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Forum Book Club - 4 - The Great Westward Walk (Antxon González Gabarain)

C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
The Great Westward Walk, by Antxon González Gabarain ("Bolitx") is a camino memoir that is different - in a number of good ways. It was published in Spanish in 2012, as El Gran Caminante, and was subsequently translated to English by our forum member @Rebekah Scott. I haven't read the book in Spanish, to compare, but the translation seems to be outstanding, in that it resulted in a book that is captivating and natural in English.

I highly recommend it, but won't say too much yet. I read it a while back and am currently reading it for a second time. It's a book that is worth reading twice, so I'll wait before commenting further.

Rebekah introduced The Great Westward Walk on an earlier thread on the forum, and did it much better than I could. She said:
The Spanish Camino best-seller is much more than another pilgrim diary -- it's a skillfully written, witty, and sometimes infuriating account of a Basque Spaniard's walk from his home in Zumaia down the Basque Interior Way, and onward from Sto. Domingo to Santiago. The writer was "Bolitx," beloved blogger and online commentator, whose knowledge of camino ephemera and storytelling skill I have not seen anywhere else. This book was his opus -- he died of ALS three days after completing it, at age 41.
I translated the book into English, and it's now available via Amazon and at selected retailers in Spain.

The book is also available from Ivar's store.

I'm looking forward to everyone's comments!
 
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NualaOC

Veteran Member
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A few and hopefully lots more. See signature.
I've read it a few times and bought copies for camino friends. It gets better each time I read it.

It's like meeting and getting to know someone I wouldn't have connected with on a Camino - not least because we mightn't have liked each other very much.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances(2006) Portugues(2013)
San Salvador (2017) Ingles (2019)
I've read it a few times and bought copies for camino friends. It gets better each time I read it.

It's like meeting and getting to know someone I wouldn't have connected with on a Camino - not least because we mightn't have liked each other very much.
You will never know, Nuala! I got a few copies, handed over in person by his parents, to a friend who lives in Pamplona. I will re-read Rebekah's translation, and I do hope to tackle the original again. What else do we have to do, apart from stand, and stare? Yes, I know: for example, earn a living, to be able to enjoy such wonders as camino journeys. Buen Camino, Nuala. Sometime, another walk in Dublin! Maybe a coffee in Epic.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances , Pamplona Burgos august 2018 Burgos to Santiago 19 /04 to 20/05/2019
The Great Westward Walk, by Antxon González Gabarain ("Bolitx") is a camino memoir that is different - in a number of good ways. It was published in Spanish in 2012, as El Gran Caminante, and was subsequently translated to English by our forum member @Rebekah Scott. I haven't read the book in Spanish, to compare, but the translation seems to be outstanding, in that it resulted in a book that is captivating and natural in English.

I highly recommend it, but won't say too much yet. I read it a while back and am currently reading it for a second time. It's a book that is worth reading twice, so I'll wait before commenting further.

Rebekah introduced The Great Westward Walk on an earlier thread on the forum, and did it much better than I could. She said:


The book is also available from Ivar's store.

I'm looking forward to everyone's comments!
Ok just received it!
 
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Lisakline

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
I am walking in March and April of 2019.
The Great Westward Walk, by Antxon González Gabarain ("Bolitx") is a camino memoir that is different - in a number of good ways. It was published in Spanish in 2012, as El Gran Caminante, and was subsequently translated to English by our forum member @Rebekah Scott. I haven't read the book in Spanish, to compare, but the translation seems to be outstanding, in that it resulted in a book that is captivating and natural in English.

I highly recommend it, but won't say too much yet. I read it a while back and am currently reading it for a second time. It's a book that is worth reading twice, so I'll wait before commenting further.

Rebekah introduced The Great Westward Walk on an earlier thread on the forum, and did it much better than I could. She said:


The book is also available from Ivar's store.

I'm looking forward to everyone's comments!
Its sold out on Ivars store...any idea how i could get a copy in the US?
 

David Tallan

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2018
Its sold out on Ivars store...any idea how i could get a copy in the US?
There is always Amazon.com or AbeBooks. Or your friendly neighborhood local bookstore may be able to order it for you (ISBN 10: 8461792874ISBN 13: 9788461792870). Or you could get it for the Kindle, if you have one or have a KIndle app on your phone or tablet.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
First 2016
Latest Camino Frances Jul-Aug 2020
I read it on Kindle so it is available in that format.

It is hard to believe that books describing the same experience could be so different. I will say up front that I found this a much more rewarding read than the previous two memoirs we have read. Our prior knowledge of the author's fate gives the journey added poignancy since we know what he is about to lose.

