Traveller of the Century
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Professor Mietter said, irritated. Me, said Hans, nothing at all, although I doubt they are of any use in explaining the world to us now. Myth, Professor Mietter pronounced, recalling his lessons in Graeco-Roman culture, will always be useful in our understanding of reality.
Provided, Hans pointed out, those myths are transformed … Show me a single living soul in Berlin, Paris or London who can say he honestly likes triglyphs or identifies with Doric capitals? And since we are on the subject of triglyphs and capitals, allow me to make an observation about modern tastes. Do you know why we are incapable today of building the great edifices of the past? It is very simple, because our forebears were men of great principles.
We modern men only have opinions. Opinions and doubts, nothing more. But building a cathedral, my good fellow, requires more than stones, it requires powerful ideas. Before free trade I think other measures are needed, such as agrarian reform, the dismantling of the large estates and a more just distribution of land. This would not mean simply freeing trade but breaking down the real barriers, beginning with the socio-economic ones. Traveller of the Century appeared in Spanish in Neuman is Argentinian. Hans often seems to speak for our own time.
To what century does this traveller belong?
Book Review: Traveller of the Century
For whom is he translating? Every remark Hans makes could be credibly attributed to a 19th-century philosophy student with revolutionary sympathies. And to the extent that Hans is grounded in the world of the novel, a part of the scene rather than a floating intelligence, his detachment makes him a bit monstrous, in spite of his good nature. There are stakes in the games he plays, but those stakes are not his. There are no grand battles; no historical figures appear. Although members of various classes show up and complain of their lot, broad social forces are of secondary concern.
And it doesn't help that Hans and Sophie soon become clandestine lovers, meeting in Hans's room with the ostensible purpose of translating European poetry, while having some of the most graphic sex in contemporary fiction, and then feigning innocence in public in the neutral environment of the Gottlieb family's literary salon.
These pages are reminiscent of great European intellectual novels from The Magic Mountain to Those Barren Leaves , but Neuman is healthily able to fill them with irony or outright humour a set of characters in a tavern bear the names of Rummenigge, Voeller and Klinsmann: if you're a football fan, you'll know what I'm talking about.
Traveller of the Century doesn't merely respect the reader's intelligence: it sets out to worship it.
Translated from the original Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia
An unusual talent is required to pull this off, and Neuman has it. Neuman, born in Argentina but raised in Andalusia, is a poet and aphorist as well as a fiction writer, and his virtuosity in the short distances does wonderful things to the long novel: the attention he pays to one of his main characters is the same he pays to the sound of an adjective while describing the wind, or a dog's ears, or light.
In the end, and despite or because of its European obsessions, Traveller of the Century belongs in the quintessentially Latin American genre of the "total novel": the all-encompassing narrative bent on exploring every theme, every social milieu, every emotional possibility. I stress this because it would be both easy and wrong to look at Neuman's book in the context of "globalised fiction" — novels desperate for acceptance by everyone that end up talking about no one. No: Neuman's novel is solidly inscribed in the Argentinian tradition, advocated by Borges in a famous essay , of not being recognisably Argentinian.
He tried the frozen handle, then pushed the door open.
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He saw a corridor lit by oil lamps suspended from hooks. The warmth drew Hans in. From the far end of the corridor came the crackle of an open fire. He struggled to drag the case and trunk inside. He stood beneath one of the lanterns, trying to warm up. With a start, he saw Herr Zeit staring at him from behind the reception desk.
I was on my way to let you in, Herr Zeit said. The innkeeper moved extremely slowly, as if he were trapped between the counter and the wall. He had a huge, barrel-shaped belly, and smelt of musty fabric. Where have you come from? It matters to me, young sir, Herr Zeit cut in, not suspecting that Hans had meant something else. How many nights do you intend to stay? Herr Zeit searched for a candlestick, then led Hans down the corridor and up a flight of stairs.
The Book Trail Traveller of the Century - The Book Trail
As Hans watched the rotund figure heaving himself up each step, he was afraid he might come crashing down on top of him. The entire inn smelt of burning oil, the sulphur from the lamp wicks, and a mixture of sweat and soap. They reached the first-floor landing and carried on up.
Hans was surprised to see that all the rooms appeared unoccupied. On the second floor, Herr Zeit paused at a door with the number seven chalked on it.
Recovering his breath, he declared proudly: This is our best room. He took a battered ring laden with keys out of his pocket, and after several attempts and muttered curses, they entered the room. Strange old organ grinder, Shall I go with you? To the sound of my singing Would you play a tune? Europe, dragging your tattered rags, Will you come one day, will your day come? Adolfo Casais Monteiro.
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