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3.9 out of 5 stars
18
3.9 out of 5 stars
Traveller of the Century (B-Format Paperback)
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on 30 May 2016
good book
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 February 2013
Andres Neuman's novel at last translated and published in English is definitely boldly ambitious and to some extent an 'experiment'. The author loves those good old 19th Century novels, but he wanted to bring the scope of those into a more modern even post-modern form, giving such a story a more contemporary feel. A tall order indeed which the author set about with some aplomb. This isn't perfect but it is a great read that hopefully you should enjoy.

Hans, a German gentleman decides to stop off for a night in the town of Wandernburg, a place that is a border town and often changes from one side of the border to the other, currently being Prussian held. What should have been one night in the place soon becomes so much longer, as firstly he can never seem to find his way around and thus misses his coach, meeting eccentric characters, and then love rears its head. The main plot of this is indeed love and translating, but it takes in so much more. Taking in literature, especially poetry this also has philosophy, the problems of translation, national identity, music and so much more. You may think that because of the period it is set in it is just an historical novel, but as with the discussions on national identity you feel you are reading about the current problems with creating a truly unified Europe, where everyone works towards the common goal.

This is a kaleidoscopic whirl of ideas and is very clever, but unlike some authors Senor Neuman doesn't show off his cleverness here or patronise to the reader, instead he does as all such great authors should do, takes it that you yourself are more than intelligent to see what his points are. This isn't a quick read by any standards especially as there are no speech marks or breaks, and so you can have three or four people talking away in the same paragraph. This is like the novels it pays homage to, it is something to take your time over, to ponder, and to relax and enjoy.
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on 13 December 2013
I thought this book was mesmerisingly good. Possibly the weirdness of it means it's not for everyone, but if you love indulgently long, beautiful books this couldn't be more perfect. Lots of passages consist of the long meandering conversations of a literary salon, which manage to effortlessly combine very serious and engaging discussion with razor-sharp social comedy. Sophie is one of the most alluring characters in fiction, and the relationship with Hans stands out as being supremely well observed, even within the slightly magical world of the novel. For what it's worth, there's also some really interesting ideas about the similarities between love and translation, but they're only one of many bonus points in a book that's already comfortably earned its five stars
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on 22 June 2012
a strong read for those who enjoying thinking and the exploration of ideas and language. This is essentially where the book is orginal, knowledgeable and exciting. The choice of space (travelling - to stay or to go) and the sense of time (how it is experienced, lived) - are the axes of the narrative, in which the focus is how far we can really understand each other. Animated debates: what is said, what is unsaid, the will to win an argument, the urge to tell the truth, the appetite to explore, question it.
For example:
A. law should be a guarantor of peace, a law established by a union of equal states
B. don't you think peace is related to wealth?
A. that...takes us onto a moral ground, for unless wealth is shared there will never be peace - poverty is a potential cause of conflict

I have read few books - certainly no English one comes to mind - so able to transmit the sheer thrill of intensely discussing ideas and their use in, affect on, one's life and politics. The central characters actually pursue their ideas in their lives, so that their lives are transformed by them. The central drama is enacted here: how far they will challenge the existing societal mores to enact their moralised feelings. In fact, the two central characters fall in love because of their meeting of minds. It makes their realtionship - including their sex life - adult, credible, and fulfilling. This makes it a challenging book, as well as an intelligently satisfying one.
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on 6 November 2013
An itinerant translator, Hans, makes an unplanned stop in the (fictional) German city state of Wandernburg at some point in the 1820s. Although he only plans to stay for a single night, Hans keeps finding himself delayed, at first by the oddity of the town and his burgeoning friendship with a vagrant organ grinder and latterly by his flirtation -and eventual affair- with the proto-feminist, Sophie.

Of course, no-one who lives in Wandernburg is quite what they appear. Almost every character exhibits some degree of duplicity and it is the exposure of these secrets and misdirections that drive the story. Even the town itself is an enigma to Hans; the streets seem to shuffle of their own volition, its inhabitants are contrary and its Catholic conformity seems odd when it is encircled by Protestant neighbours. The plot, of course, is merely the vehicle through which the author can explore his real interests; philosophy, literature, history, politics, human relationships and the way in which meaning in these things are expressed, interpreted and translated.

