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Traveler of the Century

by

Traveler of the Century Cover

 

Awards

Staff Pick

Traveler of the Century is an exquisite, dazzling work of fiction. Its author, Andrés Neuman, is a young Argentinian writer, born in 1977, whose relative youth is belied by a remarkably prodigious literary output. Neuman has written nearly 20 distinct works, including four novels, nine books of poetry (a tenth compiles them), four short story collections, a book of essays, and a book of aphorisms (in addition to his translations of German poet Wilhelm Müller). His writing has been celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world, having attracted a number of prestigious awards, and his international renown is clearly on the ascendancy as his works find their way into ever more translations.

With the publication of Granta's winter 2010 issue ("The Best Young Spanish Language Novelists"), many English-speaking readers had their first introduction to Neuman via his short story "After Helena." The late Roberto Bolaño offered his own high praise for Neuman (well before Traveler of the Century had even been written), including a short piece about him ("Neuman, Touched by Grace") in his nonfiction collection Between Parentheses (published in English translation in 2011). Bolaño, ever the discerning critic, wrote about Neuman after reading his first novel (Bariloche):

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. In principle, this is the most difficult test (also the most difficult exercise and stretch), and on no few occasions Neuman pulls it off with frightening ease... When I come across these young writers it makes me want to cry. I don't know whether a drunk driver will run them down some night or whether all of a sudden they'll stop writing. If nothing like this happens, the literature of the twenty-first century will belong to Neuman and a few of his blood brothers.

With Traveler of the Century, Neuman's first book to be translated into English, it is evident that the myriad hype surrounding this young writer is indeed well deserved.

Written in Granada between the spring of 2003 and the fall of 2008, Traveler of the Century was published in Spanish in 2009 and was summarily awarded two of Spain's most distinguished literary honors (the Alfaguara Prize and the National Critics Prize). The awards themselves place Neuman in the company of a veritable who's who of Latin and Latin American letters, counting as their recipients Cela, Vargas Llosa, Donoso, Onetti, Marías, and Vila-Matas, amongst others. His fourth novel, Traveler of the Century, has already been translated into 10 languages.

The novel is set in the small, fictional German town of Wandernburg sometime in the early 19th century (presumably in the mid- or late 1820s). A town where the streets are constantly rearranging themselves, "it is impossible to pinpoint the exact location of Wandernburg on any map, because it has changed places all the time." Wandernburg, from the German verb "wandern" (to hike, ramble, roam, or wander), is nestled between Dessau and Berlin in the northeastern part of the country. Despite the metaphysical qualities inherent in the town's geographical layout, it would be a grave error to classify Traveler of the Century as containing any elements from the Latin American subgenre of magical realism.

Instead, Neuman's lengthy novel could be best described as a postmodern work cast in 19th century attire, owing more to the refinement of classical fiction than to the cleverness and affectation of more modern works. Neuman himself describes it thus: a "futuristic novel that happens in the past, as a science fiction rewound." Traveler of the Century is not set some 200 years ago merely to capture that era's milieu, but is done so in a way so as to compare and contrast 21st century ideals, beliefs, and moralities against their historical counterparts.

Hans, Traveler of the Century's itinerant protagonist, is an enigmatic adventurer and translator, intent on a brief stopover in Wandernburg on his way to Dessau, but soon finds himself increasingly unable to make his way onward. As Hans' stay prolongs itself, he encounters and befriends a number of local residents, including a sagacious, aging, and nameless organ grinder who lives in a nearby cave with his affectionate dog Franz. Hans, per an invitation, begins to attend weekly conversations at the home of Herr Gottlieb, one of Wandernburg's more esteemed households. At these salon talks, populated by a small group of about six or seven, topics as varied as European history, politics, literature, poetry, religion, art, and architecture are routinely discussed and debated into the late hours of the evening. While there, Hans is introduced to Herr Gottlieb's daughter, Sophie, a betrothed and independent young woman with whom Hans later falls in love and embarks upon an ambitious translation project.

