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Sinning Across Spain

Victory Books

2012, RRP $29.99

Reviewed by Dr Shirley Coulson.

CONTRARY to what the title might lead you to believe, this book is not about having a great sinful time walking through Spain!

Rather, it is about the remarkable journey of Ailsa Piper, an Australian writer and actor, who offers to "walk off " the sins of others on a pilgrimage.

The transformative experience of completing the Camino Francés (the Way of St James across northern Spain) led Piper to research the medieval practice of pilgrimage, in particular the paid carrying of sins for another, leading to absolution.

Her original fascination with pilgrimages became an obsession and, after advertising for sins to carry, Piper set off from Granada in southern Spain to walk the 1200km Mozarábe pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella in the north.

The book chronicles her journey – a journey in which she discovers, explores and conveys palimpsesto "layers of story and life crowding on top of each other".

With her engaging style, Piper brings to life the people she encounters – Herr T, the young German theologian, the amici Leonardo and Ricardo, the fit elderly Italians Il Capitano and his Soldato, the humble women in the villages who gift her with food and wisdom.

For Piper, walking the land "revealed layers of self" – but this is not a self-indulgent treatise.

Scattered among the vivid descriptions of the pueblos and countryside are her insightful gems – reflections on sin, life and God.

This book is an easy read and yet has many palimpsesto of its own – you can read it as a travelogue, a personal discovery journal, a reflection on sin, a delightful characterisation of the mystery of human relationships!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading and re-reading this book.

It lives up to its promise: a joyous celebration of the call of the road.