From Shelf Awareness for Readers November 15, 2019
On the last page of A Pilgrimage to Eternity, journalist Timothy Egan (The Immortal Irishman) reflects on his thousand-mile journey. “The Via Francigena is a trail of ideas, and it helps to walk with eyes open–otherwise you miss the bread crumbs of epiphany along the way.” Egan’s 2017 pilgrimage along the major medieval route from Canterbury to Rome, hardly a step of which was not traveled by “martyrs, madmen or monarchs,” was his quest to explore the contemporary moment in history (with its sharp decline in religious participation) and to ponder his personal faith (“to decide what I believe or admit what I don’t”).
As a Pulitzer Prize winner, Egan excels at detailing history: The Worst Hard Time followed Dust Bowl survivors; The Big Burn covered the politicians and firefighters of the early Forest Service. In A Pilgrimage to Eternity, Egan deftly alternates historic details of Christianity’s legends, locales and research with his own experience. Between Epernay and Châlons-en-Champagne, his feet blistered and his water running low, he reflects on Augustine’s quote, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Egan inspires readers to follow his lead as he “[damps] down his skepticism” and describes sites of mysteries and miracles, including Lourdes in France and the tomb of the undecayed Saint Lucia in Italy. He spares no details in reporting beheadings, burnings at the stake and tortures in the name of religion. But turn the page and revel in reviews of local pasta, wine and cheese, spontaneous friendships with fellow pilgrims, and philosophical musings. When Egan receives his last VF passport stamp, at the Vatican, readers will feel they’ve trekked right along with him.
–Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco (and former bookseller at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, WA)
Discover: Journalist Timothy Egan’s engaging memoir follows his thousand-mile journey on the medieval route marking the history of Christianity through Europe.