A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom

Hogarth: Crown. Aug. 2020. 480p. ISBN 9780593230152. $28. F
Beginning with the Massacre of the Innocents in the first year of the Common Era and concluding in the year 2080, a singular voice narrates the biography of its soul through time and across the globe. Over the course of 2,000 years, this voice recounts episodes that take place in every country on Earth linked by shared details, such as family dynamics and conflicts from one time and place to the next. So the familial tensions and pivotal events of a life lived in 10th-century Iceland recur with nuanced and significant changes in Mozambique in the year 1000; a mother’s warning in sixth-century Yemen comes to pass in eighth-century Egypt; and the mother who had loved and encouraged the son who narrates each vignette passes away in Mexico in the year 752. As multiple story arcs resolve and emerge in different times and places, the voice remains mostly consistent throughout, lending the tale continuity and cohesion. Also continuous is the violence and cruelty of patriarchy and the idea that beauty, creatively manifested in craft and art, has always been an antidote for these evils.
VERDICT Boyne’s (A Ladder to the Sky) latest novel ingeniously interrogates the historical and cultural roots of our present age
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