On Pilgrimage, Authenticity and Travel in the Age of Abundance
In 2009, Gideon Lewis-Kraus was hanging out in Berlin, with no particular idea of where to go or what to do next, when he got an email from Tom Bissell. Years earlier, the two had met in a bookstore where Lewis-Kraus was working, and they’d stayed in touch. Bissell reminded him that Lewis-Kraus had promised offhandedly to accompany him on the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile, 1,300-year-old pilgrim’s route across Spain. So the two writers set off together. Their journey on the Camino was replete with drama, blisters and epiphanies, and afterward, Lewis-Kraus wanted more. He started looking up other pilgrimages, like the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan and the Rosh Hashana pilgrimage in Ukraine, and he went, dutifully toting his never-finished copy of “Middlemarch.” These journeys now make up his new book, A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful. Frank Bures talked to Lewis-Kraus at his home in Brooklyn, New York.
World Hum: It sounds weird to say that pilgrimages are hot, but it seems that pilgrimages are on the upswing. Is that your sense? And if so, what do you think is the draw for modern travelers?
Gideon Lewis-Kraus: This book started out as a series of emails from the Camino de Santiago, and after the first one, my friend Ralph wrote to me from Berlin and, half-jokingly, said that as long as I could find a way to argue that pilgrimage was the hottest new thing in international youth fashion, I probably had a book on my hands…