Unlike the two previous authors he is a veteran of the Camino and there is a sense that his previous journeys have been in preparation for El Gran Caminante. I really liked how he is steeped in the Way and its history and the Basque Country and that he intertwines the two in narrating his journey.

There is a visceral energy to this book in contrast with the somewhat enervated efforts of Sister Jupp. We struggle with him in the fields before San Domingo and through the snowstorm in the Montes De Oca, braving the wind on the Meseta before achieving unity with the Way in Galicia. Even his adoption by two smart Madrilenos in Sarria is unable to destroy his equanimity and he takes them under his wing.

The Camino means more to Bolitx than to the other authors in my view, and this lends Chaucerian life to his descriptions of the places and pilgrims he encounters. At the same time he conveys a sense of a Camino and a Spain passing into history as modernity washes away tradition and the pilgrim hordes descend upon the previously quiet path.

He laments the way the Camino is being taken over by tour groups and people walking from Sarria. Plus ca change! Out of interest I looked up the statistics for April 2008 when he walked. Some 6,000 people received Compostelas that month. In the same month in 2019 over 30,000 were issued! In the same time the number of August pilgrims doubled. I think that it is this lengthening of the season for walking that has enabled the rejuvenation of villages along the way like Foncebadon which he describes as deserted rather than the simple increase in numbers. It is these places that are imperilled by the current hiatus.

This is a terrific book and serves to remind us that the Camino Frances is part of the deep roots of Spanish culture and of the value of such traditions even in the modern world.
 

TrvlDad1

Covidyard Bob
Year of past OR future Camino
2017 Frances from Saria
2018 Finnisterre & Ingles
2019 Portuguese from Valenca
2020 Assisi(cancel.)
Just finished the English translation and it is a unique, informative and inspiring book. The "advantage" Bolitz has over other Camino books is his broad and deep history with the Camino as a resident along it. But more poignantly, he has the tragic advantage of writing the book knowing it's his last Camino (in multiple ways). His digressions into dreams and events not really part of his Camino de Santiago experience, such as Paula's Tree (p 302-304) and his canoeing competition (p 306-308), were far longer and more detailed than I thought were needed to metaphorically describe his Camino de Santiago experience. But they added to his Camino de Life.
Enjoyed the book immensely.
 

jmcarp

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances, 2013
Camino del Norte a Chimayó (USA), 2015
Camino Portugues, 2017
I count it as perhaps the best book about the Camino that I have read. I read it in English, as translated by @Rebekah Scott. Here's the review I wrote for Amazon:

5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Westward Walk
Reviewed in the United States on August 2, 2017
Verified Purchase
The Great Westward Walk: From the Front Door to the End of the Earth
By Antxon (Bolitx) González Gabarain (Translation by Rebekah Scott)

For more than eleven hundred years pilgrims have been walking across Europe to the tomb of Saint James in the city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. During that time, many books have been written describing this journey. However, because of the recent re-birth and popularity of the network of pilgrimage routes collectively known as the Camino de Santiago, there has been an explosion of new books, memoirs, journals, and blogs published which recount the authors’ experiences along this road. As a veteran of this journey, I have read and enjoyed many of them. But for me, The Great Westward Walk: From the Front Door to the End of the Earth stands head and shoulders above the rest for one reason – the depth of the author’s understanding and insight into the history of the Camino de Santiago. He has the uncanny ability to make the Camino come alive, as if it were a living thing, and that by walking this pathway, he becomes one with its essence. And, oh yeah, he’s a fantastic wordsmith as well.

Antxon González Gabarain was a native of Spain’s Basque region; he lived his life along one of the major variants of the route, and walked several of the others starting in various places across the Iberian peninsula. This book focuses on a journey in 2008, when he one day walked out the door of his home in the northeastern corner of Spain and followed the Ruta del Túnel (the Tunnel route) to Santo Domingo de Calzada, then on to Santiago via the Camino Francés (the French route). As I read this book, I could sense that the soul of the Camino was in his DNA as he masterfully wove the day-to-day experience of this, his final walk on the Camino, with anecdotes from the history of the ancient pilgrimage route, from his own life, and from his previous experiences on the other routes to Santiago. It seems to the reader that with each of the million-plus steps he takes on this journey, he both leaves a piece of himself in the dust and mud of the trail, while at the same time he picks up a piece of the lingering spirits of those that preceded him.