Neuman's novel is colored by a number of rich subplots that are woven effortlessly into an already well-textured narrative. A series of nefarious and sinister crimes work their way into the tale, for example, and are portrayed in stunning complement to other rising action. Minor characters, such as Hans's new best friend (and weekly salon attendee), Álvaro, figure prominently into the story and are as well conceived and believable as both Hans and Sophie. Nearly every aspect of Traveler of the Century seems carefully crafted and assiduously arranged. Neuman's prose is both beautiful and engaging, lending the novel yet another characteristic that makes up its captivating essence.

Traveler of the Century, at its heart, is both a novel of ideas and a love story. Neuman explores many exigent issues throughout the book (relevant to both post-Napoleonic Europe and the modern world), including continental politics, national sovereignty, war, peace, economic development, immigration, poverty, nation building, empires, women's rights, labor, and revolution, as well as more literary subjects such as poetic norms, style, philosophy, fiction, and the role of the translator. That Neuman was able to so expertly include these elements into the novel without straying into the didactic, rendering them essential components to the story, demonstrates the mastery with which he composed this fantastic book.

Neuman's work, in all its many aspects, represents a summation of the narrative form. Traveler of the Century is a complete novel that allows us an opportunity to reassess the present (and the future) by looking behind us. It is truly a timeless tale, one that demonstrates a past, once contemplated through the often-clarifying lens of fiction, not all that dissimilar from the contemporary. Andrés Neuman seems to possess a formidable talent, and Traveler of the Century may well presage a lengthy and accomplished literary career, the likes of which only come along a few times in a generation. Traveler of the Century, while penned by a young, Spanish author born in Argentina, is nonetheless a European novel of considerable consequence. As more of his works undoubtedly make their way into translation, Andrés Neuman is surely a name that will come to be uttered in the same breath as his masterful forebears.

When I was young, because I was young once like you, I heard many organ grinders play, and I can assure you no two tunes ever sounded the same, even on the same instrument. That's how it is, isn't it? The less love you put into things the more they resemble one another. The same goes for stories, everyone knows them by heart, but when someone tells them with love, I don't know, they seem new.

Recommended by Jeremy, Powells.com

Traveler of the Century takes the reader into the fictional town of Wandernburg, an enigmatic place matched only by the lively, engaging cast of characters full of depth, wit, and intrigue. At once a mystery, a passionate love story, and a ruminating journey into philosophy, literature, feminism, and life in general, Andrés Neuman has written a masterpiece. I couldn't put this book down, nor did I want it to end. Wandernburg and its inhabitants stayed with me long after the final chapter.
Recommended by Portia, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.”

Review:

"From the Argentina-born Neuman, winner of Spain's coveted Alfaguara and Nation Critics Prizes, comes this trenchant new novel. On his way to Wittenberg, dreamy young Hans is waylaid in the border town of Wandernburg and absorbed into the private dramas of a host of 19th-century types, from a kindly organ-grinder who lives as a hermit to the fetching Sophie, a writer/translator whose Romantic disposition quickly endears her to Hans. But the novel's centerpieces are the lively discussions at the local salon, where an assembly of Prussian and Spanish intellectuals debate everything from the direction of post-Bonaparte Europe and the rise of the novel to Kant and Goya. Yet something sinister is stirring in the village, a murderous harbinger of the dawning century. Neuman was singled out for praise by Roberto Bolañ 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 Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review:

"Neuman has a gift. No good reader will fail to perceive in his pages something that can only be found in literature of the highest rank, the kind written by true poets who dare to penetrate into the darkness with their eyes open, and who keep them open no matter what...The literature of the 21st century will belong to Neuman." Roberto Bolaño

Review:

"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 ones opinion of such elevated claims, books as stimulating, erudite, and humane as this do not come along very often." Richard Gwyn, The Independent

Review:

"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

Review:

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

Review:

"Traveler of the Century takes on big ideas, and does so with an acuity that raises it to the level of great literature." Boston Globe

Review:

"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." The Jewish Daily Forward

Review:

"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." Booklist (starred review)

Synopsis:

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.”

