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Forum Book Club - 2.1: Sinning Across Spain (Ailsa Piper)

David Tallan

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
1989
Here we are, starting round two of the Forum Book Club series, with its first book, as outlined on this thread. If you are still reading one of the previous books - feel free to comment on those threads anytime.

The theme for this second round is memoirs of Caminos other than the Camino Frances. For this first book the selection is Sinning Across Spain by Ailsa Piper. It tells the story of her pilgrimage on the Camino Mozarabe from Granada to Merida, and then along the Via de la Plata from Merida to Santiago de Compostela. In the tradition of those medieval pilgrims who would, for a fee, carry the sins of others, Ailsa volunteered to carry this sins of friends and colleagues to Santiago. This is the story of that undertaking.

There are actually two editions of the book. The first, published in 2012, tells the story of the pilgrimage described above. An updated edition from 2017 purports to also include her walk along the Camino Frances, according to the cover. Actually, the bulk of the book is the same. There is a short section at the end that talks about her life after the original Camino and how and why it drove her to walk the Camino Frances. But there isn't very much on the Camino Frances itself. However, that isn't of a concern to us as the focus of this round is other Caminos!

The book seems widely available in a number of formats. You can find links to a number of online stores with it on its Goodreads page. I look forward to reading your thoughts on it.
 
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Jill
Year of past OR future Camino
Portugués, Francés, LePuy, Rota Vicentina, Norte, Madrid, C2C, Salvador, Primitivo, Aragonés, Inglés
I have just finished reading it (last night), for the second time! Kindle edition.

Excellent writing.

Well worth reading. I think one would relate to it more after having first walked a camino, or two.

I like the way she often brings in a Spanish word or phrase, but neatly adds the English translation.
 

David Tallan

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
1989
Well worth reading. I think one would relate to it more after having first walked a camino, or two.
I know people often come to the "other caminos" (i.e. not the Camino Frances) after having first walked a camino or two. I wonder if it is the same for books about the other caminos. :)
 

Raggy

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I read Sinning Across Spain in 2017, shortly after I walked more or less the same route. It evoked some pleasant memories of the places that I had been through, but the book didn't live up to its promise.

I got the feeling that the "sinning," concept was contrived for a pitch to a publisher. Hats off to her for being so smart about getting the trip funded, and getting herself published ... but I wanted more of a sincere exploration of sin from her perspective. It would have made for a strong thread to tie together her experiences, but she didn't take us there. She didn't give us much inner camino. Instead, she gave cursory treatment to the sins that people shared with her, and she was quite dismissive of “Herr Theologie.” Who knows? Perhaps he was a dreadful bore, but his presence made me conscious of what the book could have been. For example, an author with a more sincere interest in the "sinning," concept could have used her experiences and discussions to explore and contrast the traditional, religious ideas about sin and forgiveness against contemporary, non-theist thinking about morality, mental health, closure, or a number of other related ideas. (And I don't mean that this should have been a heavy, serious, work. I think it could have been an entertaining story without the fakery).

At the end of her book, she mentions the “new age wannabes,” in Santiago. That haughty attitude was the final straw for me; Looking down on others while writing hifalutin stuff about the magnitude of the challenge she was taking on, the path less traveled, the weight of the sins that she was shouldering ... and then offering lame excuses for taking lifts in cyclists' support vans and other vehicles.

Meh.
 
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Year of past OR future Camino
First 2016
Latest Camino Frances Jul-Aug 2020
I have just finished reading it (last night), for the second time! Kindle edition.

Excellent writing.

Well worth reading. I think one would relate to it more after having first walked a camino, or two.

I like the way she often brings in a Spanish word or phrase, but neatly adds the English translation.
I chose to buy it as an actual book and am still waiting for it to arrive. I will stick to Kindle in future!
 
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CF 2014, CF 2018, CP 2019 from Coimbra
I have just started, 3 chapters in, and so far although, yes I can see that the "sin" component is "an angle" I'm enjoying her considerations more than any of the other camino memoirs that I have picked up and put down.
Thus far, I find the writing to be more willing to be self-questioning about the whole enterprise and less self-aggrandizing than the general "I think this is what everyone should get from camino because it's what I got from camino," popular writing on it.
It's early pages in yet, so maybe I will change my mind later, but so far so good.
 

JamesGeier

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
CF Spring 2016
CF Autumn 2017
VdlP Spring 2021
At the end of her book, she mentions the “new age wannabes,” in Santiago. That haughty attitude was the final straw for me; Looking down on others while writing hifalutin stuff about the magnitude of the challenge she was taking on, the path less traveled, the weight of the sins that she was shouldering ... and then offering lame excuses for taking lifts in cyclists' support vans and other vehicles.
I wanted to like this book, but could not get into it. From the start there was an undercurrent of an attitude I did not care for. She failed to compel me to continue reading, but I persevered. I, too, lost her completely at the end when her holier-than-thou attitude really showed itself. I came to dislike Alisa - don't want to share a cafe con leche with her or even talk to her along the way if we met. Too self-righteous. Absolutely not what the Camino I experienced is about or anything like the people I met. Deleted it from my Kindle. There are so many much, much better Camino books available. How did this lame tome even get selected?
 

