memoir ultimately delivers an amiable portrait of Spain, its culture, the friendliness of its locals, and the many benefits that travel has to offer. [For a review of Harrison's Saint Therese of Lisieux, see p. 122.]-Jo-Anne Mary Benson, Osgoode, Ont. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.