A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom – by John Boyne – book review

INTELLIGENT and INGENIOUS are the two best words I can think of to describe this book. One of the joys I find in picking up ANY book by John Boyne for the first time is knowing it will be different from every OTHER book I’ve read by him AND, in THIS case, different from every other book I’ve ever read. Let me try to describe it — and please understand, this won’t be easy and will take work. Awarded four stars on Goodreads. But 4.5 would be more accurate!

Imagine a historical novel that is episodic, with chapters that follow a chronology beginning in the year 1 A.D. and ending up with an Epilogue in 2080. Each chapter is true to a different time period and and global location. So one episode might take place in Namibia, or Argentina, or New Zealand and the following one could be in Scotland, North Korea, or Greece. Occasionally, a character will briefly come into contact with some recognizable figure from history.

Now layer onto this foundation one continual story about the same handful of characters. Their names change slightly as their geography changes, but they are easily recognizable and their narrative flows seamlessly. The main character is an artist who is compelled to honor his talent, even in the face of family and friends eager to impose more traditional societal expectations. The novel is about his life – his search for love and acceptance, about betrayals and revenge, about loss and recovery.

John Boyne

Altogether, the novel transforms into a sort of “every/any person’s” tale, one all of us can easily relate to. A documenting of human history that explores the relationships, values, struggles, and decisions that form part of our daily lives. And, as the title suggests, it’s about our own struggle to understand the nature of true wisdom. I found the book ambitious, compelling and impressive. And loved the killer surprise ending!

More about the author, one of my favorites!

You may be interested in my reviews of other books by John Boyne:

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

A Ladder to the Sky

Next of Kin

The Absolutist

The House of Special Purpose