review: along the way, the journey of a father and son by martin sheen & emilio estevez

Along the Way, The Journey of a Father and Son, a co-autobiography by Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez, was published in 2012. While it has a strong focus on the scripting, directing, acting and general activity behind the scenes of their 2009 collaborative movie The Way, an account of a father’s epic walk along the Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James), the book is filled with numerous anecdotes and stories woffering fresh perspectives on a range of human experiences, including the Spanish migrant experience to the USA, the hot and cool nature of a father and son relationship, life as a fledgling actor, life as a successful actor, and the vagaries of the spiritual quest in the modern world.

Martin Sheen first came to my attention as Captain Willard in the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now. I recall the acclaim of this movie. Though the story drew directly from Joseph Conrad’s short story, The Heart of Darkness, others saw Dante’s Inferno as one of the deeper source of inspiration for the film. Just as Dante was led through the various levels of hell, Willard became the silent witness to the various pathologies of the American psyche as he sailed up the river to meet the insane Colonel Kurtz. So it was a pleasure to get a detailed background on the experience of the making of this movie and how it came about for Sheen to act in this role.

Connected to the migrant experience, another section of the book that really caught my attention was Sheen’s account of his Galician family background. The reason for this personal interest was that from 2010 to 2013, I was involved in a Transnational Story Hub, a collaborative story-writing project between groups of post-grad students at University of Wollongong and University of Vigo. In 2013 the University of Barcelona’s Centre for Australian Studies published The Transnational Story Hub: Between Self and Other (edited by Merlinda Bobis and Belen Martin-Lucas). As part of my contribution to this project at the theory level, I considered the relationship of self and other from the perspective of phenomenology. At that time, I was also pleased to discover that Martin Sheen’s father came from Galicia and is perhaps one of the place’s most well known sons. In the book, there is a wonderful account of Martin taking his young sons back to the Estevez village, and them staying in the very room where his father was born. He gives us a rich account of his time in this part of Spain, with the chickens, the cow, the rich smell of the wet earth, the smoke hanging in the air, the 50% proof orujo and popular local sayings like: Eu non creo nas meigas, pero habelas hainas (I don’t believe in witches, but they exist).

Overall, the book is a well-constructed account of the way the Estevez family has expanded over the generations, and it is written with honesty and authenticity, with each of the authors unafraid to confront their differences and their sometimes poor judgement in how they seek to resolve them. The prologue to the book, an old Irish saying, We never get over our fathers, and we’re not required, neatly sums up one of the key themes of the book. But this book is a window into deeper recesses of these men’s lives which are well worth exploring. Credit must also go to author Hope Edelman who helped with the writing.

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