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A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful Hardcover – May 10, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

A Sense of Direction is a painfully particular and deeply personal book about a subject that typically gets treated with the airbrushed gloss of a travel brochure. —Peter Manseau


“Beautiful, often very funny… Lewis-Kraus weaves a story that is both searching and purposeful, one that forces the reader, like the pilgrim, to value the journey as much as the destination.” –The New Yorker

“Gideon Lewis-Kraus has written a very honest, very smart, very moving book about being young and rootless and even wayward. With great compassion and zeal he gets at the question: why search the world to solve the riddle of your own heart?" –Dave Eggers

“Here is one of the best and most brilliant young writers in America.” –GQ

“A young writer seeks a cure for his fecklessness by following roads very much taken in this scintillating travel memoir… Lewis-Kraus’s vivid descriptive powers and funny, shaggy-dog philosophizing [yield] an entertaining, thoughtful portrait of a slacker caught up in life’s quest for something.” –Publishers Weekly

“Rightfully anticipated literary debut.” –Nylon

“Nail[s] our collective anxiety—every sentence rings true… Lewis-Kraus is a master.” –Daily Beast

“A complicated meditation on what the physical act of pilgrimage can mean in modern society… [with] moments of brilliant philosophical insight.” –The Onion AV Club

“A witty, deeply felt memoir… an honest, incisive grappling with the brute fact… that we only have one life to live… sparkles with tight, nearly aphoristic observations." –The Boston Globe

“Lewis-Kraus does nothing if not dazzle on the sentence level. But his commentary isn't just pretty; it's deeply self-aware.” –The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Gorgeously written… [Lewis-Kraus is] aimless, sure, but meticulously, obsessively, beautifully so.” –The Rumpus

“Physically, Lewis-Kraus’ feats are staggering, but more so is how fully and fluidly he recounts them, alongside meditation on his own youthful anxieties and a well-synthesized history of the act of pilgrimage.” –Booklist

“If David Foster Wallace had written Eat, Pray, Love, it might have come close to approximating the adventures of Gideon Lewis-Kraus. A Sense of Direction is the digressively brilliant and seriously hilarious account of a fellow neurotic's wanderings, and his hard-won lessons in happiness, forgiveness, and international pilgrim fashion.” –Gary Shteyngart

“This is a brilliant meditation on what the spiritual and fraternal and paternal and communal might mean to a person right now, fueled as it is by the funny, thorny, dreamy, generous, cranky, rigorous, truth-seeking voice of Gideon Lewis-Kraus.  For the sake of whatever force or idea or feeling sustains you, make a pilgrimage to your nearest bookstore and buy the goddamn book.” –Sam Lipsyte


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (May 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487251
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487255
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,067,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I received an ARC in e-book format from the publisher in exchange for reading and reviewing it.

Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes a travel memoir about pilgrimages. He undertakes three very different ones. The first is the Camino de Santiago in Spain, a more traditional style pilgrimage, during which he is accompanied by a friend and meets many people along the way. The second is to 88 temples around the perimeter of Shikoku, Japan, which he undertakes mostly alone. Then the third is a single event in a Ukrainian village for the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, where he is accompanied by his father and brother.

While I generally tend to enjoy travel memoirs, it's very possible that this book just wasn't for me. Part of the reason for that was that the travel part of the book is more of a backdrop for the author to work out all the issues troubling him about his life. Lewis-Kraus certainly seemed to have been searching for a sense of direction. He clearly didn't have one at the start of the book, but unfortunately didn't seem to find one at the end either - at least not as far as I could tell.

His style of writing mostly irritated me, and I definitely did not like the author at all. The world is made up of all types, but this restless, disaffected, tired-of-the-hedonistic-lifestyle sense of entitlement that the author appears to have made me spend most of my reading time annoyed by him. He seems very proud of his ability to write long, self-indulgent, convoluted sentences. However, he doesn't do it very well. For that kind of style to work, you have to be engaging enough to keep the reader captivated throughout and wanting to read more. Lewis-Kraus does not do that for me at all.

Ironically, the author writes extremely well about other people.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love the outdoors. I've gone on long walks, hikes and backpacking adventures but this book somehow left me disappointed. I don't understand the many five-star reviews posted here within the April-May timeframe, unless they all come from close friends and family who "love" the book simply because they know the author. I guess I am the oddball again because this book, despite some interesting moments on the trail in Spain, Japan and Ukraine, left me feeling the author is one angry, confused and lonely man who wants love and admiration for himself.

What is the purpose of this book? I am not sure. An otherwise successful writer living a vagabond lifestyle in Berlin deals with the coming-out of his father years prior. Years later the author still harbors resentment and anger toward his father for abandoning a family lifestyle for that of a gay love story. He is not happy for his father; instead, the author is angry and decides, after some heavy drinking, to walk several pilgrimages to cleanse his soul, but instead he meets annoying people, puts up with others' demands, and endures bad weather, blisters, ill-begotten food and totally trashes several poorly-advising guidebooks. It's like he walked the trails simply because "they were there" and not to leave behind personal awakenings for the next willing pilgrim.

There were several flaws to this book. First, the compilation of three pilgrimages come across as forced, as if Gideon made these walks to have a premise for a book. Second, there seems to be an emphasis on the negative events, rather than spiritually cleansing incidents. Third, there's an arrogant, narcissistic tone to this book that turns me off.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Subtitled "Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful," this memoir sounded like one that would appeal to me. And the first couple of pages promised good things to come. Unfortunately, I found the next 50 or so pages so boring that I almost chucked the whole thing. But because I was given a copy for review, I plodded on.

The book got better as the pilgrimages began. Early on, it reminded me of "Eat, Pray, Love" but with testosterone and not as interesting as that one. Then I turned to the blurbs on the back of the book - apparently I am not alone in the comparison to EPL.

To me, the book was a little pretentious and made the author seem too self-absorbed. Waaaay too much about a difficult relationship with Lewis-Kraus's gay father. Too much minutiae. Too much in-my-face philosophy. No great revelations. There were some humorous spots, and the story was told from the heart, but it won't go into my Top Ten List of Favorite Memoirs, were I ever to create such a list.
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Format: Paperback
"A sense of direction," it seems, is what all of us are looking for these days. We live in a world that has made self-consciousness and self-interest our primary preoccupations. As a result, we spend most our lives in a state very near disorientation, simply moving from one place or person to the next without any impetus to our movement other than desire and whimsy. As a result, each of us tries to locate ourselves in a variety of ways, through adopting the structure of the traditional American family, through dedication to business interests, even through constantly running from distraction to distraction.

Gideon Lewis-Kraus's search for "a sense of direction" took him around the world and back again, literally. In his disaffection with life in the United States, he decided to move to Germany. There he fell in among other young people with a similar disaffection for life in their home countries and pursued the pleasures of the new art and literature scene, which included visits to secret raves and bizarre performance-arts, the indulges of the young and bored. With a friend, he decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, the famous medieval pilgrimage route in Spain.

The meaning and motion he discovered on the Camino led him to other pilgrimages, one in Japan and the other in the Ukraine. In his pilgrimage among pilgrimages, Lewis-Kraus begins to acquire "a sense of direction." He brings himself to confront the underlying factors in his strained relationship with his father, a gay rabbi, and the mangled relationships he has had with others throughout his life. Most importantly, he begins to come to terms and to form a relationship with himself.

I recommend this book primarily as a simultaneously humorous and intelligent meditation on the existential state of modern man.
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