About the Author

Andrés Neuman was born in 1977 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and grew up in Spain. He has a degree in Spanish philology from the University of Granada. Neuman was selected as one of Grantas Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists and was elected to the Bogotá-39 list. Traveler of the Century was the winner of the Alfaguara Prize and the National Critics Prize, Spains two most prestigious literary awards.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780374119393
Author:
Neuman, Andres
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Translator:
Caistor, Nick
Translator:
Garcia, Lorenza
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20130507
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Language:
English
Pages:
576
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Traveler of the Century New Hardcover
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Product details 576 pages Farrar, Straus and Giroux - English 9780374119393 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Traveler of the Century is an exquisite, dazzling work of fiction. Its author, Andrés Neuman, is a young Argentinian writer, born in 1977, whose relative youth is belied by a remarkably prodigious literary output. Neuman has written nearly 20 distinct works, including four novels, nine books of poetry (a tenth compiles them), four short story collections, a book of essays, and a book of aphorisms (in addition to his translations of German poet Wilhelm Müller). His writing has been celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world, having attracted a number of prestigious awards, and his international renown is clearly on the ascendancy as his works find their way into ever more translations.

With the publication of Granta's winter 2010 issue ("The Best Young Spanish Language Novelists"), many English-speaking readers had their first introduction to Neuman via his short story "After Helena." The late Roberto Bolaño offered his own high praise for Neuman (well before Traveler of the Century had even been written), including a short piece about him ("Neuman, Touched by Grace") in his nonfiction collection Between Parentheses (published in English translation in 2011). Bolaño, ever the discerning critic, wrote about Neuman after reading his first novel (Bariloche):

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. In principle, this is the most difficult test (also the most difficult exercise and stretch), and on no few occasions Neuman pulls it off with frightening ease... When I come across these young writers it makes me want to cry. I don't know whether a drunk driver will run them down some night or whether all of a sudden they'll stop writing. If nothing like this happens, the literature of the twenty-first century will belong to Neuman and a few of his blood brothers.

With Traveler of the Century, Neuman's first book to be translated into English, it is evident that the myriad hype surrounding this young writer is indeed well deserved.

Written in Granada between the spring of 2003 and the fall of 2008, Traveler of the Century was published in Spanish in 2009 and was summarily awarded two of Spain's most distinguished literary honors (the Alfaguara Prize and the National Critics Prize). The awards themselves place Neuman in the company of a veritable who's who of Latin and Latin American letters, counting as their recipients Cela, Vargas Llosa, Donoso, Onetti, Marías, and Vila-Matas, amongst others. His fourth novel, Traveler of the Century, has already been translated into 10 languages.

The novel is set in the small, fictional German town of Wandernburg sometime in the early 19th century (presumably in the mid- or late 1820s). A town where the streets are constantly rearranging themselves, "it is impossible to pinpoint the exact location of Wandernburg on any map, because it has changed places all the time." Wandernburg, from the German verb "wandern" (to hike, ramble, roam, or wander), is nestled between Dessau and Berlin in the northeastern part of the country. Despite the metaphysical qualities inherent in the town's geographical layout, it would be a grave error to classify Traveler of the Century as containing any elements from the Latin American subgenre of magical realism.

Instead, Neuman's lengthy novel could be best described as a postmodern work cast in 19th century attire, owing more to the refinement of classical fiction than to the cleverness and affectation of more modern works. Neuman himself describes it thus: a "futuristic novel that happens in the past, as a science fiction rewound." Traveler of the Century is not set some 200 years ago merely to capture that era's milieu, but is done so in a way so as to compare and contrast 21st century ideals, beliefs, and moralities against their historical counterparts.

Hans, Traveler of the Century's itinerant protagonist, is an enigmatic adventurer and translator, intent on a brief stopover in Wandernburg on his way to Dessau, but soon finds himself increasingly unable to make his way onward. As Hans' stay prolongs itself, he encounters and befriends a number of local residents, including a sagacious, aging, and nameless organ grinder who lives in a nearby cave with his affectionate dog Franz. Hans, per an invitation, begins to attend weekly conversations at the home of Herr Gottlieb, one of Wandernburg's more esteemed households. At these salon talks, populated by a small group of about six or seven, topics as varied as European history, politics, literature, poetry, religion, art, and architecture are routinely discussed and debated into the late hours of the evening. While there, Hans is introduced to Herr Gottlieb's daughter, Sophie, a betrothed and independent young woman with whom Hans later falls in love and embarks upon an ambitious translation project.

