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A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom

Review

A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom

Readers can be a demanding group sometimes. We find an author we enjoy and read every book that he or she has written. But after a while, their work becomes staid and predictable, so we hope that they venture outside of their comfort zone. If they eventually do undertake such an endeavor, we often become critical and wonder why they deviated from their successful formula. I discovered John Boyne two years ago, and his novel, A LADDER TO THE SKY, became one of my favorites of 2018. Since then, I have read and enjoyed several more of his books.

This month, I was eagerly anticipating his latest effort, A TRAVELER AT THE GATES OF WISDOM. It is so totally unlike any other novel of his that I have difficulty categorizing and describing the story. This is not a criticism; it is simply an observation from a reader who embarked on a far different adventure from the one he expected when he opened the book.

"John Boyne is a great writer. A TRAVELER AT THE GATES OF WISDOM is...thought-provoking, well-written and worthy of your consideration."

As I was reading A TRAVELER AT THE GATES OF WISDOM, it reminded me of a similarly structured book, but I could not firmly recall the details. Finally, while immersed in part seven of the story, it came to me. From 1989 to 1993, NBC aired the series “Quantum Leap.” Scott Bakula portrayed Dr. Sam Beckett, a physicist who journeyed through time, taking the place of other people to correct mistakes. Boyne is Irish, so whether or not this American show inspired him is only speculation. But his unnamed character is similar to Dr. Beckett, appearing in various locations around the world.

The narrator, a man of skill and creativity, has adventures in the era where he has landed, occasionally meeting a notable figure. Sometimes he is searching for or meeting with a lost member of his family. At other times, he is rescuing a beautiful woman who is in danger or distress. Characters frequently find their lives ending in violence or natural disaster. Many chapters serve as a sad reminder of the centuries in world history when women were treated as property whose value was the ability to produce children for their husbands. Villains appear with similar traits of nastiness and brutality throughout the book, but the narrator always outwits them.

The novel progresses and eventually finds its setting in the contemporary world, with stops in Europe for the World Wars and a final visit to America on Election Day in 2016.

The narrator’s time travel is an opportunity for both the author and the reader to journey far outside of their personal comfort zones. The effort to portray history and people as similar and constant is a difficult case to make. In each generation, we are the products of our present-day environment, and people will always react to their surroundings. That is why cultures and communities are different across the globe. Some similarities always can be found, but the differences far outweigh those.

John Boyne is a great writer. A TRAVELER AT THE GATES OF WISDOM is not his finest book, but it is still thought-provoking, well-written and worthy of your consideration.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on August 28, 2020

A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom
by John Boyne

  • Publication Date: August 11, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth
  • ISBN-10: 0593230159
  • ISBN-13: 9780593230152