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A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom

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Some stories are universal. They play out across human history. And time is the river which will flow through them.

It starts with a family, a family which will mutate. For now, it is a father, mother and two sons. One with his father’s violence in his blood. One who lives his mother’s artistry. One leaves. One stays. They will be joined by others whose deeds will change their fate. It is a beginning.

Their stories will intertwine and evolve over the course of two thousand years – they will meet again and again at different times and in different places. From distant Palestine at the dawn of the first millennium to a life amongst the stars in the third. While the world will change around them, their destinies will remain the same. It must play out as foretold. It is written.

A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom is the extraordinary new novel from acclaimed writer John Boyne. Ambitious, far-reaching and mythic, it introduces a group of characters whose lives we will come to know and will follow through time and space until they reach their natural conclusion.

465 pages, Hardcover

First published July 23, 2020

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About the author

John Boyne

58 books11k followers
I was born in Dublin, Ireland, and studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. In 2015, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by UEA.

I’ve published 14 novels for adults, 6 novels for younger readers, and a short story collection. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas was a New York Times no.1 Bestseller and was adapted for a feature film, a play, a ballet and an opera, selling around 11 million copies worldwide.

Among my most popular books are The Heart’s Invisible Furies, A Ladder to the Sky and My Brother’s Name is Jessica.

I’m also a regular book reviewer for The Irish Times.

In 2012, I was awarded the Hennessy Literary ‘Hall of Fame’ Award for my body of work. I’ve also won 4 Irish Book Awards, and many international literary awards, including the Que Leer Award for Novel of the Year in Spain and the Gustav Heinemann Peace Prize in Germany. In 2015, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of East Anglia.

My novels are published in 58 languages.

My 14th adult novel, ALL THE BROKEN PLACES, a sequel and companion novel to THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, will be published in the UK on September 15th 2022, in the US and Canada on November 29th, and in many foreign language editions in late 2022 and 2023.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 838 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
June 24, 2020
A judgement all those years ago that the integrity of my art was more important than the welfare of a stranger had led to so much misery and death.

This book took me longer than usual to read and, for a long time, I thought that was a good thing. I was really into it. I was taking my time, absorbing it, making notes, researching things that piqued my interest. As a huge 5-star-level fan of Boyne's The Heart's Invisible Furies and A Ladder to the Sky, I had been so excited for A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom. But, somewhere in the later chapters, it lost me.

As others will tell you, it starts out a little confusing, but it very quickly begins to make sense. I can help you out spoiler-free. The story starts in Palestine in AD 1 with King Herod's ordered infanticide and then jumps to Turkey, AD 41, and then Romania, AD 105. This is how the story progresses, moving through countries all across the world and throughout time. An unnamed narrator tells his life story, from growing up with his brothers and his father's two wives to his several marriages and a quest for revenge.

It is initially confusing because the story continues undisturbed, no time seeming to have passed even though we have skipped fifty or a hundred years and moved thousands of miles across the globe. Minor details change, such as local religions, mythologies and rulers, but much stays the same. I was really fascinated by this in the beginning. I'm really interested in world history, so I found it very compelling when we visited all this history and culture throughout the last two millennia.

I also took the major theme to be one of universality-- how humans in different times and places have more in common than they do not; how they all love and fear and fail. The details are different, but we are all the same. Regardless of whether you believe it or not, it's an appealing idea.

There was so much I learned from A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom, and I have several things bookmarked to research further. I should point out that this book digs into some of the nastier aspects of history, which includes rape and child abuse. It didn't feel gratuitous, but some of it does happen on-page.

The characters, including the unnamed narrator, are also strong and, unlike other books that start every chapter with a new cast of characters, this one never ran the risk of not emotionally engaging us, because Boyne really did pull off the whole "characters are different, but also the same" thing. It all felt like one long story.

And then the narrator's quest for revenge comes to an end with eight chapters to go and those eight chapters are just... messy. The tone was different, and it seemed almost like the author didn't know where he was going with the story he'd built.

