In Dublin, fourteen-year-old Jen and her father, Charlie, are struggling to cope with the death of their mother/wife. Charlie, in particular, seems to have given up on life. When Jen’s aunt, Suzanne, convinces them to go on a pilgrimage to a strange village in Yugoslavia, there is hope that some solace or healing may be brought to their broken lives.
On their arrival, however, they find a village in upheaval. An influx of pilgrims have swarmed into the village, each looking for their own miracle. Then there are the local police, who aim to suppress this so-called `revolution’. Amid all this, Jen makes a friend, Iva – one of the children who claims to have seen the Virgin Mary.
Told with a deep humanity and grace, Pilgrim is a story about a man who feels he has nothing to live for, and a daughter who is determined to prove him wrong. A nuanced and moving exploration of grief and faith. Unique subject matter based around the famed Medjugorje apparitions. The author already has a dedicated readership built up from her two non-fiction books on Medjugorje. This is her first fictional take on the story.
We all have experienced places that have ‘spoken’ to us. Whether you are religious or not, experiencing some greater power in a special place is an overwhelming feeling. I’ve never been to Lourdes or Knock, and definitely haven’t travelled to Medjugorje – but I really felt some kind of deeper peace last year at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona which was everything that I hoped it would be and lighting a candle for lost ones made me feel a sense of peace and calmness that stayed with me long after leaving.
Jen’s hopes in this fascinating novel are that her pilgrimage will have a more immediate and practical impact on her life – after the loss of her mum, she is desperate not to also lose her dad Charlie – who is coping with the loss of his wife by drinking too much and trying to escape from a world which seems set against him. She believes that this pilgrimage will transform her life and heal the wounds of loss for her family.
This novel allows us to follow Jen on her pilgrimage to a tiny hilltop village in Yugoslavia in a bid to seek something, some greater power that will change all of their lives for the better. The pilgrims around her all have their own stories, their own hopes, fears and beliefs and this is one of the things that I found most compelling about this read. I was engrossed in all of the overlaying stories and the unspoken motivations that drew this disparate group of people together on a common journey and asked them to believe…in something that defies explanation and asks them to have faith in faith itself.
We really bond with Jen as her innocence and her hope allow us to see this pilgrimage through her optimistic young eyes. Her determination to make the best out of things and to keep going even when things are not going entirely to plan really endeared her to me and I was absolutely rooting for her as she genuinely sees this journey as a means of changing her life for the better – and I was with her every step of the way. Her pain at losing her mother is very real, but she refuses to let this define her and her bravery and determination to find hope for her father make her one of the most memorable characters I’ve read this year. I was really sad to leave her behind as our pilgrimage together ended.
Charlie himself is a much less sympathetic character as he seems so unwilling to actually help himself. He has allowed his grief to bury him alive and not even the hope and optimism of his daughter can drag him out of the hole he has gotten into. Although it was easy to judge Charlie at times, Hall is such a skilled writer that she does ask us to consider why Charlie might behave the way he does and this allows us to build our empathy for him the more we read on and find out his story by walking in his shoes and learning that everyone does ‘walk their own path’ on this journey.
Iva was the most intriguing character for me: her place as one of the visionary six. fascinated me as it was difficult to understand how she dealt with the responsibility of this situation and being set apart from her peers in this way must have been a real weight on her shoulders. I love being inspired by books to do some research afterwards and this led me on a real journey looking into the six children of Medjugorje and their often heartbreaking stories. This quote from Mirjana from Our Lady shows that the burdens these young people carried was very real and it is hard to read about the way that the authorities treated these young people for their beliefs during the communist regime.
“Now you will have to turn to God in the faith like any other person. I will appear to you on the day of your birthday and when you will experience difficulties in life. Mirjana, I have chosen you; I have confided in you everything that is essential. I have also shown you many terrible things. You must now bear it all with courage. Think of Me and think of the tears I must shed for that. You must remain courageous. You have quickly grasped the messages. You must also understand now that I have to go away. Be courageous.”
You can read more about Mirjana and her companions here; I was truly fascinated by her story and loved finding out more about this part of history.
Even though I am not a religious person myself, the description of the visionary six was beautifully conveyed. You could absolutely believe in their devotion to their duty and feel their bond and calling through Hall’s prose. It does not matter whether you are a Christian or an atheist, there is something very compelling about the way that the Gospa is portrayed in this novel that will captivate you and make you want to read more about this intriguing story that I’d never heard of before reading this novel. For many people, they were a beacon of hope in a dark time and this really shines through in Hall’s novel as she allows us to see the transformative power of hope for those that do believe.
I would like to thank Mercia Press for a copy of Pilgrim to read and review and to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours for inviting me on the tour. I think that #Pilgrim looks absolutely amazing in my #OnTheShelfie and it makes me so happy to encounter books through my blogging that I might otherwise never have encountered.
Writer On The Shelf
Louise Hall is from Malahide, Co. Dublin.
She has previously published two works of non-fiction, ‘Medjugorje: What it Means to Me’ and ‘Medjugorje and Me: A Collection of Stories from Across the World’.
Her fiction has been published in ‘The Irish Times’ and been shortlisted for numerous competitions, such as the RTE Guide/Penguin Short Story Award, the Colm Toibin International Short Story Competition and the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards.
‘Pilgrim’ is her debut novel.
Website : www.louisehall.ie
Twitter : @LouHallWriter
Instagram : @louisehallwriter
Mercier Press is Ireland’s oldest independent publishing house, based in Cork. It was founded in 1944 by Captain Seán and Mary Feehan. The publishing house was named after Cardinal Mercier of Belgium, a man who in his day, proved himself not only a man of thought, whose mind ranged over every subject of vital interest to humanity, but a man of action in the varying circumstances of a life that shone before the eyes of a watching world. The voice of Cardinal Mercier could not be stilled and Mercier Press is proud to borrow from him the inspiration for its publishing programme, which is a belief in the importance of Ireland’s ability to provide accessible histories and cultural books for Irish readers and all who are interested in Irish cultural life.
Website : www.mercierpress.ie