A troubled young woman's travels

2007-10-31 00:00

South Africa can certainly be proud of its latest author, Alex Smith. Her first novel, Algeria's Way, is a moving tale about a dynamic but troubled young woman seeking clarity on her life, while walking the famous El Camino Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage in Spain.

Cape Town's metropolitan lifestyle and an unhappy relationship drive Algeria to discover what is important in her life, but her journey leads her to take in a lot more than her own painful past, as she encounters pilgrims along the way.

An easy read, each chapter of the book starts with a metaphoric stance on life and slowly takes in the stories and experiences of the group Algeria travels with. Smith has a talent for describing the protagonist's companions and, in the short space she has given herself, really makes the reader feel an attachment to more than one character.

This is a travel book with a difference - the love of travelling was one of Smith's main reasons for writing the book, but through discovering the route to Santiago Smith wants to share the discoveries of humanity's beauty as well as its flaws. The combination of finding one's way to the citadel of Christianity and humanity is therefore hugely evident.

The walk to Santiago is not easy and the difficulties Algeria faces, including exhaustion and smelly towns, are really taxing, but change the way she faces the world.

Algeria's ability to attract people - her looks and subtle charms are emphasised - is a main concern and her interaction with men is quite tentative. The main “love” interest, Miguel, gets no more than a single kiss.

Algeria's entrance into Santiago and the great basilica is dramatic and her resolution is even more so, with a small twist, of course.

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