When Dominique arrives in Roquebrun, France to visit her old art school friend Julia, it is with mixed feelings of impatience and resignation. Impatience with being forced to take a vacation from her Winnipeg architectural firm and at the presence of Julia’s cynical brother Colin, and resignation to the loss of her once loving but now broken ex-husband, not to mention her career as an artist.
As the trio take their first steps on the 700-kilometre pilgrimage that will lead them through the north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela, Dominique wants nothing more than to hop a train and head home. At the age of 42, she is ready to give up on her dreams for new love, a life in art and a family to grow old with. Her attitude changes as the trio walks the dusty white camino that so many centuries of pilgrims have walked before them and are joined along the way by Deidre from Ireland and Neil from Vermont.
As the five of them travel, sharing the tragedies of their lives, and discussing history, faith and art, Dominique begins to soften. Perhaps it isn’t too late for her to find happiness and renewed love—to wash away the sins of a squandered life. And as a new love blossoms, Dominique begins to wonder if anything has been squandered; if her journey is almost over or just beginning; and if, perhaps, it really is the journey that matters most, and not where it leads one to.
Suggested Book Club Questions for Santiago
- Almost right from the beginning of the novel, Dominique comes across as critical, aggressive and abrasive. Does she have any redeeming qualities at all?
- How does one explain Dominique's cynical attitude towards art? (p. 25)
- What is the significance of the tableau of the "trial of virginity" in the context of the whole novel?
- Can Dominique be blamed for leaving David?
- What is Max's real motivation for wanting to set Julia up on her own?
- What relevance does the biblical story of doubting Thomas have in the context of the whole novel?
- Is Neil playing with Dominique's emotions? Is he betraying Lydia?
- Are Neil's ghosts in fact like Dominique's: "grey, moot and terribly equivocal"? (p.141)
- What load of guilt does each of the characters carry?
- How likely is Dominique's theory about prehistoric art? (p.156)
- Is it true that "it never really [is] in [our] hands" ?(p.199)
- ". . . every day of our lives, we turn our backs while children drown." (p.200) In how many ways is this statement true?
- How likely is it that Colin would have forgotten the role he played in his sister's drowning?
- Why is it inevitable that Neil return to Lydia?
- Does Neil's choice of Lydia over Dominique strike you as heartless?
- In what ways, if any, has the experience of the caminó changed Dominique?
- Explain the nature of Colin's redemption.
- What does this novel have to say about man and the need for compassion?
- John Updike has said that, in his stories, John Cheever "gives us back our humanity, enhanced." Can the same be said about Santiago?
- Which of the novel's images stands out in your mind?
Simone Chaput is a Franco-Manitoban and two-time winner of Le Prix litteraire la Liberte (for her novels Un Piano dans le Noir and La Vigne Amere) at the Manitoba Writing and Publishing Awards.