With a thousand-mile, half-year journey being a not-insignificant distance to walk, perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is that such an intense and immersive experience has been slimmed down to a tome of this size. McCarron’s trek takes him from Jerusalem, north through the West Bank towards the Sea of Galilee, then south through Jordan via Amman, Petra and Aqaba, before entering Egypt and marching all the way to the iconic Mount Sinai. Thankfully, it’s the richest and most insightful details which have been preserved.
Understandably, there is a heavy emphasis on factual information, with historical storytelling and cultural context reigning supreme. The reality that he is actually walking the region is sometimes an afterthought, albeit a rich and detailed one. McCarron frequently utilises an experienced, mature, non-judgemental exterior as the vehicle by which to carry us through a remarkably diverse Middle East, and into the lives of the many engaging and fascinating characters he and his companions encounter along the way; from curious Palestinians to aubergine-throwing teenagers.
His experiences with various Bedouin feel particularly appropriate, paralleling his temporary nomadic existence with some of the world’s most famously nomadic people. ‘In my head I was building up a map of the journey, but one that was not based on landmarks,’ he writes. ‘Instead, I had a representation of the walk through faces, conversations and acts of kindness. To walk is to meet people on their level, face-to-face and shoulder to shoulder, and it serves more powerfully than anything else that I have found to highlight a shared humanity among all.’
It is extremely impressive how McCarron managed to get his head around the many competing factions that find this part of the world so sacred, to the extent that he is able to describe the different ways they’ve all left their mark on this landscape. To keep a balance between paying respect to each party while simultaneously keeping each at arms-length is a very hard game to play, but one he achieves with aplomb.