Traveler of the Century

Farrar. Mar. 2012. c.528p. tr. from Spanish by Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia. ISBN 9780374119393. $30. F
On his way to Dessau, Germany, world traveler Hans stops over in imaginary Wanderburg, where he becomes enamored of strong-willed Sophie, betrothed to boorish Rudi. The first half of the novel culminates in the consummation of their affair; the second half descends to its inevitable disintegration, as Sophie confesses the affair to Rudi, the wedding is canceled, and Hans moves on. This brief synopsis belies the real impact of Neuman's well-researched work, set in the post-Napoleonic era and full of local color and numerous well-drawn secondary characters while serving as a microcosm of the larger world. Neuman, born in Argentina of German immigrants and now living in Spain, spent five years creating a mythical town where the borders and even the locations of buildings and streets change daily. Inevitably, the novel meanders, especially when characters debate religion, history, music, literature, and philosophy. Surprises await, though, at every page turn.
VERDICT Some readers will skip or skim the digressions, and others will find them the philosophical essence of the work. But for all, this novel—Neuman's first to be translated into English—is a meaningful opportunity to become acquainted with a promising new writer. [See Prepub Alert, 11/28/11.]

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