A Sense of Direction (Hardcover)
A Sense of Direction is a beautiful, often surprising book that, appropriately, takes the slow-burn approach toward answering the big questions. It's an examination of just about everything -- travel, friendship, love, sex, family, religion, violence, redemption -- but however weighty its subjects, it's never short on self-deprecating humor, and is frequently hilarious. The book's action consists of three pilgrimages: the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Eighty-Eight Temples of Shikoku in Japan, and Rosh Hashanah in Uman, Ukraine. Throughout, Lewis-Kraus plays up the particular geometry of each pilgrimage (line, circle, and point, respectively) to examine what it means for a hypermodern, technology-enabled, secular person to spend weeks painstakingly traveling by foot, like a true medieval pilgrim, along a route that would take mere hours by car. Although Lewis-Kraus' subject is often, understandably, himself, he writes with an objectivity that lends the book a welcome universality. While A Sense of Direction is his first book, the author is a veteran of brainy, urbane magazines like McSweeney's and Harper's, and his impressive journalistic chops lighten what could otherwise be a heavy, ponderous book. Like the work of Geoff Dyer, A Sense of Direction exists at the intersection of numerous genres -- travel writing, essay, memoir, humor -- and, in doing so, transcends each genre to become a work all its own. This is a book for, as it's subtitled, "the Restless and the Hopeful" -- in other words, for all of us. -- John Peck— From June 2012
In medieval times, a pilgrimage gave the average Joe his only break from the daily grind. For Gideon Lewis-Kraus, it promises a different kind of escape. Determined to avoid the kind of constraint that kept his father, a gay rabbi, closeted until midlife, he has moved to anything-goes Berlin. But the surfeit of freedom there has begun to paralyze him, and when a friend extends a drunken invitation to join him on an ancient pilgrimage route across Spain, he grabs his sneakers, glad of the chance to be committed to something and someone.
Irreverent, moving, hilarious, and thought-provoking, "A Sense of Direction" is Lewis-Kraus's dazzling riff on the perpetual war between discipline and desire, and its attendant casualties. Across three pilgrimages and many hundreds of miles - the thousand-year-old Camino de Santiago, a solo circuit of eighty-eight Buddhist temples on the Japanese island of Shikoku, and, together with his father and brother, an annual mass migration to the tomb of a famous Hasidic mystic in the Ukraine - he completes an idiosyncratic odyssey to the heart of a family mystery and a human dilemma: How do we come to terms with what has been and what is - and find a way forward, with purpose?
About the Author
Gideon Lewis-Kraus has written for "Harper's," "The Believer," "The New York Times Book Review," the "Los Angeles Times Book Review," "n+1," "McSweeney's," "Bookforum," "The Nation," "Slate," and other publications. A 2007-8 Fulbright fellowship brought him to Berlin, world capital of contemporary restlessness. He has more or less settled in Brooklyn.
“Beautiful, often very funny… Lewis-Kraus weaves a story that is both searching and purposeful, one that forces the reader, like the pilgrim, to value the journey as much as the destination.” –The New Yorker
“Gideon Lewis-Kraus has written a very honest, very smart, very moving book about being young and rootless and even wayward. With great compassion and zeal he gets at the question: why search the world to solve the riddle of your own heart?" –Dave Eggers
“Here is one of the best and most brilliant young writers in America.” –GQ
“A young writer seeks a cure for his fecklessness by following roads very much taken in this scintillating travel memoir… Lewis-Kraus’s vivid descriptive powers and funny, shaggy-dog philosophizing [yield] an entertaining, thoughtful portrait of a slacker caught up in life’s quest for something.” –Publishers Weekly
“Rightfully anticipated literary debut.” –Nylon
“Nail[s] our collective anxiety—every sentence rings true… Lewis-Kraus is a master.” –Daily Beast
“A complicated meditation on what the physical act of pilgrimage can mean in modern society… [with] moments of brilliant philosophical insight.” –The Onion AV Club
“A witty, deeply felt memoir… an honest, incisive grappling with the brute fact… that we only have one life to live… sparkles with tight, nearly aphoristic observations." –The Boston Globe
“Lewis-Kraus does nothing if not dazzle on the sentence level. But his commentary isn't just pretty; it's deeply self-aware.” –The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Gorgeously written… [Lewis-Kraus is] aimless, sure, but meticulously, obsessively, beautifully so.” –The Rumpus
“Physically, Lewis-Kraus’ feats are staggering, but more so is how fully and fluidly he recounts them, alongside meditation on his own youthful anxieties and a well-synthesized history of the act of pilgrimage.” –Booklist
“If David Foster Wallace had written Eat, Pray, Love, it might have come close to approximating the adventures of Gideon Lewis-Kraus. A Sense of Direction is the digressively brilliant and seriously hilarious account of a fellow neurotic's wanderings, and his hard-won lessons in happiness, forgiveness, and international pilgrim fashion.” –Gary Shteyngart
“This is a brilliant meditation on what the spiritual and fraternal and paternal and communal might mean to a person right now, fueled as it is by the funny, thorny, dreamy, generous, cranky, rigorous, truth-seeking voice of Gideon Lewis-Kraus. For the sake of whatever force or idea or feeling sustains you, make a pilgrimage to your nearest bookstore and buy the goddamn book.” –Sam Lipsyte