4 out of 4 stars
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Eat, Pray, Love meets P.S. I Love You in this engrossing fictional travel memoir, with the emo factor dialed down and a generous dash of humor added.
Shadows, Shells, and Spain is one of John Meyer’s books that have a main fictitious romantic storyline but are based on the author’s personal travels, hence the fictional travel memoir classification. The books have alliterative titles and scenic covers. In this book, the focus is on the Camino de Santiago or the Way of Saint James, a network of pilgrims’ routes traversing Spain, Portugal, and France. The lead character walks the Spanish route, sleeps at pilgrims’ hostels called albergues, and collects stamps on his credencial or pilgrim’s passport until he earns the compostela or certificate of accomplishment.
The lead character is Jamie Draper, a teacher in Canada left by his wife, Pam, quite suddenly. Ten agonizing months later, he found himself in Mallorca, Spain, Pam’s favorite place to daydream about via travel brochures. Since quitting his job in Canada, he had supported himself with odd jobs while continually searching for Pam in Spain. His mother-in-law managed to send him a letter, through which he found out that Pam wanted him to complete the Camino Santiago pilgrimage by starting in Pamplona, just like she did. She left letters along some points in the Camino to explain why she left him so suddenly, along with a list of clues so he can locate the letters. Thus begins Jamie’s pilgrimage towards understanding his wife. Along the way and at her suggestion, he made friends with fellow pilgrims, the closest of which is Brie from the UK who is on a similar journey of introspection. My favorite part of the novel was when Jamie turned to art therapy, which was something he learned from Brie.
I’ve watched movies of dubious quality simply because they were set in beautiful locations. I’ve read travel literature which were mostly drab and self-centered. With Shadows, Shells, and Spain, John Meyer has revived the travel book genre by enticing me to yearn for the experience of tramping for miles and enduring fires of physical and emotional pain to come out purified. I paused while reading to reflect on what kind of a pilgrim would I be. Will I walk on foot or ride a bike? Will I take my time or follow a travel tour group’s itinerary? Will I be a tramposo, derided by the others for not carrying their possessions on their back and sending their bag ahead to the next hotel? Will I take the trip for religious or personal reasons? For someone who gets bored with history, I was suddenly attentive to the stories about the churches and the towns along the Camino.
Due to the travel I experienced vicariously through its lush storytelling, I give this book 4 out of 4 stars. I didn’t notice grammar errors, although some phrases were repeated too close to each other. I recommend the book to those who like romance and travel. Fair warning: there is a mention of abuse and skepticism towards religion in this book.
Shadows, Shells, and Spain
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