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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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1871163,175 (3.86)13
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English (8)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
I did not finish this book as it never grabbed me from the start and after70 odd pages it was not picking up. ( )
  mausergem | Oct 18, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

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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