August 2002

Chris Periera


Pilgrim by Timothy Findley

Many of us have dreamed of living forever at one time or another, but do we really know what this wish implies? Set in the early 20th century, this book addresses that very issue. The story begins with a man climbing a tree and hanging himself. Doctors are baffled however when three hours after being pronounced dead, the man’s heart begins to beat again, and he is alive once more. This man named Pilgrim, who claims he has lived forever, is then checked into the Burghölzli Psychiatric clinic in Sweden by a friend who wants to believe him, but is still hesitant and worried for his safety.

This interesting story that has one surprise after another is based part in reality and part in fiction, as doctor Fürtwangler and then the aspiring psychologist Carl Jung attempt to explain Pilgrim’s case rationally through the science of the mind. Throughout the duration of Pilgrim’s stay at the clinic, Jung is given clue after clue into the history of his patient by reading through Pilgrim’s private journal entries that open a world long past and forgotten to most people of the day. Literally stories in themselves, these entries Jung reads take him back to Leonardo Davinci and explore his alleged homosexuality, they explore Greek mythology, and even Teresa de Cepeda Y Ahumada, the medium of miracles in the ancient world; consequently explaining some of the most renowned art work ever created.

Pilgrim is a well-educated man full of mirth, anger – especially against art, and a need to be believed (a curse, he says, that will not allow anyone to believe him which was placed on him in mythological times).

The story is not solely based on Pilgrim’s tales however. There is an interesting mesh of sub plots including Carl Jung’s personal life where his individual quirks and flaws become painfully apparent in the latter half of the book, and also the troubles of other patients in the clinic such as a lady who believes she is from the moon, a man who writes with an invisible pen, and a women who believes she is a child.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, the deeper questions in life (including a number of references to the bible), or simply wanting the excitement of experiencing the powerful clashes between Jung and his patient, as Pilgrim adamantly holds true to his claim to immortality. An excellent, well-rounded story worthy of more praise than I can give!

Pilgrim By Timothy Findley
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN: 0060929375
534 Pages