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Traveler of the Century: A Novel Hardcover – April 24, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In Wandernburg, halfway between Berlin and Leipzig, a young traveler and translator named Hans finds himself strangely captivated by the town’s enigmatic geography and a kindly cave-dwelling organ-grinder. Invited to share his views on politics and literature at a weekly salon, he meets the irrepressible Sophie, who is his intellectual equal and soul mate but who also happens to be engaged to a local nobleman. At first, Hans and Sophie caress each other with mere words and glances, amid passionate discussions of Fichte and federalism. Later, they graduate to the intimacies of collaborative translation projects, as well as more corporeal forms of intercourse. But as their love grows, the structures of their Romantic-era world shift and crumble around them, and neither the lovers nor the seemingly timeless Wandernburg itself will ever be the same. Imaginatively grafting twenty-first-century literary sensibilities onto solid nineteenth-century roots, Neuman’s first novel to appear in English is a rare and delightful masterpiece: a touching love story with big things to say about Europe, the emancipation of women, and the craft of literary translation. A novel of ideas with a poet’s soul. --Brendan Driscoll


Traveller of the Century doesn't merely respect the reader's intelligence: it sets out to worship it. An unusual talent is required to pull this off, and Neuman has it . . . A beautiful, accomplished novel: as ambitious as it is generous, as moving as it is smart.” ―Juan Gabriel Vásquez, author of The Sound of Things Falling, in The Guardian

“There should have been a sign at the entrance of the town, or on the first page of the book, that says, "Welcome to Fearless Imagination". For that is precisely what Neuman gives us: a plot throbbing with verve, characters as unusual as they are familiar, scenes that combine the carnal with the intellectual, dialogues that flow beautifully and, most of all, a subtle yet strong energy that pervades the entire narrative. Neuman's writing is a graceful waltz between things we are used to seeing as "opposites": the mind and the heart, the literary and the sexual, the political and the philosophical, ideas and emotions. He has a discerning eye for the foibles of human existence and yet an unwavering compassion for, and understanding of, them. Rarely comes a novel that blends poetry, history, philosophy, semantics, politics, a murder mystery – and love, that too – with such skill.” ―Elif Shafak

“A deeply erudite but wickedly entertaining novel, with passion as well as reason in the mix, this tour de force from the Argentinian-born prodigy matches charming plot-twists with mind-stretching dialectic. In a captivating translation by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia, it heralds the arrival in English of a first-class literary traveller.” ―Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

“Good readers will find something that can be found only in great literature, the kind written by real poets, a literature that dares to venture into the dark with open eyes and that keeps its eyes open no matter what . . . The literature of the twenty-first century will belong to Neuman and a few of his blood brothers.” ―Roberto Bolaño

“This is above all a novel of ideas, of heady conversation, of intellect. Which, fortunately, does not make it any less riveting . . . Traveler of the Century is like the wandering city in which the traveler finds he cannot escape, a place to get lost in.” ―Stephen Sparks, Three Percent

“A book so filled with life and ideas and pleasure, a book that contemplates what it means to wake up and wander as well as what it means to settle down in repose. Traveler of the Century is a long of delights.” ―The Mookse and the Gripes

Traveler of the Century has already achieved impressive things for its young author in Spain and elsewhere, but this by no means guarantees its success in the litmus test of the English-speaking world, famously resistant to literature in translation. We cannot predict how this book will be received in the months and years to come, but there is little doubt in my mind that it deserves its place in the sun, as a work of true beauty and scintillating intelligence by a writer of prodigious talents. On the evidence of Traveler of the Century, we might well be convinced by Roberto Bolaño's much-vaunted prediction that the literature of the 21st century will belong to Neuman and a handful of his blood brothers. Whatever one's opinion of such elevated claims, books as stimulating, erudite, and humane as this do not come along very often.” ―Richard Gwyn, The Independent

“There are moments here of exhilarating beauty [in Traveler of the Century] . . . Andrés Neuman writes about history and literature and the relation between them with an intelligence that his American contemporaries cannot match. His first book in English must not be his last.” ―Michael Gorra, The New Republic

“An exceptional, fun, mature novel from a writer wise beyond his years.” ―The Guardian (UK)

Traveller of the Century takes on big ideas, and does so with an acuity that raises it to the level of great literature.” ―Michael Patrick Brady, Boston Globe

Traveler of the Century is astonishingly complex in its theological, metaphysical and scientific interests . . . Reading the book, I was mesmerized by Neuman's attention to historical detail and his patience with the circumvolutions of the human mind . . . I love this book, and not only because of its melodic cadence, superbly rendered by translators Nick Caistor and Lorenza García . . . Neuman, an Argentine writer, has given us a lesson on how to transcend what Borges called ‘our provincialism'--the obsession with looking at our immediate environment as the only explanation of who we are: He has written a book about the world-less world of ideas.” ―Ilan Stavans, The Jewish Daily Forward

“The novel flirts with genre and style, oscillating between romance, thriller, classic historical fiction, poetry, magic realism, and epistolary forms. Ultimately, though, Traveler of the Century is a love story . . . Hans and Sophie's amorous rendezvous are rendered with the couple wrapped in collaborative translation as their affections and their shared passion for language become one.” ―Ben Kupstas, The L Magazine

“[With Traveler of the Century] Neuman has achieved the dream of every novelist: the Total Novel, a venture accomplished only by major authors like Tolstoy, Musil, and Faulkner.” ―Miguel García-Posada, Abc (Spain)

