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Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman
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Traveller of the Century (2009)

by Andrés Neuman

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English (7)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Extremely well written, thought provoking. Can be a bit slow going at times but generally entertaining ( )
  eoinclifford | Jul 18, 2014 |
When you open up Traveler of the Century, you are introduced to the city of Wandernburg through the eyes of the protagonist, Hans. It’s a strange city, and we are told that it seems to shift around each time Hans explores the city. Even though he only meant to stop briefly before moving on to his destination, Hans feels a strange pull to put off his departure continuously. During this time, he gets acquainted with the denizens of Wandernburg. My favorite of these is the organ grinder, whom I adored. To most Wandernburgers, he’s just another indigent man playing music in the market square for a few coins each day. But Hans is fascinated and charmed by the organ grinder, who lives in a cave with his equally charming dog, Franz. The whimsical feel of the novel comes largely through Hans’ interactions with this man, who loves to hear about his friends’ dreams, listen to the wind, and lives for playing his organ. There’s obviously more to him than meets the eye; he seems simple, but is capable of getting to the heart of things in a way that would impress even the best poets and philosophers. One of my favorite quotes is from the organ grinder: "with each sound we make, we are giving back to the air everything that it gives us. Music is always there...music plays itself and instruments try to attract it, to coax it down to earth” (p.156 US, p.176 British). The two men also parry back and forth on ideas of rootedness versus being on the go—obviously a major theme—as the organ grinder sees the virtues of staying in one place, while Hans insists that traveling is the only way to get to know oneself.

Early on, Hans also meets Herr Gottlieb, the head of a “good” family that’s seen wealthier days, and his daughter Sophie, who charms Hans from the start. It is through his acquaintance with the Gottliebs that Hans begins to participate in weekly salons that Sophie hosts. These salon sessions, attended by a handful of other Wandernburgers, serve as a platform for the characters to discuss and debate on a whole host of topics: republicanism, nation building, aesthetics, art and who determines what ‘good’ art is, religion, a nation’s identity and sensibility, and women’s rights. In addition to these salon discussions, woven throughout the book are passages that capture the plight of workers, especially seen through the eyes of two secondary characters: a textile factory worker and a farm laborer. As you can tell, this is an ideas book, not an action-packed, plot-driven one, although there’s a slight mystery running through the book about a creepy man who attacks women at night. Oh, and it’s also a love story, but even here, it’s intertwined with ideas about translation. At one point, Hans wonders if in translating poetry, an certain essence is loss, and I found apt his comparison of this to love. The last pages of section two are another favorite of mine, so well did they capture the dizzying effects of love.

The book has been billed as harking back to the 19th century novel, but what’s striking is that Neuman adds another dimension to it, which I found interesting. Here, his characters seem like real people: they smell; they sweat; they have body hair and ugly feet; and they have messy sex. Neuman talks some about this in one of his interviews (in Granta, I think).

The best way to enjoy this book is to do so slowly. At least in my case, I couldn’t power through it and be monogamous in my reading. Every once in a while, I’d start to get a bit of philosophy-musings-fatigue. So I’d read until the point where I found myself groaning, “No, not another salon discussion on Kant!” That was my signal to take a break and read something else. Then I’d dip back into Traveler on another day and be absorbed in it once again.

This is not a perfect book, and it is not a book for everyone, but I liked coming across language that was poetic and imagery that was beautiful, which I don’t imagine is an easy feat to achieve in translated works. What was also engaging was how a lot of the issues that are teased out in the book—in the salons and beyond—are issues that we grapple with today, reminding us that while some things have changed, so much has not.
( )
  Samchan | Mar 31, 2013 |
The author's intention was to write a 19th century novel in a 21st century style, so we have a long encompassing book which consumes genres as it goes. At the core is a love story, but threads of whodunnit, philosophy, surrealism and comedy accompany it along the way.

The plot involves an itenerant translator, Hans, who turns up in German town Wandernberg for the night and ends up staying. His two circles of friends are centred around a poor cave-dwelling organ grinder, and a young affianced salon hostess. The salon provides an opportunity for the author to have the charcaters act out debates and ideas covering the politics of the time, particularly Europe and federality, translation, and literature. I'm not a big fan of having fictional characters pontificate, but there is no particular agenda being thrust on the reader, it helps to round out the personalities, and does tie in with the rest of the book; but this may make the book feel overlong to some readers.