Ask anyone who has walked the Camino de Santiago about their experience, and all agree that it was an inward journey as well as an outward one, and that somehow their life has been changed as a result. However, few authors have been so aware of and attuned their personal experience and able to describe it in such a beautiful and soulful manner as González Gabarain. For him, the Camino Francés in particular (which he calls the “Great French Way”) has a “strange, powerful current” that possesses a soul of its own which is made of “the sky, wind, and wide-open space.” It becomes a transcendental experience in which he shares the footsteps and feelings of the hundreds of thousands – perhaps by some estimates, millions – of pilgrims who have trod this path over the centuries. While he may not have consciously realized as he walked that this journey would be his last, he certainly knew it by the time he wrote the poignant epilogue which described the end of his journey at Finisterra, out past Santiago where the land meets the sea. Here is where he envisioned his immortal soul sailing westward across the vastness of the great unknown like the wake of a ship sailing on the ocean beyond the cliffs, the booming surf, and the lighthouse at the end of the earth.

This book is definitely not a guidebook or a how-to book for one planning to walk the Camino de Santiago. In fact it is probably best read after one has completed this walk and seeks greater understanding and appreciation of what they have seen and felt, and what the meaning of that experience is and continues to be in this journey we call life.

I highly recommend this book, not only because of the way it captures the spirit of the Camino but also because it’s simply a great piece of literature.

UPDATE (11/2018): I recently re-read this book, and liked it even better the second time. While it's great read for anyone interested in the Camino de Santiago, I still believe those that have completed the Camino, and especially the Camino Francés, will appreciate it in a more personal way because they can put themselves in the author's shoes and imagine themselves in the same places and the same situations that he so brilliantly describes.
 
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cycled from Pamplona Sep 2015;Frances, walked from St Jean May/June 2017. Plans to walk Porto 2020
The Great Westward Walk, by Antxon González Gabarain ("Bolitx") is a camino memoir that is different - in a number of good ways. It was published in Spanish in 2012, as El Gran Caminante, and was subsequently translated to English by our forum member @Rebekah Scott. I haven't read the book in Spanish, to compare, but the translation seems to be outstanding, in that it resulted in a book that is captivating and natural in English.

I highly recommend it, but won't say too much yet. I read it a while back and am currently reading it for a second time. It's a book that is worth reading twice, so I'll wait before commenting further.

Rebekah introduced The Great Westward Walk on an earlier thread on the forum, and did it much better than I could. She said:


The book is also available from Ivar's store.

I'm looking forward to everyone's comments!
I have read this book and I can thoroughly recommend it. Some of our pilgrims trials and tribulations I can relate too. It’s available as an e-book so load it onto your iPhone or tablet and take along on your next Camino, in whatever country. Cheers
 
Year of past OR future Camino
2022
The Great Westward Walk
OMG. I can't believe that I never heard of this book until I saw it on sale on Ivar's store.
It is wonderful.
I am only up to day six of his walk, but it is the Camino book I have been waiting for. Not spiritual - how to find your inner God while walking and stuff like that - but human, encompassing all that makes us human, from blisters to doubts to courage. And it is big, a collection of daily essays, not a quick read, and I like big books.
Rebecca's translation seems perfect, leaving gaps, gaffs, and poetic twists where I imagine the author put them.
I am so happy to be reading this book. I am saddened that the author passed in Sept 2012 and I started my first CF in May 2013.
*sigh* I didn't know what I didn't know.
Nevertheless, my own Great Westward Walk was the adventure of a lifetime that I look forward to repeating for the 3rd time in 2022.
Hey, guys, can I join your book club?? Please, please??!!
 
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movinmaggie

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (2015) Scotland GGW (2017) Primitivo
The Great Westward Walk, by Antxon González Gabarain ("Bolitx") is a camino memoir that is different - in a number of good ways. It was published in Spanish in 2012, as El Gran Caminante, and was subsequently translated to English by our forum member @Rebekah Scott. I haven't read the book in Spanish, to compare, but the translation seems to be outstanding, in that it resulted in a book that is captivating and natural in English.

I highly recommend it, but won't say too much yet. I read it a while back and am currently reading it for a second time. It's a book that is worth reading twice, so I'll wait before commenting further.

Rebekah introduced The Great Westward Walk on an earlier thread on the forum, and did it much better than I could. She said:


The book is also available from Ivar's store.

I'm looking forward to everyone's comments!
Ivar's store shows it sold out?
 
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Kiwi-family

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Past: (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018)-Frances, Baztan, San Salvador, Primitivo, Fisterra,VdlP, Madrid
I’ll have to read it again. I remember being disturbed by something in his attitude the first time I read it - maybe a second reading will put me right!
 

C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I’ll have to read it again. I remember being disturbed by something in his attitude the first time I read it - maybe a second reading will put me right!
You are touching on something I want to comment on, but I'm still in the process of re-reading. He is suffering from blisters that affect his whole mood, but there is an underlying pessimism (which he admits) and dark cloud that hovers over him. I wonder if this is partly because of the fact that he wrote (or at least completed) the book only in the year or years that he knew he was dying.

