Book Review: Return to Glow

In the spirit of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Chandi Wyant gives us her account of the life-changing pilgrimage she made through Italy after surviving a divorce and traumatic illness. With her soul in desperate need of what she describes as a “return to glow,” she heads to her beloved Italy to revive her spirit and remember who she was before heartache and illness overtook her life.

A ruptured appendix followed by sepsis forced Chandi to spend weeks in an Italian hospital during one of her trips. The illness left her weak and alone. She’d hoped for her estranged husband to come and comfort her, but was not surprised that he didn’t. It was emblematic of her marriage; of the hollowness she felt in her current life. An inner voice kept telling her to walk through Italy. She listened to that voice and decided that despite her lack of funds and weakened body, she would travel to the place that fed her soul and journey through the countryside for 40 days.

Almost immediately, she began to doubt her decision. Her body was still worn down from her illness. Her funds were inadequate for the trek. She developed plantar’s fasciitis a few days into her trip. She began to wonder whether she’d made a mistake in undertaking such a physically demanding trek, but continued to feel as though her soul needed this transformation.

I often copy down snippets of beautiful writing and found several to write down from this book. Here are a few of my favorites:

“My glow is when I loved the world and it loved me back.”

And of the Italians, “…they prioritized passion.”

I felt like the writing and Chandi’s journey in this book were transformational to me. As I read it, I thought about travel; about what travel means to me. How I feel when I’m in a different place, exploring the landscape and meeting people; observing the small ways in which our lives are the same and subtly different. Like Chandi, as I travel, I am re-affirmed that people are basically good. Strangers are often so hospitable and giving. They are welcoming and generous. Chandi’s plantar’s fasciitis limits her walking and after weeks of hiking through the Tuscan countryside, she feels compelled to hitchhike and accept rides when she can if she’s going to complete her journey.

Return to Glow is a beautifully written account of one woman’s desire to prioritize passion like her beloved Italians do. It made me want to put on my walking shoes and head out into the world.  Maybe I’ll make a pilgrimage of my own someday. I hope I find the experience as fulfilling as Chandi did.

Would you ever consider making a pilgrimage? Where would you trek?

29 responses to “Book Review: Return to Glow

  1. I am a true believer when it comes to the value of long solo journeys, Juliann. My preference is for the wilderness. And I feel that physical component is valuable, at least for me. Even a week in the wilderness can be of value. I really enjoyed Wild, but I did feel Cheryl should have been better prepared for her journey. (Then again, I did minimal physical prep for my solo 10,000 mile bike ride- even though I knew a fair amount about long distance cycling.) I would encourage you to go on your own ‘pilgrimage.’ It’s good for the soul, and for your body. –Curt

    • Your blog and bike trek are testament to how you feel about the subject, Curt! That’s probably another reason why it appeals to me (not the biking) — your tales of life on the road and the slow appreciation for your surroundings is always fun to read about.

      I agree that Cheryl Strayed should have been better prepared. Chandi should have been, too. But perhaps that “leap of faith” is part of the appeal. Despite their unpreparedness, they persevered.

  2. Sounds like it’s worth reading. As always I enjoy other people’s travel experiences vicariously rather than wishing to experience them myself. I can understand the urge, maybe when someone is at a dead end or in a bad place, to set off to ‘find’ oneself. Personally I fulfill the need for pushing one’s physical limits via my running/racing. A pilgrimage – if it were to happen – would be doing a Peter Fonda along the old Route 66 🙂

    • Oh, Roy. You should! The Route 66 trip on a motorcycle would be so much fun. I think it’s changed quite a bit since “Easy Rider,” but there are parts that are still a throwback to how it used to be.

  3. Thanks so much Juliann for the lovely review! I have been out of town and only just saw your write-up. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book!

  4. What fortitude and grit she has!
    Don’t walk off into the sunset yet, Juliann. We need more adventures and posts from you!

  5. Sounds like a great book to get some perspective. I would love to do a pilgrimage, but unfortunately I don’t think it will be anytime soon! I will have to ponder where I would go. Tuscany does sound nice.

    • Let me know if you decide to do it! You can do parts of pilgrimage routes or just long-distance trails that are not related to pilgrimages. Since I love history, I prefer the pilgrimage routes that are so full of history, over a long-distance trail in the US.

  6. I loved Wild and the concept of pilgrimages in general. The question is, where to go. I always thought some variation of the St James route would be good, but I would make sure that I did the additional leg to Portugal. I love the symbolism of casting all of your clothes into the sea and coming back a new person. Plus, the Alchemist rocked.

    • Hi Jenn and Ed,
      I really liked the fact that the Via Francigena is so much less known than the St James one. It is getting much more frequented each year though. I would love to hear, if you decide to do one!

  7. Julie, This looks like a wonderful story and a great read — I’m always looking for that next good book. I feel the same way about Italy; I’ve learned some important life lessons from the Italians. Your pilgrimage question — I think the “where” is less important than the “journey” and being present and introspective while you’re doing it.

    • So true, Ann. The journey is the important part, but I think I’d want a place meaningful to me in some way. Or maybe that was something the author, Chandi, put into my head. Italy was very meaningful for her.

  8. This seems like a great book for some self-reflection! Recently, I have been thinking what travel means to me as well. I think my reason has shifted from simply exploring new destinations to creating new memories with my husband and pushing myself outside the comfort zone to try new activities. One day I’ll do a pilgrimage, maybe in Southeast Asia!

  9. All of the mentioned inspiring works are incredible. I think you’ve nailed it right on the head with the realization that we need to trust in the ultimate good in people. Travel’s a funny thing like that for me because it seems like most people in developing countries are still on that realization. Perhaps it’s only in the “developed” countries that we learn to trust nobody outside of our inner circle?

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head! People in more developed countries are probably more suspicious because they feel like they could be taken advantage of. Plus, our media makes us feel afraid of the world. But in my experience, strangers are usually very kind and helpful to people visiting their hometowns and want to give them a good impression of the people and place. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I am typically very trusting.

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