Raggy

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
How did this lame tome even get selected?
Och ... Don't be like that. 😆
I was given the book by someone who wanted to know what I thought of it and I felt much the way you did. I ploughed through it out of a sense of obligation, and I felt a little churlish when I offered my less than glowing review. After reading your comments, I feel vindicated, justified. I feel like a better person. So you see, your pain has served a purpose...
 
Year of past OR future Camino
First 2016
Latest Camino Frances Jul-Aug 2020
I wanted to like this book, but could not get into it. From the start there was an undercurrent of an attitude I did not care for. She failed to compel me to continue reading, but I persevered. I, too, lost her completely at the end when her holier-than-thou attitude really showed itself. I came to dislike Alisa - don't want to share a cafe con leche with her or even talk to her along the way if we met. Too self-righteous. Absolutely not what the Camino I experienced is about or anything like the people I met. Deleted it from my Kindle. There are so many much, much better Camino books available. How did this lame tome even get selected?
I have just started this as it only arrived on Friday. I disliked the previous one (Walk in a Relaxed Manner) quite intensely at times but it clearly clicked with a lot of other people.

Someone gave up their time to make the selection in good faith as far as I am concerned, and I can not so far see any reason to disqualify this one. It meets the theme (other caminos than the Frances), is affordable and is readily available. Not everyone will like every book that gets picked.

I fear however that based on what I have read so far this book is not going to do it for me. I think there is a character in P G Wodehouse who reads romantic novels as an exercise in masochism. I fear reading camino memoirs may be a bit like that.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
First 2016
Latest Camino Frances Jul-Aug 2020
I finished this a couple of days ago and have been mulling over my response to it.

The underlaying substrate of any Camino memoir is the land and places the author traverses. This is competently enough done for the most part, but with quite a strong hint of guidebook at times. On the other hand I have walked the stretch from Salamanca and there were was no point where my memory was lit up by the description, which happened on numerous occasions in all of the previous ones we have read (including the infamous WIARM).

I think this may be because the descriptions are always very self-centred. We don't get to enjoy any place or experience without a strong overlay of the author's specialness. I looked at Good Reads when I finished and one unfavourable review denounced it as "Eat Pray and Love on the Camino". I have not read that book but it felt like it might be a fair summation. The narrative is as if the whole population from Granada to Finisterre is infatuated by the presence of someone who clearly regards herself as a force of nature.

As others have commented the "sin" angle feels contrived and the ruminations around it are shallow at best.

With regard to her fellow pilgrims we are in magic realism territory again. I frankly don't believe in a German Theology professor whose faith collapses in tears in the face of the author's trite arguments. She appears not to have a Camino family so much as a Camino fan club once she gets past Merida, and her arrival in every village is depicted as if it was the second coming.

The author's subsequent loss is obviously sad but the epilogue describing this is is so at odds with the tone of the rest of the book that I am afraid it was jarring.

By now you may have gathered that I like this about as much as the reviews above. There are however plenty of people out there who do like this kind of thing judging by the ratings on Amazon and Good Reads so I suppose in some sense it cannot be a bad book.

Come back Sister Rupp. All is forgiven.
 
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Year of past OR future Camino
CF 2014, CF 2018, CP 2019 from Coimbra
Well, I fell off the “reading for pleasure“ wagon this week and so I shall have to bracket all these reviews and finish the book myself.
It does. Not sound promising..l
 

C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I finished this a couple of days ago and have been mulling over my response to it.
Me too, and thank you @gns for writing my thoughts almost exactly! I think I started this book once before, but abandoned it before too long. In service of the Book Club, I finished it this time.

In particular...
there were was no point where my memory was lit up by the description

I think this may be because the descriptions are always very self-centred. We don't get to enjoy any place or experience without a strong overlay of the author's specialness.
Yes, I had some trouble feeling her remarkable "duende" and I got tired of trying to figure out "palimpsesto." Mostly I was distracted by trying to pronounce and spell it.

I actually found the postscript more interesting than much of the book, although it still used rose-coloured glasses too much for my taste. (Somehow, my life, marriage, friends, career, etc., don't compare well!)

Having said that, the book was very skillfully written and was quite successful. I expect Piper is happy with that, although the author of Eat Pray Love undoubtedly profited much better.

The Great Westward Walk was more real in its imperfections.

Come back Sister Rupp. All is forgiven.
Amen! 🤣
 

Raggy

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I actually found the postscript more interesting than much of the book
The copy that I was loaned didn't have the postscript, and I don't intend to buy a copy. Can you write a spoiler in this thread to let me know what it was about? (Use the "spoiler" option in the menu to protect the sensitive eyes of the folks who want to read it for themselves).

1620967253104.png
 

C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
Good reason to learn to use the Spoiler, but it wasn't all that interesting. Certainly not worth seeking out another copy.
It was mostly about her busy life after the book was published, her other writing projects, and the unexpected death of her husband of 28 years. Then she went on another Camino, as part of the mourning and recovery, although she didn't go into much detail.
 

TrvlDad1

Covidyard Bob
Year of past OR future Camino
2017 Frances from Saria
2018 Finnisterre & Ingles
2019 Portuguese from Valenca
2020 Assisi(cancel.)
A little late to this version of the Book Club party but finished Sinning Across Spain... last night The descriptions and encounters were interesting, but I found myself questioning Ailsa's motives and mood swings. Perhaps she was carrying more of her own baggage than her benefactors sins. In any case, it was a worthwhile read. We all walk for very personal reasons, sometimes some of which are opaque even to us. Nice choice.
 
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