A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom

by John Boyne

Thursday, January 18, 2024

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This was a mind blowing kind of a read. The story itself might be pretty ordinary, in fact the point is that it is just that, though also it’s not. Yes, that makes no sense. But it also makes no sense that the scenery shifts with each chapter and the characters shift with it, and yet that absolutely works. I saw the list of chapters labelled with locations that cover most of the globe and dates that are spread over 2000 years and was expecting some kind of linked short stories. Which it sort of is and also isn’t. Each chapter picks up where the last one left off, but with the details moved in space and time. It’s a really clever conceit and works really well, it’s hard to explain but turned out to be easy to read.

I think it’s interesting though that I found the parts of the story set in places and times I didn’t know well more interesting than those that I already knew about. The central character crosses paths with various famous historical characters and I found those bits felt a bit tired, but I don’t doubt that some of the other bits I enjoyed were also about well-known characters, just not ones that were well-known to me. And since I know far more about recent history than the dark ages a lot of those more tired feeling pieces fell towards the end of the book as time got closer to the present day, which meant that the book seemed better in the beginning and the middle than in the end. Though there were clues spread throughout the story about how the book was going to end, and I think the author pulled the final chapter off pretty well, and left it on a nicely optimistic note.

Definitely a book I’d recommend and there’s only a handful of other books I’ve ever read that have tried to do anything this expansive.