The day of San Adrian's Tunnel is not how I remember it. Maybe this just illustrates that we need to listen to the author's voice and story, and not look for our own memories.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
First 2016
Latest Camino Frances Jul-Aug 2020
You are touching on something I want to comment on, but I'm still in the process of re-reading. He is suffering from blisters that affect his whole mood, but there is an underlying pessimism (which he admits) and dark cloud that hovers over him. I wonder if this is partly because of the fact that he wrote (or at least completed) the book only in the year or years that he knew he was dying.

The day of San Adrian's Tunnel is not how I remember it. Maybe this just illustrates that we need to listen to the author's voice and story, and not look for our own memories.
After the first one when I realised thanks to the comments that I had done a bit too much amateur psychoanalysis on Father Codd and I have tried to avoid that on the subsequent ones (although it would have been fun to go all in on Sister Jupp).

My sense in the first part though was that he was struggling both physically and mentally with the Way. There is uncertainty and perhaps a hint of guilt at leaving his family then he is knocked sideways by the weather and his own weakness.

I will repeat something I said about Father Codd's book which is that we mustn't assume that everything in the book happened in that precise way. I think there is an element of Magic Realism meets the Middle Ages in The Great Westward Walk which is what elevates it above a simple travel narrative. So when he meets the young woman and child in the storm we can read it as either a real event or take her as symbolic of the family he has left behind and his inner turmoil at his temporary abandonment of them. A medieval pilgrim would have seen meaning in everything that happened in life and on the Camino and I wonder if the author is inviting us to do the same with the various encounters he has along the road.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances , Pamplona Burgos august 2018 Burgos to Santiago 19 /04 to 20/05/2019
Way better the second time! I'll read it again just before I head off on the Frances again...whenever that may be.
I am already thrilled and totally taken by the book .. and the dramatic destiny of his author and what he had to go through while finishing the writing , makes it so special
And unique
I am reading it slowly and with a great respect and compassion towards ‘ Bolitz’ mémoire and I have ordered the original version in Spanish too
 

Rebekah Scott

Camino Busybody
Year of past OR future Camino
Many, various, and continuing.
One thing I struggled with was Bolitx's apparent discomfort with foreign pilgrims. He finds "The Viking" disgusting, the German "robots'" regimentation offensive, and the Russian couple in Triacastela are horrible beyond description. Piquant food smells especially get to him. Spanish-speaking pilgrims get a pass -- the biking brothers from Bolivia(?) are just clowns -- Bolitx is patronizing about them, not insulting.
I found his anti-Asian bias most striking. His description of a busload of Japanese tourists in Tardajos or Rabe was infuriating. I almost gave up on him then. I originally blunted some of his "ching chang chung" language in the English version, but was reminded that wasn't part of my job. Those who read the original Spanish can judge for themselves.
I love Bolitx, although we never met. But like most people I love, he has his dark aspects. In all, it is a clear view of how one generation of Spaniards views the rest of us.
 
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Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances , Pamplona Burgos august 2018 Burgos to Santiago 19 /04 to 20/05/2019
One thing I struggled with was Bolitx's apparent discomfort with foreign pilgrims. He finds "The Viking" disgusting, the German "robots'" regimentation offensive, and the Russian couple in Triacastela are horrible beyond description. Piquant food smells especially get to him. Spanish-speaking pilgrims get a pass -- the biking brothers from Bolivia(?) are just clowns -- Bolitx is patronizing about them, not insulting.
I found his anti-Asian bias most striking. His description of a busload of Japanese tourists in Tardajos or Rabe was infuriating. I almost gave up on him then. I originally blunted some of his "ching chang chung" language in the English version, but was reminded that wasn't part of my job. Those who read the original Spanish can judge for themselves.
I love Bolitx, although we never met. But like most people I love, he has his dark aspects. In all, it is a clear view of how one generation of Spaniards views the rest of us.
Still not reached that parts !!He is from a small village isn’t it and probably not had the opportunity having travellled a lot and meet different people
I know what you mean It s a general I convenient , no only Spaniards ..
Having been exposed all my life to different cultures and back in my little village .. easy to witness and hear same kind of behaviour but not always
 

PeteD

Active member
Year of past OR future Camino
2016
I too was uncertain with the halting start to The Great Westward Walk but before I realised it I was enthralled by the best memoir I have read about walking the Camino. Knowing the authors future does add a sense of poignancy to the book however it remains a piece of literature that I will happily return to again in future when I want to reflect a little more on what the experience can mean. Gets my vote as the best so far!
 