Neuman sets out to illustrate that the process of translation mediates every aspect of human existence whether that involves reading, coquetry, criminal detection or arguments about the political power structures of continental Europe. Translation for Nueman, however, is never transparent; rather it is a negotiation with plenty of scope for misunderstanding and invention. This is somewhat ironic given that Traveller of the Century has been translated (very effectively) from Spanish into English. To translate such a dense book with such deft use of language must be a huge challenge and Caistor and Garcia's work must be on a par with William Weaver's translations of Umberto Eco.

Neuman's weighty book uses the structure and language of C19th novels but injects the unguarded eroticism, informality and intertextuality of the C21st. At times this makes for a powerful mix. For example, the staid environment of Sophie's salon is electrified by Hans' republican and romantic philosophies. His arguments, however, are driven as much by passion for Sophie as they are for any political cause. They are conducted concurrently through the language of hidden flirtation as well as rousing argument and are designed to win Sophie more than the debate.

In keeping with its C19th forebears, the novel develops slowly and provides its characters with ample space to discuss the history of ideas in the context of revolutionary Europe and German confederation. The milieu is ideal as they speak with articulation and breadth of knowledge that it would seem ludicrous outside of the rarefied formality of the 1800s novel. The abstract treatment of knowledge is essential though, as it acts as the readers' guide to the underlying meaning of the character based sub-plots.

The trepidations of the Wandernburgers, of course, echo through the centuries and Neuman constantly uses the modernity of his characters to remind us that so many of their concerns remain common currency today. He touches on personal and national identity, the relationship of wealth and worth and even the extent of state power. Consequently, this is a vibrant and stimulating novel. Being so heavily influenced by the novels of the 1800s, it shares some of the characteristics of many of those weighty tomes. At times it is ponderous and is unafraid to wallow in the author's research but it rarely gets boring as it is struck through with a very modern seam of sensuality, violence and individualism.
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on 14 May 2013
Andrés Neuman has written a large and large-spirited, encyclopedic novel exploring the linkage between sexual desire and literary translation in a spectral town in Germany in the nineteenth century. I came to this book knowing nothing about it and was drawn in at first by its seductive plotting. But it's the characters who sustain you through the book's course; the lovers, certainly, but also a whole host of finely-drawn supporting actors, most notably the barrel-organ grinder (and his dog). The ending is at once enigmatic and wholly satisfying, and very moving too. A rare combination and a rare book.
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on 4 May 2012
This book is incredibly readable, with real depth too: politics, philosophy, music, love, history, sex, poetry, dancing... It's all in there! I'm so glad I bought this book and would urge others to do so too. I cannot wait to read more from this author in English.
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on 26 August 2014
another Lezard tip - not bad, not at all essential, reminds us how untouchably great GG Marquez was; a pity it will be most remembered for some of the best sex writing. an inapt title.
this is the kind of novel, however accomplished, which makes me think of fiction writing as inherently lazy - imagining extraordinary things without stretching a muscle, when a year or three's hard work in libraries and in the field can uncover truly extraordinary people and events that really matter.
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on 18 May 2012
Attempting to pin down & define all that goes on in this book isn't easy, as I said in my interview it seems to encompass everything - Do you like Philosophy', History', Politics', Romance', Translation', Poetry', and yet this isn't some dry intellectual exercise, it seethes with passion whether this is the love affair of the two main protagonists, or the ideas pouring off the pages. In fact it would be harder to find a reader that would not find this a wonderful, fantastic and a totally absorbing read.
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on 10 April 2014
This is a shameful pseudo-Kafka novel, with a lost protagonist in a familiar, yet unrecognizable land, he wanders from character to character with no clear purpose or meaning. I found it, unlike Kafka's brilliant and politically-existentially engaged and engaging work, to be a boring word-fest with uninteresting characters, rambling both physically and verbally about pseudo-intelligent topics. A massive waste of time, until I gave up after about 200 pages (a generous endeavour as it bored me to death). Another example of an overhyped writer.
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