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Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim's Route into Spain Paperback – March 1, 2005

4.1 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When freelance journalist Hitt decided he needed a long walk, he had in mind the 500-mile trek from Saint-Jean Pied de Port, in France, to Santiago del Compostello, in Spain, one of the medieval routes of pilgrims to the shrine of St. James the Apostle. For this lapsed Episcopalian, his immersion in the history of Santiago meant not only a long walk to clear his head but adventure and an exotic setting for a travel book. The self-questioning Hitt found the road crowded with other pilgrims with different agendas. In a pale, somewhat self-conscious version of a Canterbury Tale, he sketches them deftly as they straggle along, silhouetting them and himself against medieval pilgrims and dipping into church history and architecture, love and the stories of Saint James. This offbeat travelogue describes a still-living tradition of pilgrimage and a culture of the road both delightful and informative.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

For centuries the Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela has been a magnet for millions of the faithful throughout Christendom. This shrined city, devoted to the marytred apostle St. James, is traditionally reached on foot by peregrinos (pilgrims) who hike hundreds of miles to receive blessings. Hitt, a contributing editor to Harper's and Lingua Franca, spent weeks walking this path, where Charlemagne, the Cid, Pope John XXIII, and countless others have tread since the ninth century. The author endured grueling weeks of rugged countryside, scorching weather, mangy dogs, and eccentric hostelers to write an irreverently amusing and colorful adventure. Most interesting are the assortment of characters he meets along the way, each of which could be drawn from Chaucer. Beyond his personal experiences, Hitt offers fascinating historical background on church architecture, the Crusades, and the Knights Templar, which makes this travelog a terrific complement to travel and Spanish and European cultural collections.
David Nudo, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743261119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743261111
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By P. Lozar on February 3, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author is frank, spares neither himself nor others, and his writing is often screamingly funny. His fellow pilgrims are a motley collection of rogues, jocks, fanatics, earnest believers, and clueless tourists -- but even in more pious eras, people went on pilgrimages for all sorts of reasons, few of them lofty (witness the Canterbury Tales). Hitt never manages to pin down his own motivation for making the trip, doubtless disappointing readers who expect every journey to end in a blinding flash of insight. But I found his candor refreshing: he tells it like it is and doesn't pretend to a piety he doesn't feel, even when he's momentarily overcome with emotion upon reaching his goal. Chaucer had it right: a pilgrimage is a metaphor for life itself, we're all on this road together, and, if you keep your eyes open, you'll learn that the journey IS the destination.
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We saw The Way (Martin Sheen movie) and were smitten by the thought of making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. This book is mentioned in the movie credits so we decided to read it for more information. It is unlike the movie, but seems to convey authenticity, primarily in the absence of earthshaking revelations attendant the walk. Hitt makes the reader feel the walk, the slowing of time, the historicity of the Camino, and the strange segue into simplicity which makes the smell of manure a welcome experience (no kidding - manure means a town is near which means the opportunity to eat, sit, lie down, etc.). If you read Shirley McClain's book about the same hike you may wonder why nothing much happened to Hitt. You should wonder more about Shirley's veracity. Hitt makes it real - it is a long, often solitary, walk which permits life's frantic pace to slowly fall away so that the occasional time of peace may be noticed. That's plenty.
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I honestly must say I was disappointed with this book. The author writes well, very descriptively, and he provides much history in relation to sites on the path. However, the author does admit that he is not a religious person and is quick to point out many of the odd and not really good practices in the history of the church. This is ok, I guess, but I would be more interested in his inner journey which he keeps at bay from the reader. So I found this book to be a description of events on a walk which is meant to be a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey. It is my own fault for expecting to read the effects of the journey but all I know is he met strange characters, got very tired and sometimes afraid of wild dogs and some people but otherwise it is oddly a soulless journey of what is historically a spiritual journey or a journey within one's heart at least. I was disappointed but read until the end hoping for a glimmer which i never found.
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Format: Paperback
For my recent compilation of pilgrimage quotations ("Ultreia! Onward! Progress of the Pilgrim") I read all 40 or so contemporary English journal accounts available about the various routes. Hitt's is clearly within the first grouping of 8 or so best such books (i.e. largely those written by established authors and/or academics). This was the third or fourth pilgrimage account I read and after plowing through another couple of dozen of such I remained impressed by both the sense of humour and critical eye that Hitt brought to describing his trip. One finds much here about the various characters that one is likely to encounter along the route and Hitt is accurate in his portrait of the moving circus that the camino has unfortunately become.
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Just finished reading "Off The Road" and I came away feeling empty.
I kept reading this book anxious to finally get to that special moment when the author discovers what this pilgrimage really means to him...but that moment never comes.

What we do get is the author's very cynical view of the pilgrimage, religion, and the pilgrims he meets along the way.

Yes, there is some interesting history in this book. There are also some memorable moments and colorful characters... but we learn nothing about how these moments, these characters, this pilgrimage; leaves any sort of impression on this author.

The author seems to have gained nothing from this journey. There is no self discovery. There are no lasting friendships. There are no life lessons to pass along to his children.
Very disappointing book.
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Every now & then I finish a book & say to myself, "I needed to read this!" Such is Jack Hitt's wonderful chronicle of his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrimage has fascinated me for many years, and I only regret not being able to experience it firsthand while I was in Spain for a couple of weeks in 1998.

Jack Hitt is one of the most descriptive, as well as entertaining, writers I've encountered. It's almost as if you're right there with him & his companions each step on the trail. From start to finish the recurring question is, "What am I doing here?", "What am I supposed to learn from this?" He discovers that the answer lies in the whole complex of travel challenges, weather challenges, & people-relationship challenges that inevitably happen along the way.

I love his conclusion: "Every pilgrim's temptation is the need to encounter a brand new truth, preferably one that's panoramic, cinematic, and ecstatic." What, in fact, one encounters is: "The essentials really, food and shelter - milk and s***! In the midst of all that work, wrangling the details of life stripped down to that essence, some tiny thing appears. It might be a funny line, a moment, a chance encounter, a thought that gives you the power to see yourself as you really are, there in that awkward surreal place...It's the best one can ever expect from all revelatory experiences, whether it's taking hallucinogenic drugs, walking a pilgrimage, or having children. You want instant epiphany? Try war..." And who can doubt that each of our lives is a "pilgrimage"?!
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