What could have been a post-modern mess is an enjoyable readable book of ideas. I'd also recommend the video by the author on the Youtube channel of the British publisher, Pushkin Press: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DB-qHwvHSsw ( )
  rrmmff2000 | Jan 31, 2013 |
The plot sounded interesting, but I just couldn't get past the overly wordy writing and into the rather slow-moving plot. ( )
  digitalmaven | Oct 10, 2012 |
This new novel by Andres Neuman, Traveler of the Century, is the type of book I enjoy -- a novel of ideas. But in this case it is also a love story of sorts, and the author comments on history and politics in addition to his decided interest in philosophy. In other words it is what any good novel of ideas should be, along book that is both challenging and imaginative. While the American edition from Farrar, Straus and Giroux has a Picasso on the dust jacket, the story is set in the 19th century. The exact period is purposely left undefined - this is not an historical novel and the Picasso is one of his works inspired by Velasquez which does not help explain the choice.
The main character is an itinerant translator named Hans. Readers who are familiar with German literature will recognize him as an everyman and he almost immediately assumes a role that reminds one of the similar role taken by Hans Castorp in The Magic Mountain.
Hans arrives in Wandernburg, an unremarkable hamlet on the border of Prussia and Saxony. He intends only to pass through, but fortune detains him: First he befriends an old street musician, and then he falls in love with Sophie, an intellectually voracious young woman sadly affianced to the pampered scion of Wandernburg's wealthiest family. The story unfolds as a one whose themes embody both mind and flesh; Hans and Sophie love each other for their imperfect yet sensual flesh and for the liberty and equality of their fraternal thoughts. Reading texts in various languages as they plan an anthology of European poetry, lying together in bed, they practice translation as an erotic art and lovemaking as an intellectual pursuit. This is what intrigued me - the story of these passionate readers. I was transported into Neuman's imaginary world.
The meat of the story for those who are interested in ideas is demonstrated in scenes like the discussion between Hans and Professor Mietter (reminiscent of Mann's Settembrini in discussions with young Castorp) about the views of Kant and Fichte on Nationhood.
"A country ought not to ask what it is, but when and why." said Hans. "Professor Mietter responded by comparing Kant and Fichte's ideas of nationhood in orde to show that, rather than betraying Kant, Fichte had taken his arguments a step further. Hans said that in contrast to his views on Fichte, he liked Kand better when he spoke of countries rather than individuals. Every society, said Hans, needs order, and Kant proposes a vey intelligent one. Yet every citizen needs a measure of chaos, which Kant refuses." (p 95)
While Hans and the Professor's discussion of the ideas of Kant and Fichte continued I was reminded of my own recent reading of Kant's essay on Perpetual Peace in which he is considered to have foreshadowed many of the ideas that have come to form the democratic peace theory, one of the main controversies in political science. Episodes like this are grist for the mill of those who enjoy philosophical literature. But also interesting are the characters in Neuman's novel. In the scene from which I quoted Sophie is in the background, full of her own ideas, and feeling "the urge to behave in and unladylike way" by entering the fray herself at the risk of taking sides between her lover and the respected professor.
Traveller of the Century doesn't merely challenge the reader's intelligence; it rewards it with literary depth and beauty. I was not familiar with the author but in this novel he demonstrated the talent is required to create an accomplished vision that embodies interesting ideas and a great story. ( )
  jwhenderson | Aug 30, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Andrés Neumanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Caistor, NickTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garcia, LorenzaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
Ter herinnering aan mij moeder, die blijft spelen en spelen en voor mijn vader en mijn broer, die haar samen met mij horen.
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
He-eeft u het kou-oud? vroeg de koetsier met hortende stem vanwege het schokken van het rijtuig.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374119392, Hardcover)

Searching for an inn, the enigmatic traveler Hans stops in a small city on the border between Saxony and Prussia. The next morning, Hans meets an old organ-grinder in the market square and immediately finds himself enmeshed in an intense debate—on identity and what it is that defines us—from which he cannot break free.

Indefinitely stuck in Wandernburg until his debate with the organ-grinder is concluded, he begins to meet the various characters who populate the town, including a young freethinker named Sophie. Though she is engaged to be married, Sophie and Hans begin a relationship that defies contemporary mores about female sexuality and what can and cannot be said about it.

Traveler of the Century is a deeply intellectual novel, chock-full of discussions about philosophy, history, literature, love, and translation. It is a book that looks to the past in order to have us reconsider the conflicts of our present. The winner of Spain’s prestigious Alfaguara Prize and the National Critics Prize, Traveler of the Century marks the English-language debut of Andrés Neuman, a writer described by Roberto Bolaño as being “touched by grace.”

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:06:39 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Searching for an inn, the enigmatic traveler Hans stops in a small city on the border between Saxony and Prussia. The next morning, Hans meets an old organ-grinder in the market square and immediately finds himself enmeshed in an intense debate-- on identity and what it is that defines us-- from which he cannot break free. Indefinitely stuck in Wandernburg until his debate with the organ-grinder is concluded, he begins to meet the various characters who populate the town, including a young freethinker named Sophie. Though she is engaged to be married, Sophie and Hans begin a relationship that defies contemporary mores about female sexuality and what can and cannot be said about it.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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