I recently finished Mark Samuels’ A Pilgrim Stranger. It is an excellently-paced story, as well as an enjoyable satire. Samuels’ novel examines the disparity between a more traditional approach to life and the largely-unquestioned assumptions of modernity. I loved the way it pokes fun at what we have become and are becoming. The characters are fully formed, especially the fascinating character of Alfredo Salgado.
The novel begins in 1981. Salgado is a very intelligent and no-nonsense young teenager who has been raised by his aunt as a devout traditionalist Catholic. He is not, however, by any means brainwashed for he brings his own precocious intellect to his traditionalist beliefs. As a result, he refuses to unquestioningly accept the assumptions of the modern world around him. Years later, we find Salgado interacting under very strange circumstances with a world that has proceeded along the accelerating path of “progress”. The novel highlights the contradictions inherent in many of the assumptions we hold dear.
A Pilgrim Stranger begins slowly (appropriately so) and gradually picks up pace. It ends on an unsentimentally touching note that demonstrates the power of grace. Samuels’ novel effortlessly held my attention from beginning to end. At over 300 pages, it looked on the longish side at first. But it was presented in such an engaging way that I read through it very quickly. Samuels skill with plot and character are very much on display here. If you’re anything like me, you may recognize yourself or others you know in his characters. I could not recommend the book more, whether one is Catholic or not, religious or not.