- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st edition (May 10, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594487251
- ISBN-13: 978-1594487255
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 52 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #521,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful Hardcover – May 10, 2012
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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
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At the start, Gideon is rootless, aimless and essentially hedonistic. His divorced parents are both rabbis. His father is gay and divorced his mother when Gideon was 19. Gideon is estranged from his father. Gideon is an accomplished professional writer with attachment issues concerning places, fixed abode and his father. He goes from the aimless life he is leading in Berlin on the Camino de Santiago, an 800 kilometer pilgrimage in Spain, with his friend, Tom. The pilgrimage is a 1000 year old Catholic tradition, but in the present it is taken for secular reasons. Certainly Gideon, a secular Jew takes it for reasons having nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the idea of pilgrimage itself.
When Gideon finishes the Camino, he hears of an even longer and more arduous 1200 kilometer pilgrimage, the Shikoku , in rural Japan. This is a much less well-traveled route, one most generally taken by retired Japanese. It goes past 88 temples. Gideon does this one alone, although he meets and travels for short periods with other pilgrims. His isolation and unfamiliarity with Japan language and culture lead him further on the road to self-knowledge.
After Gideon completes the Shikoku, he enlists his brother and father to go to Uman, Ukraine for the mass Rosh Hashanah gathering of 40,000 hassidic disciples of the Bratslaver Rebbe, Nachman. Uman is the site where thousands of Jews were slaughtered during pogroms and Ukraine is a country that exceeded all others in the slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust. This is a pilgrimage of yet another sort, one in which Gideon grows further and comes to better understand forgiveness.
Gideon chooses to go on this pilgrimage with his brother and father in the hopes that there can be some resolution of their long-standing issues.
When I started the book I was impressed by the writing and thought that Gideon was bright, gifted and aimless, completely filled with himself and his own problems. I braced myself for a well-written exercise in "i'm more intelligent than you; I'm more ironic than you, I'm more alienated than you. I could not have been more wrong. Gideon grows by first mindlessly following the arrows pointing the way on the Camino and then by the more circuitous and ambiguous directions of the Shikoku. He comes to a sense of completion with the Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year where iin Jewish tradition is said that we are written in the Book of Life for the New Year. Gideon becomes that work in progress that marks a real mensch.
The sequence of his pilgrimages has a logic that is consistent.
Well done Gideon!
it seems the author wrote this book for own benefit, to have a record of his journeys and to workout his thoughts on paper. but there is no benefit for anyone else to take up their time to read this, plus the added insult of having to pay for it.