When Gideon Lewis-Kraus went to Berlin in 2007 on a Fulbright, the scholarship was mostly a pretext to ponder life’s bigger questions: If he allowed his 27-year-old self to roam free and be ruled by his desires, could he avoid any future regrets for his middle-aged self? This “preemptive strike” articulated itself in months of drinking and hanging out. Then he came upon the idea of a pilgrimage. He joined a friend for Spain’s Camino de Santiago in the first of three journeys chronicled in A Sense of Direction (Riverhead). The relentlessly probing and often funny book charts his movement as his travels take him to a remote Japanese island and to Uman (with a side trip to Shanghai along the way), through inclement weather, moments of isolation, and encounters with strangers whose company is frequently irritating, all the way to some hard-knock philosophical conclusion that our motivations are not always justifiable. As he paraphrases Wittgenstein, we just do what we do.
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