For a start, the time in prison extends through four chapters and four countries, which was way too long. Boyne also got a little self-indulgent, I feel, with some of the characters' conversations here. Their commentary felt like Boyne's own response to some of the criticisms of his last YA novel My Brother's Name is Jessica (which I have not read). Such as:
‘There have been some people of late writing letters to the literary pages complaining of authors who do not share the same experiences with their characters.’
I considered this. ‘If they did,’ I said, ‘would that not be an autobiography?’
‘It would, yes, and their argument is entirely fallacious, of course. But it’s gaining some ground. Recently, another writer of my acquaintance was spat at in the street for writing about a Russian, when he himself is English.’

The 2016 chapter with the U.S. election was so strange, too. It felt completely at odds with the rest of the book. The characters embodied such OTT pro-Trump stereotypes, parroting ever more ridiculous claims about Hilary Clinton, that it all just became farcical. I was really ready for the Trump criticism, but why was it so slapstick? The rest of the book had been fairly serious.

And I'm not quite sure what the author wanted to say with the final chapter, set in AD 2080. It felt like he was making some point, though perhaps he wasn't. Either way, it was an odd and anticlimactic end. Which was probably in part due to the main climax being eight chapters and eighty pages away from the book's end. Everything after that felt like dragged out filler.

I'll still read whatever Boyne writes next, but I'm not sure about this one. It read like 360 pages of adventure through history, and then 80 pages of wandering/musing/ranting. It will be interesting to read the interpretations of it that come along when the book goes on sale.

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Profile Image for Maureen .
1,443 reviews7,063 followers
June 4, 2020
John Boyne is a wordsmith of the highest order, and with ‘A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom’, he’s surely created something quite unique. Its scope is immense, and the research needed to create this novel leaves me with unbridled admiration.

A strangely hypnotic read, relating the story of a man over the course of 2000 years, which though confusing initially, with the constant changes of both location and period in history, it soon becomes clear that intertwining themes such as family, love, loss, revenge, included in previous chapters, continue on into the next, leading to many escapades, and from there on in, I became completely absorbed in it.

This epic novel is really difficult to describe, so I can only suggest that you read it for yourself. I doubt you’ll have read anything quite like it.

* I was invited to read ‘A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom’ by the publisher, and have given an honest unbiased review in exchange *
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.5k followers
September 9, 2020
john boynes books are the places i go when i seek comfort and need familiarity. so i cried tears of joy when i was given the opportunity to read an ARC of his newest book and reading this felt exactly like coming home.

so it is absolutely no surprise that i consider this story to be a marvel and a triumph - for both the literary world and humanity as a whole. the uniquely constructed narrative and high-quality writing pleads with every emotion of the human spirit. the complex storytelling is so masterly crafted that only JBs work of ingenuity could have created it. and the range of this tale is far-reaching, ever-extending, and universally relatable.

and so, it is after following the compelling life story of our unnamed traveller across 2000 years of history, grief, love, creativity, revenge, beauty, longing, and hope, that it becomes evident no review i could write can even come close to depicting the remarkable accomplishment of this novel. it is something that desperately needs to be individually experienced and personally admired.

side note - fans of JBs previous book, the absolutist, will be pleasantly surprised by a little easter egg in one of the chapters. it was such a wonderful moment for me to reconnect with characters i already know and love.

to rachel and crown publishing - thank you so much for the gift of this ARC. you will forever have my gratitude. <3

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Adina .
889 reviews3,535 followers
October 27, 2020
The plan was to give the novel 3,5* rounded up to 4. Then the last chapter and the epilogue happened. I can safely say that those two chapters made the most ridiculous and out of scope ending I have ever read. I cannot understand why it was written like this and how an editor allowed it to be published like this. I will write more about that later in my review.

