Sinning Across Spain

Sinning Across Spain Ailsa Piper 2012, Victory Books for more information or Google Books reviews  or

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I have to declare two things as I review this book. Firstly I knew Ailsa briefly in the late 1970s at university and secondly that I am thoroughly atheist. Normally I would not pick up a book with a title like this. It is only after I saw Ailsa interviewed on ABC TV that I became motivated to interact with her and the book.

Sinning Across Spain is an interesting treatise on actually walking a pilgrim path in Spain and as such it is well worth reading just for that information and for the inspiration that  is Ailsa’s walking story.

More importantly for me the book chronicles many aspects of Ailsa’s life and as such it contains a lot of frank personal experience that sweeps well beyond the scope of walking in Spain. Ailsa uses the premise of carrying sins of close friends and more abstract acquaintances very effectively. Ailsa employs a mixture of autobiographical content, history, myth, legend and literature to construct a blended narrative of her life that works well as a vehicle to interrogate wide issues of faith, truth, trust, culture and everyday philosophy. This narrative allows her to focus her lens on issues of fidelity, choice, religion and relationships. The title and subject matter suggests Roman Catholic ideology and while Ailsa does examine these issues the book is never didactic and never suggests Christianity as an ideal pathway to spiritual satisfaction. Indeed it seemed to me to promote an ideology that celebrates some of the cultural value of Christianity but not the literal interpretation the bible. Nor does it support biblical concepts of heaven, hell and sin as impositions of a God. Instead Ailsa examines the idea that we construct our own deity, values and penances. For Ailsa heaven is a hot day on the walking path. She finds almost overwhelming inspiration in nature where her spirit soars, empowered by her love of life and the love she finds in nearly everything around her. Ailsa recounts her pleasure in uncovering layers and this is a motif of her journey, an often solitary journey of walking, one foot after another and the gradual peeling back of layers, of history, of culture and of self. She mines rich veins of all three during her pilgrimage in Spain and later at home. Home is an important concept for Ailsa and this is evident throughout this book, indeed Ailsa reflects that home is her favourite word in any language. Mostly this is a book about love, about knowing love, of receiving love and giving love.

Sinning Across Spain alsohighlightsAilsa’s beautiful command of our language and this book is a celebration not only of walking but also of English firstly but also Spanish and the other languages she encounters on her pilgrimage. Poetry is featured often as the narrative unfolds and keen students of literature will really enjoy this aspect while less expert readers will encounter many linguistic white rabbits to chase down burrows. This borrowed and found linguistic richness is expertly augmented by Ailsa’s own capacity to construct elegant and powerful passages of poetic prose. This paragraph begs a quote but there are so many I will leave it to you potential readers to enjoy them fresh, as Ailsa intended.

Autobiography has never been a genre I have sought out though there are a few that I have read in recent years including the first two of Jon Doust’s ‘Boy’ series, Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are not the only fruit & Why be happy when you could be normal and Simone Lazaroo’s The world waiting to be made. Ailsa Piper’s Sinning Across Spain sits proudly on my bookshelf with these other fine and awarded books. Like the other books mentioned above Sinning Across Spain is abook I will dip into again and again whenever I am looking for inspiration. I heartily recommend it to you. (Piper 2012)   For more information to purchase

Harry Hercock


November 2012

Piper, Ailsa. 2012. Sinning across Spain : a walker’s journey from Granada to Galicia. Carlton, Vic.: Victory Books.