Since medieval times, pilgrimages have been a popular religious or spiritual undertaking. Even today, between seventy and one hundred million people a year make pilgrimages, if not for expressly religious reasons, then for an alternative to secular goals and the preoccupation with consumption and entertainment characteristic of contemporary life. In The Way of the Stars, the journalist Robert Sibley, motivated at least in part by his own sense of discontent, recounts his walks on one of the most well-known pilgrimages in the Western world—the Camino de Santiago.
A medieval route that crosses northern Spain and leads to the town of Santiago de Compostela, the Camino has for hundreds of years provided for pilgrims the practice, the place, and the circumstances that allow for spiritual rejuvenation, reflection, and introspection. Sibley, who made the five-hundred-mile trek twice—initially on his own, and then eight years later with his son—offers a personal narrative not only of the outward journey of a pilgrim’s experience on the road to Santiago but also of the inward journey afforded by an interlude of solitude and a respite from the daily demands of ordinary life. The month-long trip put the author on a path through his own memories, dreams, and self-perceptions as well as through the sights and sounds, the tastes and sensations, of the Camino itself.
[Sibley] toils with a series of existential issues, ruminating on life's necessities, his desire to conquer the mountains, the trail's rich history, and his own long-forgotten memories.... [He] has a finely tuned appreciation for close-to-the-ground details, and his descriptions are deep and sincere without being overly earnest.
Relating the story of his own pilgrimage in a time of religious disenchantment, and comparing his experiences to those of other pilgrims who have written about the Camino de Santiago, Robert Sibley engages and maintains the reader's interest to the end. Unique and memorable, The Way of the Stars also has a refreshing sense of irony and humor.
Sibley is an extraordinary writer with a unique, distinct voice. If I had not already walked this path or was only pondering undertaking it, his account is winsome enough that I would want to walk it.
Sibley reflects on his journey on the famous pilgrimage: both the outward journey along the 500-mile path, and his inward journey of reflection and spiritual rejuvenation.
[Sibley's] quick crafting of scenes... bring the trip alive, offering the reader, as well as the writer, insight on an ancient meditative challenge as it can still be practiced today
[The] story comes alive when, after weeks of walking, everything else in his life seems to drop away. Sibley has flashes of complete, blissful presence, which he describes with poetic clarity.
Sibley's text is neatly divided into subjects that encompass the author's quest: prayer; pain; paths; time; gratitude; gifts; visions; underglimmer; disappearance; and home. Each chapter describes a series of events that encompass its subject matter, upon which the reader can reflect, thus travelling the spiritual miles with Sibley. VERDICT Sibley captures his journey, both existential and physical, succinctly, yet with artistry. Readers will be both engaged and enlightened by this carefully crafted tale.
Robert C. Sibley is an award-winning Senior Writer at the Ottawa Citizen, an Adjunct Professor in political science at Carleton University, and the author of A Rumour of God: Rekindling Belief in an Age of Disenchantment