Year of past OR future Camino
2022
I'm 2/3 through the book.

I am starting to understand the difficulty some readers have with his general attitude. It seems negative, at least at this point in the story.

He seems unnecessarily hard on himself, whether physically - 40 km a day, with blizzards and blisters? No way, man, be kind to your body - or emotionally - many offers along the way for companionship and welcome, yet he obsessively rebuffs them all - or spiritually - the Coroner.

I understand his long term outlook but I can only believe that a person who clearly had so many devoted friends and family was searching for something that he found and which brought him joy.

Getting ready to enter Part 3, trying to hum THAT SONG) . . .
 

C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
He seems unnecessarily hard on himself, whether physically - 40 km a day, with blizzards and blisters? No way, man, be kind to your body - or emotionally - many offers along the way for companionship and welcome, yet he obsessively rebuffs them all - or spiritually - the Coroner.
I agree with this observation. I want to know what the background to this attitude is, but that's not part of the story.
 
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2022
OK. I just finished reading part 3 - finished the book.

The last, very short, chapter is haunting. Clearly, this entire book was a labor of love, and a culmination of all the previous walks he had done.

This book seems very personal, but doesn't get deeply personal (to me) until the end. Perhaps he intuited that his time was limited and that is why he pushed himself so hard? I will never know.

It was good to see him finally connect with others during the last part of his journey and to let them connect with him. I think he underestimated how much he could give to and get from a relationship with other pilgrims, even for a short while.

I would recommend this book to other travelers of the Camino, but, as others have said, only to those who have walked completely at least once. Otherwise I don't think you can fully understand the turmoil he feels for most of his journey.

And the relief and peace he feels at the end.
 

Marbe2

Active member
Year of past OR future Camino
2015-2019 walked all or more than half of CF 7 times... CP recently cancelled by Covid 19!
Book arrived Saturday. Love Boltx’s style....

GOETHE: Europe was founded by Pilgrimage......worth reflection!
 
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filly

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
.... just ordered a copy on the UK Amazon site, as a paperback! £12.95. Kindle edition also offered.
 

C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
OK. I just finished reading part 3 - finished the book.

The last, very short, chapter is haunting. Clearly, this entire book was a labor of love, and a culmination of all the previous walks he had done.

This book seems very personal, but doesn't get deeply personal (to me) until the end. Perhaps he intuited that his time was limited and that is why he pushed himself so hard? I will never know.

It was good to see him finally connect with others during the last part of his journey and to let them connect with him. I think he underestimated how much he could give to and get from a relationship with other pilgrims, even for a short while.

I would recommend this book to other travelers of the Camino, but, as others have said, only to those who have walked completely at least once. Otherwise I don't think you can fully understand the turmoil he feels for most of his journey.

And the relief and peace he feels at the end.
I have been slow due to other priorities - just reading this a bit every evening - but I've now finished reading for the second time. I agree with Kathy F's review. The book was difficult (as was his pilgrimage) during the earlier parts, but it gained energy and joy in the end. It still left something of a mystery, though, which might be why it is memorable.

Worth reading twice.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances , Pamplona Burgos august 2018 Burgos to Santiago 19 /04 to 20/05/2019
I have been slow due to other priorities - just reading this a bit every evening - but I've now finished reading for the second time. I agree with Kathy F's review. The book was difficult (as was his pilgrimage) during the earlier parts, but it gained energy and joy in the end. It still left something of a mystery, though, which might be why it is memorable.

Worth reading twice.
Back into the reading ! Iwas in chapter 3 English version and gave it to a friend who was interested !
I ordered the the Spanish version and start again from the beginning since it sounds different to me ... like endorsing another personality !
 
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alexwalker

Forever Pilgrim
Year of past OR future Camino
(2009): Camino Frances
(2011): Sevilla-Salamanca, VdlP
(2012): Salamanca-SdC, VdlP
(2014): SJpdP-Astorga
(2015): Astorga-SdC
(2016) May Pamplona-Moratinos; Sept.:Burgos-SdC
(2016): August/Sept: Camino San Olav (Burgos-Covarubbias), Burgos-Sarria
(2017): May: Portuguese; Sept: Pamplona-SdC
A fantastic book.
 
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Frances x5, Portuguese VdlP12, Sanabres, Aragones, Norte,Salvador,Primitivo, VdlP 17,Madrid18Norte
I have just finished reading The Great Westward Walk, translated by Rebecca Scott. The best Camino book I have read yet and I have a shelf full. I was there with him, I could feel his pain and his joy.
 

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