First of all, the novel idea was brilliant. As many other reviewers wrote, I’ve never read a book quite like it. The author tells us the story of an unnamed man travelling through time and different lives. Hmm, how to make more sense? The novel starts in A.D. 1 in Palestine with the birth of our hero. His father is sent to Bethlehem to kill all the infants from that region. Don’t worry, this is not a religious story. The next chapter takes up from where the last chapter ended but we are transported to Turkey, A. D. 41. The characters have different names but the first letter is always the same. The next chapter takes us to Romania, A.D. 105 and so on. I was happy to read that the Romanian names were accurate enough although I had no idea how people of Dacia were called. The character(s) has a tumultuous life, full of physical and mental struggles, love, loss, grief and revenge.

It can be said it is a book about reincarnation and the way the character retains some memory from his past and future lives. It can also be considered an ode to the universality of the human soul and its struggles. There is a lot of focus on the plight of being a woman through history, with no other role than to please and obey the man. Also, the expectation of a male to only perform “manly” jobs is also explored. Our hero steps away from his father shoes becoming a creator/a craftsman/artist, an occupation who is shunned by his father.

Although I was impressed by the research and the cultural details that the author tried to introduce in each chapter, there were some obvious errors. The presence of Kimonos in China or Spanish names in Argentina before the Spanish people landed there, are two examples. Another complaint was that I was not too engrossed in the plot, a risk when you jump around in time and space. I did not feel the urge to resume reading the novel after putting it aside which is quite relevant since the first book I read by the author was unputdownable. Still, considering the originality of the subject and the way the book was crafted I was prepared to give it 4*. Then I read the ending…

** Spoiler alert I guess!! It has nothing to do with the main plot but some commented it is a spoiler** The last chapter is set in US in 2016. Have you already guessed what will follow? Yes, you are right. A full blown rant about Trump and the elections. Our hero is a big supporter of Hillary while his family supports Trump. What follows is a quarrel between the factions, including the most absurd declarations Trump ever made. The scene does not add anything to the story, it was only a way to vent the frustration the author feels about Trump being elected President. I totally understand him, I cannot stand the orange guy either but write a blog or an article about it, don’t ruin the bloody book. And if the rant wasn’t enough, we reach the epilogue where Mr. Trump dies from unexpected internal combustion. Yup, you read right. The whole scene was so ridiculous that I waited for the author to tell me it was a joke. I got a review copy so I really hope the scene was erased from the final release.

I loved The Heart's Invisible Furies, it was one of the few over-hyped books that are worth the fandom so I am so sorry to not give this novel 5*. However, it is still worth reading but maybe for already established fans, not for a 1st time reader of John Boyne.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Meredith (Trying to catch up!).
814 reviews12.7k followers
August 29, 2020
A Divisive Read

“One day, you will live among the stars.”

A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom is about the history and destruction of civilization.

Spanning over 2000 years, a nameless narrator shares their personal history, and the world’s history, in varying times and countries. While time passes and locations change, the narrator’s story continues without much change until the very end. From the beginning in Palestine, A.D. 1 to the epilogue in A.D. 2080, the narrator’s long, drawn-out history culminates at the end of the world.

The narrator, an artisan, deals with love, loss, and the treachery of man. Themes focus on birth, death, rebirth, the cycle of life, social constructs, and the creation and destruction of civilization.

This book is quite divisive, and it was divisive to read. I am torn over my feelings. I love Boyne’s writing and style but I struggled to connect with the rhythm of the narrative. I wasn’t completely drawn in until about the 50% mark, but it took some determination, at times, to continue reading.

Once I was in full thrall, I thought I had a good idea of where this was headed, but I was beyond wrong.

The narrative is formulaic--while every chapter takes place in a different time and location, the same cast of characters appear. The culture of the country and time period is sometimes woven in, but the narrator really could have been in any place and time and the story would be the same. At times I wanted more, and other times I wanted less!

The final chapters felt rushed and a little messy. Boyne’s history is anachronistic and was sometimes frustrating and confusing to read. Other times, it was pure genius.

Then there is the ending which changed my entire thoughts on this book. To say I was taken aback is an understatement. I was baffled, but at the same time laughing hysterically. I realized I had been hoodwinked, as what I thought I was reading I was not. I got Boyne’s message loud and clear. Hopefully, 2021 will bring some much-needed change!

“It was over. The end of civilization as we knew it.”