Neuman's novel is colored by a number of rich subplots that are woven effortlessly into an already well-textured narrative. A series of nefarious and sinister crimes work their way into the tale, for example, and are portrayed in stunning complement to other rising action. Minor characters, such as Hans's new best friend (and weekly salon attendee), Álvaro, figure prominently into the story and are as well conceived and believable as both Hans and Sophie. Nearly every aspect of Traveler of the Century seems carefully crafted and assiduously arranged. Neuman's prose is both beautiful and engaging, lending the novel yet another characteristic that makes up its captivating essence.

Traveler of the Century, at its heart, is both a novel of ideas and a love story. Neuman explores many exigent issues throughout the book (relevant to both post-Napoleonic Europe and the modern world), including continental politics, national sovereignty, war, peace, economic development, immigration, poverty, nation building, empires, women's rights, labor, and revolution, as well as more literary subjects such as poetic norms, style, philosophy, fiction, and the role of the translator. That Neuman was able to so expertly include these elements into the novel without straying into the didactic, rendering them essential components to the story, demonstrates the mastery with which he composed this fantastic book.

Neuman's work, in all its many aspects, represents a summation of the narrative form. Traveler of the Century is a complete novel that allows us an opportunity to reassess the present (and the future) by looking behind us. It is truly a timeless tale, one that demonstrates a past, once contemplated through the often-clarifying lens of fiction, not all that dissimilar from the contemporary. Andrés Neuman seems to possess a formidable talent, and Traveler of the Century may well presage a lengthy and accomplished literary career, the likes of which only come along a few times in a generation. Traveler of the Century, while penned by a young, Spanish author born in Argentina, is nonetheless a European novel of considerable consequence. As more of his works undoubtedly make their way into translation, Andrés Neuman is surely a name that will come to be uttered in the same breath as his masterful forebears.

When I was young, because I was young once like you, I heard many organ grinders play, and I can assure you no two tunes ever sounded the same, even on the same instrument. That's how it is, isn't it? The less love you put into things the more they resemble one another. The same goes for stories, everyone knows them by heart, but when someone tells them with love, I don't know, they seem new.

"Staff Pick" by ,

Traveler of the Century takes the reader into the fictional town of Wandernburg, an enigmatic place matched only by the lively, engaging cast of characters full of depth, wit, and intrigue. At once a mystery, a passionate love story, and a ruminating journey into philosophy, literature, feminism, and life in general, Andrés Neuman has written a masterpiece. I couldn't put this book down, nor did I want it to end. Wandernburg and its inhabitants stayed with me long after the final chapter.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "From the Argentina-born Neuman, winner of Spain's coveted Alfaguara and Nation Critics Prizes, comes this trenchant new novel. On his way to Wittenberg, dreamy young Hans is waylaid in the border town of Wandernburg and absorbed into the private dramas of a host of 19th-century types, from a kindly organ-grinder who lives as a hermit to the fetching Sophie, a writer/translator whose Romantic disposition quickly endears her to Hans. But the novel's centerpieces are the lively discussions at the local salon, where an assembly of Prussian and Spanish intellectuals debate everything from the direction of post-Bonaparte Europe and the rise of the novel to Kant and Goya. Yet something sinister is stirring in the village, a murderous harbinger of the dawning century. Neuman was singled out for praise by Roberto Bolañ 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 Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "Neuman has a gift. No good reader will fail to perceive in his pages something that can only be found in literature of the highest rank, the kind written by true poets who dare to penetrate into the darkness with their eyes open, and who keep them open no matter what...The literature of the 21st century will belong to Neuman."
"Review" by , "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 ones opinion of such elevated claims, books as stimulating, erudite, and humane as this do not come along very often."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "An exceptional, fun, mature novel from a writer wise beyond his years."
"Review" by , "Traveler of the Century takes on big ideas, and does so with an acuity that raises it to the level of great literature."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Synopsis" by , 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.”

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