“One of the best novels that I have read in a long time.” ―Santos Sanz Villanueva, Mercurio (Spain)

“The work of a master of narrative art.” ―José RiÇo Direitinho, Público (Portugal)

“[Neuman's] Wandernburg is as mobile and conceptual as a Calvino city, as metaphorical as a Borges country, as cheerful as García Márquez's Macondo . . . Neuman, with Traveler of the Century, has multiplied the literary language and created a classic.” ―Daria Galateria, La Repubblica (Italy)

“ A masterpiece . . . Neuman is not only brilliant news for Latin American literature, but for European literature as well.” ―Maarten Steenmeijer, Volkskrant (Netherlands)

“Neuman was singled out for praise by Roberto Bolaño and it's easy to see why: like that late author, Neuman combines love and intrigue with serious intellectual engagement. A novel of ideas somewhere between Kafka's The Castle and Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, Neuman's English-language debut is a rich deconstruction of the competing currents of history, less a postmodernist pastiche than proof that modernism is still alive in the Spanish-speaking world.” ―Publishers Weekly

“Imaginatively grafting twenty-first-century literary sensibilities onto solid nineteenth-century roots, Neuman's first novel to appear in English is a rare and delightful masterpiece: a touching love story with big things to say.” ―Brendan Driscoll, Booklist (starred review)


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Tra edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780374119393
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374119393
  • ASIN: 0374119392
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #969,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I had this book on my wish list for quite awhile before taking the plunge and giving it a try. It's been quite awhile now since I read it and wasn't going to review this but I noticed a few negative reviews...especially the one star. Not sure how anyone can have trouble getting through this but to each their own I guess...I had trouble putting it down. I loved almost all the characters in this book and it had the look and feel of reading a classic. When I started reading this I thought oh no this is a period piece, which I do like but wasn't really in the mood for a dark and heavy book. This book isn't light reading by any means, but I definitely don't think it's heavy. In fact I loved the way the writer engages the reader in diverse topics from philosophy to politics and then to love and sex. I also liked the way the story is set up; the traveler only plans on spending a few days in the town and keeps finding reasons to stay. Through the story we are also given glimpses of all different classes of society in the town, and how the main character interacts almost equally with all of them. There is no discrimination or awkwardness or sense of not belonging in any of his interactions...the only negative I can think of is the ending wasn't completely satisfying, but to me these characters were so engaging I could have read another 500-600 pages and not gotten bored.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
unfortunately this shares little - apart from how the author writes about sex - with "talking to ourselves".

it's pynchonesque, without the rewarding complexity. there are several different threads, but they have little crosstalk. the plotting is predictable and the few twists have little relevance.

the setting is interesting. europe at the fall of feudalism. the first struggles of democracy. hence the set pieces, in a salon, where one speaks for the old guard, another the new, and a third fool throws in the occasional contemporary opinion. it's all rather earnest.

to lighten that, there's a romance. which is interesting at first (a lovely scene contrasts the conversation with the subtext). but soon drags, as the (relatively flat, unsympathetic) characters work their way towards the inevitable conflict.

the main female character provides a feminist take on the proceedings; class is also discussed. lots of ideas, but nothing really goes anywhere.

edit: re-reading this, i see i failed to explain the contrast with "arguing with ourselves" which also has little plot. if i had read that book after this, it's possible i would have been similarly disappointed. but i did not; i read that book first. there, in the spaces, i felt meaning. here the spaces are empty. and now the trust between author and reader is broken.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an enjoyable, though quite lengthy novel. The author writes well and the translation from Spanish to English is good. His characters are fascinating and nicely developed throughout the text. I found some of the philosophical discussions a bit tedious. They reminded me of a bunch of college sophomores staying up all night to smoke pot and pontificate about the meaning of life. The love story was quite compelling and psychologically complex and convincing. It was definitely worth reading.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I would give it 5 stars if I knew more about philosophy and poetry of that period. Think it is a great book. Once I got the feel of his conversations, it was fun following the dialogue. I do know enough about the politics and society at that time to say he was right on in his profile of the characters.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is truly a magnificently written novel about so many diversified subjects just as life itself. Hans, the young adventuring traveler will stay in the town of Wandernburg against all expectations, finding reasons to stay in music, friendship and, above all, love. A difficult love indeed, and the romance between Hans and Sophie is one that definitely should make its mark on the genre. The most remarkable characteristic of Neuman (IMHO) is the elegance which he describes the imperfect. Yes, Hans isn’t perfect, neither is Sophie, or her fiancée Rudi. They are completely believable, in an impossible town where the decision for staying or leaving must be considered almost daily (but no one leaves this town...or so the locals think).

The literary gatherings where poetry, literature, music and politics are discussed are fascinating, just like the encounters at the old man’s cave where the issues are much more grounded in their daily lives and not in supposedly high subjects.

Great characters, brilliant writing; the only flaws being the ending (HUGE SPOILER!!!!! BEWARE. If the author wanted to show a third option for the independent Sophie, it definitively should have shown her interest before…it makes no sense abandoning the great marriage proposal, also abandoning the great love of her life that matched her wits and truly respected her and simultaneously destroying her family. She suddenly changed her objectives a few pages from the end, and chose to lose everything! When she could truly have everything she wanted: her love, a literary-translation career, financial independence, experiences, etc.
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