Some notes on Lisa Dempster's book Neon Pilgrim (Aduki Press, 2009)
Although talking to her online and at a couple of launches, and hearing her speak at EWF, makes me feel that I know Lisa Dempster a little, it is only in reading her first, tough little book, this travelogue called Neon Pilgrim, that I feel several layers of her lie uncovered to all comers, in much the same way she slept out in the open in rudimentary shelters during most of her 1200 kilometre trek around Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands of Japan.
I feel a bit shy offering this reading, too, as Aduki kindly offered me a copy and I completely forgot how rarely I read contemporary travel writing - it is hardly fair to compare a work like Neon Pilgrim to In Patagonia, and I hope I'm not doing that unconsciously here.Taking her cue from a seminal English-language account of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage, Japanese Pilgrimage by Oliver Statler, which she picked up in a small community library in the midst of a bout of depression and social withdrawal, Dempster returned to the island she had spent her sixteenth year in as an exchange student to take up a pilgrim's staff, don a white vest and walk herself back to health. This spiritual and physical exercise not only caused her to lose ten kilos in fifty-odd days but clearly changed her life as well. There is naturally a strong emphasis on physical struggle in this book, and that is part of its rugged charm.