I have just finished reading Tony Kevin’s new book, Return to Moscow, and have found myself thinking again about his previous book Walking the Camino: A Modern Pilgrimage to Santiago. It was a book which made a huge impact on me, and I see the same thoughtful open-mindedness and integrity in Return to Moscow. So I decided that Walking the Camino deserved a (belated) review of its own, drawn from the (lightly edited) thoughts I too-briefly recorded in my reading journal when I read the book back in 2008.
But having published this review, *smacks forehead* I now find that I had indeed reviewed it before! Never mind, here it is again!!
I enjoyed this book, and that’s odd because a recount of a pilgrimage through Spain seems at first impression an odd choice for a non-believer like me. I had discovered the book at Writers at the Convent which was an event organised by Readers Feast booksellers. The author is a retired diplomat who had been ambassador to Poland and Cambodia who retired from DFAT (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) in 1998. He chatted amiably about Walking the Camino, punctuating his presentation with a slide show of terrific photos that he said had unfortunately been of too low a resolution to be included in the book.
In his presentation he said things that resonated with me. He too was feeling that profound sense of alienation from his own country. He had previously written the story of SIEV-X, (A Certain Maritime Incident: The Sinking of Siev X) whose 300-odd passengers had drowned in waters off the Australian coast, in disquieting circumstances. He was bothered by Australia’s acquiescence in renditions, the Tampa, Guantanamo Bay, torture, the war in Iraq, and the paranoia about terrorism provoking us to get involved in questionable foreign policy decisions. I’m not an expert like Tony Kevin is, but these things bothered me too.
He felt the need to get away, to take time out for reflective thinking and gain a different perspective. He used the time to think about a quieter life, with fewer possessions and a sustainable future. He came back with an undiminished sense of anxiety about the enormity of the global problems we have, but with renewed optimism.
I don’t think Kevin said much at this presentation about the toxic political culture that lay behind his need for a fresh perspective, but in Conversations with Richard Fidler on the ABC, he expanded on what had happened:
A formerly well-respected diplomat, he had been in the news because in retirement he had been critical of the politicisation of Australia’s asylum seeker policy and practice, and had been reviled in the parliament because of it. His whole career had been derided, and he had had to defend himself against some soul-destroying accusations.
He decided to make the pilgrimage across Spain – taking the longest and most difficult route – not for religious reasons but because he needed to reflect on events and to deal with the bitterness he felt. On one level Walking the Camino is an entertaining travel memoir, recording everything from blisters to boozing and what he learned from that, but on another level it’s a very powerful book, one which offers wise and non-judgemental counsel about having to deal with toxic workplaces.
Thinking about this book now, nearly ten years after I read it, I remember its sense of calm, which was like balm in the histrionic politics of the day. Return to Moscow offers a similar perspective that is totally different to the current rhetoric of Cold War V#2 about Russia. My review of that book will be up soon.
I wish I could remember who I foolishly lent Walking the Camino to, never to have it returned. I’d love to dip into it every now and again to refresh my own perspective about things.
Author: Tony Kevin
Title: Walking the Camino
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2007
Source: Personal Library
Available from Fishpond: Walking the Camino: A Modern Pilgrimage to Santiago.