Synopses & Reviews
A literary ode to peace, presence, and fulfillment inspired by a walk taken with a most surprising creature.
“The demon of speed is often associated with forgetting, with avoidance…and slowness with memory and confronting,” observes Milan Kundera in his novel Slowness. With that purpose in minda search for slowness and tranquillityAndy Merrifield set out on a journey of the soul with a friends donkey, to walk amid the ruins and spectacular vistas of southern Frances Haute-Auvergne. The purposeful pace of the journey and the understated nobility of Gribouille, his humble donkey companion, allowed him to confront himself as well as to consider the larger mysteries of lifeinsight he now shares in his enchanting book, The Wisdom of Donkeys. As Merrifield contemplates literature, science, truth and beauty, and the universality of nature amid the French countryside, Gribouille surprises him with his subtle wisdom, reminding him time and again that enlightenment is all around us if we but seek it. Traveling with Andy Merrifield and Gribouille, were reminded of the contemplative and exquisite benefits of nature, passive adventuring, and wild spaces.
“In The Wisdom of Donkeys (Walker, 256 pp., hardcover, $19.95), Merrifield describes his serendipitous encounter with a herd of donkeys and their owners encouragement of Merrifields choosing one as a hiking companion...The author would suggest that the next time you find yourself in the willing company of one of the relatively privileged North American donkeys, you put nothing on it but your hand, and nothing heavier than your traveling companion – if that companion is a small child – and see what the donkey reveals of its soul.”Julie Dalton, Boston Globe
“Merrifield makes us feel the heat and dust of the road as well as the gentle breath of Gribouille on his shoulder as they walk. The pace is slow and Gribouille is furry, silent, and endlessly comforting. Whatever the ills of this world, it somehow begins to seem credible that a donkey can wash them away.”Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor
“Pleasantly eccentric and elegantly written, suffused with the patient calm of the admired beast.”Adam Begley, New York Observer
“This is a road-trip story with a twist. The former New Yorker takes a meditative journey through the French countryside with a borrowed donkey named Gribouille. You might wonder how serene this trip can be, considering the volume of a donkey's bray. But Merrifield convincingly waxes poetic: ‘If you stand behind a donkey, their ears look like angel wings, flapping in the breeze, two flexible handlebars you can grip for taking off, for floating upward toward the heavens, up there, beyond the mountains. Later, he writes, ‘With Gribouille, my whole life has passed before me . . . I'm no longer the same person I was before embarking on this book, this trip.”Carol McGraw, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)
“In The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World, author Andy Merrifield takes a page from the Slow Food movement and goes on a Slow Journey--walking with a donkey along the picturesque roads and trails of southern France. This delightful travelogue recounts his physical wanderings and his mental meanderings as he learns to slow down enough to experience bliss.”Body + Soul Magazine
‘“I felt long ago that the grown-up world isn't all it's cracked up to be, that I had to invent my own truths to get by." So Andy Merrifield, professor of geography, biographer of French philosophers, child of Liverpool, went looking for peace of mind. Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's 1879 book "Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes," he decided to go walking. Key to this journey was a donkey, Gribouille (a variant of "doodle" or "scribble" in French). "Time slows down amid donkeys," the author writes. "In their company things happen quietly and methodically. It's hard to forget their innocent gaze. It's a calm that instills calm. Your mind wanders, you dream, you go elsewhere, yet somehow you remain very present." Heidegger, Schubert, Chesterton and others are companions on this journey. But Merrifield is looking for his own lost self as well: "Hitherto, I'd lived my life sort of vicariously, modeled myself on somebody else, a character in a book, a famous writer, a famous professor." Searching for silence after a life of noise, he hears rain, birds, insects, church bells, wind and owls -- some of these for the first time. "I can't help thinking," he notes at the end of his trip, "that daydreams make us, that our little life is rounded with reverie rather than sleep.”Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
“It is too seldom that the Spiritual Living section of LJ has an opportunity to read and review a real love story, but this is such a book, the affecting and eloquent account of a man and a chocolate-colored donkey named Gribouille. Merrifield, author of important biocritical studies of Henri Lefebvre and Guy Debord, as well as Metromarxism: A Marxist Tale of the City, tells the tale of his wander through the Haute-Avergne in southern France, learning the ways of his patient, strong, and stubborn donkey companion, who gradually shows him that ‘real happiness comes in unforeseen places, through surprising twists and turns, through honesty. Highly recommended.”Library Journal
“Donkeys are misunderstood. At least, thats the impression left by Merrifields gentle meditation on life, art, and the meaning of beauty, which crucially involves journeying through the hills of southern France and “daydreaming in the open air” with floppy-eared Gribouilles faithful companionship. Merrifields donkey recalls another, more famous member of the breed, Robert Louis Stevensons Modestine in his Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. Merrifield references Stevensons travel classic often, also mentioning the work of other artists, including Cervantes, filmmaker Robert Bresson, G. K. Chesterton, George Orwell, and Anne Sexton, in which donkeys were important characters or the image of a donkey was an effective device. Even the Old and New Testaments and the Quran are cited. Watching donkeys graze in the middle of nowhere is, Merrifield concludes, a type of therapy. He discusses donkeys habits and idiosyncracies, especially their distinctive braying, and insists that when youre with a donkey, time slows down. Can a donkey be a philosopher? Merrifield believes so and, with this modest, lovely little book, makes us believe so, too.”
"The demon of speed is often associated with forgetting, with avoidance … and slowness with memory and confronting," observes Milan Kundera in his novel Slowness. With that purpose in mind—a search for slowness and tranquility—Andy Merrifield sets out on a journey of the soul with a friend's donkey, Gribouille, to walk amid the ruins and spectacular vistas of southern France's Haute-Auvergne. As Merrifield contemplates literature, science, truth, and beauty amid the French countryside, Gribouille surprises him with his subtle wisdom, reminding him time and again that enlightenment is all around us if we but seek it.
About the Author
Born in Liverpool in 1960, Andy Merrifield taught geography for over a decade in assorted British and American universities. He is the author of four previous books, including biographies of two twentieth-century French philosophers. He now lives and writes in a small rural community in Frances Auvergne region.