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the Complete Review
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Roads to Santiago

Cees Nooteboom

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To purchase Roads to Santiago

Title: Roads to Santiago
Author: Cees Nooteboom
Genre: Travel
Written: 1992 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 343 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Roads to Santiago - US
Roads to Santiago - UK
Roads to Santiago - Canada
Der Umweg nach Santiago - Deutschland
  • Translated by Ina Rilke
  • Dutch title: De omweg naar Santiago
  • Detours and Riddles in the Lands and History of Spain
  • Alternate American subtitle: A Modern-Day Pilgrimage through Spain

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining and interesting detours through Spain

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe A 12/3/1997 Robert Taylor
The Economist A- 15/3/1997 .
The LA Times . 26/3/1997 Richard Eder
The NY Rev. of Books B+ 17/7/1997 J.M.Coetzee
The NY Times Book Rev. A 6/4/1997 Richard L. Kagan
Sunday Telegraph A 1/2/1997 Euan Cameron
Sunday Times A- 1/3/1998 Phil Baker
>The Washington Post A 30/3/1997 Colm Toibin

  Review Consensus:

  Enthusiastic, with only a variety of minor reservations

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) remarkable distillation of literature, art, politics, landscape, personal history, and meditations on time, death, and eternity." - Robert Taylor, Boston Globe

  • "His book has two drawbacks. The first is that there is a lot of philosophising: some of it enthralling, some peculiar. In general, Mr Nooteboom is better when he stays down to earth, immersed in the detail of his travels, than when he takes a flight of fancy: he finds quite enough beauty and depth in ordinary things to please the most exacting reader. The second drawback is that he is chronically disorganised." - The Economist

  • "The roads in Roads to Santiago are a poetic paradox and worthily Spanish. (...) Nooteboom has taken in vast quantities of history, literature and art; he has lived the crowded past and present of Northern Europe; he seeks a place of romance whose landscape, monuments, ruins and history have not been exhaustively visited and commented upon by his contemporaries. (...) Nooteboom writes exquisitely and evocatively, though he stuffs in too much undigested history and too many untransformed guidebook details. His reflections on history and art are uneven; some facile and obvious, others stimulating and unexpected." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Nooteboom's book is more about Spain and its detours than about Spaniards, who appear only as waiters, museum guides, and other background figures. It contains illuminating pages on Visigothic civilization in Spain, on the Reconquista, on Philip II, but little on contemporary history, and in particular on the economic forces that have shaped that history." - J.M.Coetzee, The New York Review of Books

  • "Cees Nooteboom's Roads to Santiago is a guidebook of a different sort. Although difficult to categorize, it resembles a classic pilgrim's tale written for purposes of spiritual edification, a kind of Michelin for the soul." - Richard L. Kagan, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Introspective, imaginative and encyclopedic by turns, Roads to Santiago is an exceptional book about the double soul of a place and a traveller." - Phil Baker, Sunday Times

  • "If Nooteboom is not a man to be hurried, neither is he someone who is overweening in his scholarship. Clearly reflective and erudite by nature, he displays his knowledge in a delightful and effortless way and has the knack of sharing his passion in such a way that we seem to be discovering the basic essentials of Spanish history for ourselves." - Euan Cameron , Sunday Telegraph

  • "The English translation by Ina Rilke gives the book a moody, intimate tone, the voice quiet, almost whispering to you. Nooteboom ranks with Gerald Brenan, Ian Gibson and Robert Hughes as outsiders who have written great books about Spain in this century. His book has the odd capacity to make you change your life, or at least consider doing so. These journeys, this way of traveling -- slow, meditative, solitary, full of knowledge -- going back to the same places over and over, this is the way we all should travel: This is how we should spend our spare time over the next 40 years. There is a strange, modest wisdom and sense of contentment in the tone of this book: It is hard not to feel that it has been well-earned." - Colm Toibin, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Cees Nooteboom is well-known as a travel-writer, but Roads to Santiago is the first of his non-fiction works to be translated into English. In twenty-five detours through Spain Nooteboom explores the country, its history, and travel itself. In some of these chapters -- each fairly distinct essays -- he focusses on the places he visits, elsewhere he digresses, about anything from the death of Jorge Luis Borges to obscure titbits from history.
       Nooteboom is fascinated by Spain, and this shows in his writing. He sees the huge, odd deforested country as "the last refuge from the fullness of Europe", revelling in a "Spain that is changing and a landscape that is constant". His goal is, nominally, Santiago but he actually visited the place several times during the decade of Spain-trips that provide the material for this book. Still: "because I had not written about it, I still really hadn't been there." Writing -- recording and transforming the experience -- is essential to Nooteboom.
       He does a good job of it, too. The essays are generally entertaining, though a certain fascination by the reader with Spain and Spanish history probably help contribute to the enjoyment of what is, after all, also a very long book.
       There are fun travel-related asides -- so the comparison between the Michelin map of Spain and the Hallwag one. Nooteboom is strong on the architectural, artistic, and scenic, whether talking about Zurbarán or old monasteries. Knowledgeable about history, Nooteboom provides a lot of background that also extends much farther afield -- so to Spanish conquests and influence abroad. There's also a fair amount about contemporary politics, from ETA separatists to Francoist nostalgia.
       Roads to Santiago is a fine, broad introduction to Spain. Much of Nooteboom himself comes through, the traveller imposing himself and how he perceives the places seen, but he is a good and only occasionally misleading guide.
       An enjoyable book, well-written, it can be recommended to anyone interested in Spain.

       Note that the American edition has a disappointingly second-rate index. Louis Couperus, for example, is first mentioned on page 54 -- and even provided with a footnote (that bizarrely explains who he was, reading in full: "Louis Couperus (1863-1923), the well-known Dutch poet and novelist."). The entry in the index reads: "Couperus, Louis 289, 292" (i.e. it omits the first mention of the well-known author). (We have not had an opportunity to examine the British edition and do not know whether or not they might have done a better job with the index.)

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Roads to Santiago: Reviews: Cees Nooteboom:
  • Other books by Cees Nooteboom under review: Other books of interest under review:
    • See Index of Travel-related books
    • See Index of Dutch literature

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    About the Author:

           Dutch author Cees Nooteboom was born in 1933. He is a poet, novelist, and travel writer.

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