Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman

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Traveller of the Century Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia

Five words from the blurb: mysterious, city, literary, love, translation

When Stu announced he was holding a blog event to celebrate translated literature published by Pushkin Press I immediately pencilled Traveller of the Century onto my list. It had been receiving almost universal praise from the blogosphere and I was keen to sample its literary magic. I’m so pleased that Stu pushed this up my TBR pile as it is one of those timeless classics that encourages you to look at the world in a slightly different light.

The book begins with a man arriving in a mysterious city. Every day he walks around the local area and is slightly puzzled by the way buildings and roads appear to change location overnight. This section had a magical feel that reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but the writing quality meant I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoyed reading about the weird occurrences.  

As the story progressed it became more grounded in reality and I found that I had to read the book in small sections as the information was so dense – it felt more like a series of essays than a novel. Much of the book focused on issues around translation, particularly of poetry. I have to admit that I’m not a big poetry fan and so some of the discussions did nothing for me, but luckily these were soon followed by ones that did. 

It’s the opposite of what I expected, she said, metre in German or English poetry resembles a dance, while in Spanish it is like a military march. In German poetry the dancer marks the rhythm until he decides to turn round and go to the next verse, regardless of how many steps he takes. It is more spoken, more from the lungs, isn’t it? Spanish verse is beautiful and yet there is something rigid about it, something imposed that doesn’t seem to originate from speech, one has to count both accents and syllables, it’s almost Pythagorean.

The plot was simple, but contained a beautiful love story and some (interesting?!) sex scenes. There was very little forward momentum, but watching the love blossom between the two characters was so heart-warming. I prefer books that are more plot driven, but it is impossible to ignore the quality of the writing in this book.

If you have any interest in the process of translation then you should buy a copy now!

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8 Comments

  1. Have you ever read Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled? Your description reminded me of it.

    It must have felt weird to be reading about translation while reading a translation. Did you feel any meaning was lost?

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I haven’t read The Unconsoled yet, but I love Ishiguro so it is high on my list. I’ll be interested to see how the two books compare.

      I think reading about translation in translation only adds to the appeal! Much of the book compared Spanish with other languages, especially English and German. I think the two translators did a fantastic job of exaplaining the differences between the languages. I don’t think anything was lost, but it is really impossible to know that without being able to read the original.

  2. Jacqui (@jacquiwine) says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed Traveller; I think it’s my favourite of all the books I read last year. In many ways, it’s a novel of ideas and the quality of the writing is delightful.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jacqui, I can see why it would be a favourite! It provides so much to think about :-)

  3. Col says:

    This sounds really good. I’m doing the Everything Espana Reading Challenge this year – am not sure if this will count as author Argentinian – but what the hell will read it anyway! And if you have any other suggestions for Spanish lit…….?!

    1. Jackie says:

      Col, Spanish lit isn’t my speciality, but I enjoyed The Bride From Odessa by Edgardo Cozarinsky (and he ticks your Argentinian box!) and Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo. Good luck with your challenge!

  4. A book about a poetry translator set in a city with streets that keep changing is pretty brilliant if you ask me. Familiar streets that just aren’t quite right….

    I may have to look for this book.

    1. Jackie says:

      James, I think you’ll enjoy this one. I hope you get around to reading it some time.

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