Susan Shapiro’s bold and captivating new memoir, ‘The Forgiveness Tour,’ is a foray into the unknown, with the hope that the journey will lead to some solace and understanding. Throughout the book, Shapiro is grappling with her own search for forgiveness and closure, but this pursuit doesn’t lead her down the conventional routes one might expect. Instead, she gets lost in a warren of varying degrees of betrayal and disloyalty.
Shapiro is a seasoned writer, having published pieces in renowned publications such as New York Magazine, the New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal. She is also the other of over a dozen books, both fiction and non-fiction, including the New York Times bestselling writers’ guide The Byline Bible. Her writing is far-reaching; she is known for a strong literary voice and an unabashed candor that speaks to readers on a deep level.
Considering the fact that a betrayal often leaves the one who has been betrayed feeling lost anyway, Shapiro’s decision to go even farther asea is surprising at the outset. Nevertheless, the reasoning behind this willing quest into the sea of human disappointment and duplicity becomes clear pretty quickly. The person who had left her in the lurch (to put it mildly) was a trusted mentor and guide. When you are left in the desert without a map or compass, what choice do you have but to wander as far as your feet will take you?
Shapiro wanders far, and she takes us along for the ride. Somehow, she manages to be both introspective and thoughtful while maintaining a casual readability that makes this book easy to devour in a single sitting. I read it for the first time in a single day, unable to put it down.
Part of what makes The Forgiveness Tour so enthralling is the vastness of the interviews that Shapiro conducts. Even though she begins her exploration in a place that’s close to home — by speaking to her family’s Rabbi — the so-called tour quickly takes an off-road turn. Shapiro talks to everyone she encounters — students, family members and friends, her physical therapist — about their experiences of betrayal and their own ways of either forgiving or living with the wound that’s been inflicted.
Each of the stories she uncovers is distinct. She speaks to a Bosnian refugee living with the anguish of living through civil war, a Holocaust survivor who shares about his time in the camps, and a survivor of rape and incest, to name a few. Each of the voices remains intact and conversational; it feels as though we, the readers, are speaking to these people as they share their trauma. It’s clear why these people all open up to Shapiro—she withholds any judgement and asks clarifying questions that help everyone (her, us, the speaker) better understand the circumstances.
It’s important to note that this memoir is one of questions, not answers. Shapiro is not dictating the way to forgiveness. Actually, the subtitle of the book (‘How to Find the Perfect Apology’) is almost ironic. Every person in the book, Shapiro included, is on a course that is uniquely their own. Despite the forgiveness industry’s exhortations that we all need ‘closure’ in order to move on, that’s not the book’s conclusion at all. Shapiro is challenging this axiom, and with good reason. Human experience is expansive and disparate. It simply doesn’t make sense that so many singular stories would have a single, simple answer.
This memoir draws on the wisdom of regular folks, but also on the wisdom of diverse spiritual leaders and seekers. Whether it’s an Anglican Reverend explaining how forgiveness is sought in her specific Christian tradition or an Orthodox Rabbi quoting biblical verses to explain Judaism’s take on the conundrum of absolution and atonement, the chapters venture far afield in the hunt for a single answer. A single answer that, despite best efforts, cannot be found.
‘The Forgiveness Tour’ is a book for anyone who has ever felt hurt, betrayed, or lost. In other words, it’s a book for all of us. This memoir is entrancing because of the content, but also due to Shapiro’s candidness. She doesn’t spare us the intimate details of her personal pain (even going so far as to tell us about how she tries out a Yiddish curse on her betrayer), and why should she? We have all been there—so miserable that we think we might be going crazy. By being blatant about her struggles she is making the strife of her readers acceptable, even encouraged. It’s all part of the mess that is human existence.