You Don't Choose A Life, You Live One
Thomas Avery is an American doctor who goes to France following the death of his adult son, killed in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino de Santiage, a Catholic pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, also known as the Way of St. James. Tom's purpose is initially to retrieve his son's body. However, in a combination of grief and homage to his son, Tom decides to walk the same ancient spiritual trail where his son died in order to understand his son better.
While walking The Camino, Tom meets others from around the world, all broken and looking for greater meaning in their lives. He reluctantly falls in with three other pilgrims in particular. Joost is a large overweight Dutchman from Amsterdam who says he is walking the route to lose weight to get ready for his brother's wedding and so that his wife will desire him again. He is a warm, extrovert who is the first to start walking with Tom and is marked by an unfailing kindness to all he meets. Sarah is a Canadian divorcee who has fled an abusive marriage and the resulting loss of a child through abortion who says she is walking the pilgrimage to quit smoking. She is the second to join Tom and belittles him as a defense mechanism. "Jack from Ireland" is a travel writer from Ireland who when younger had desires to be the next Yeats or Joyce but grew accustomed to the lucrative field of travel writing. He is the last to join the quartet and has been suffering from writer's block.
The pilgrims travel through the breathtaking scenery of the Camino. Occasionally, they rejoin some other pilgrims they already met, two Frenchmen, a young Italian man, and an elderly priest from New York, Father Jack. They continually meet kindness in others, sometimes in surprising instances from unexpected sources including hotel keepers and Spanish Gypsies.
Tom and the others all have moments of crisis and catharsis that make them drop their masks and really befriend each other. Through the pilgrimage, Tom discovers the meaning of one of the last things his son said (in a flashback) to his father: that there is a difference between people who 'live the life they chose', (a safe type of life) vs those who choose to 'live life' (exploring, searching, not following a certain career path). By the end of the trip, the four have come to find peace and contentment including respect for each other.
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