I received an ARC of this book from Random House Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews596 followers
June 3, 2020
The tidbits, thoughts, and few excerpts I’ll share in this review are with the intention to be supportive....
give a few insights ....( without spoilers)
so ‘as’ to be helpful to other readers. I haven’t read other reviews yet myself....[ THIS BOOK WILL BE RELEASED IN AUGUST, 2020],
but I’m guessing I might not be the only early reader who sees something VERY different going on in this SPRAWLING TALE of HUMANITY. It requires a little patience.
It’s not like past books by John Boyne , ( but fans and Boyne-newbies are in skillful hands), ....
.....readers might consider a few minutes of quiet meditation with thyself before diving into this novel.
Pack your travel suitcases, be fed and hydrated, relax and calm yourself from current global news...( or include the world’s crisis calmly in your hearts).....
.....for an adventure travel trip.....( prepare your mind)....
....an incredible journey across fifty countries. (Safety precautions have been well planned and plotted)....
....we can count on characters & stories to fill our hearts in ‘any’ John Boyne novel.

NOT A RUSH READ.... ( a few visits to google).... not a children’s book....
includes disturbing graphic experiences, unfamiliar locations, thought provoking dialogue....
It’s vibrantly imagined and vertiginously uniquely exciting. Heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious.

“Love does not change, anger never varies. Hope, desperation, fear, longing, desire, lust, anxiety, confusion and joy; you and I endure these emotions just as men and women always have or ever will. We are a small people in an ever-changing universe. The world around us might be in a state of constant flux, but the universe within? I shook my head, both admitting and accepting the wealth of man”.

This new John Boyne novel is epic!!!.....it “plays out across all of human history: a story as precise as it is unlimited”.

The table of contents felt overwhelming to me at first....[only at first]
My suggestion: look at the contents - of what you’re about to read a ‘few’ times.
Get adjusted.....prepare yourself for a wonderful world of travel through history....2000 years of history!
Prepare yourself before reading:
....examine your own thoughts about the world we live in...the struggles we are facing today...
...history before our time....with STORIES ( good, bad, & ugly), ....’rich interweaving stories’ STAMPED with John Boyne’s brilliant storytelling talents.

Once reading begins... fall into trusting Boyne. We’re in good hands. It’s possible things might feel confusing for a short time ... but not for long. It’s normal to wonder about purpose; be curious about the whiplash of history, and endure idiosyncratic structure....
your favorite character just might be the MOST LITERARY *NO NAME* protagonist ever created! NO-NAME-HE-MAN....is lovable and inspiring!

I’m not a die-hard fan of not knowing the name of our main character....but the power of mr. ‘no name He-Man’, becomes extraordinarily powerful ....a bold, courageous choice on Boyne’s doing.

As a support....to readers.... ( trying to be helpful anyway)....as this is a new book ... not YET read my zillions.(discussions should begin to take on a domino-effect once more readers have read it).....
I’m including the table of contents ....so as to take in its magnitude.... with hopes to calm the brains of readers (like me), who AT FIRST might feel it’s TOO BIG....
My personal suggestion....let those scary thoughts go...
Traveling through many gates ....’of wisdom’...a heartbeat of it’s own....stretches our mind....taps into painful emotions...and tickles our funny bones from time to time too.

The Table of Contents overview:.....[places of travel].....
Part one...A Traveler in the Darkness:
Palestine A. D. 1
Turkey A. D. 41
Romania A D. 105
Iran A. D. 152
Italy A. D. 169

Part two...The Great Humiliation:
Switzerland A. D. 214
Somalia A. D. 269
South Korea A. D. 311

Part three...A Master Craftsman
Eritrea A. D. 340
Cyprus A. D. 365
Guatemala. A. D. 420
Hungary A. D. 453
Afghanistan. A. D. 507
Yeman A. D. 552

Part four..A Face Carved in Stone
Sri Lanka. A. D. 588
Greenland A. D. 623
Peru A. D. 665
Bulgaria A. D 710
Mexico A. D. 752
Egypt A. D. 767

Part five...The Three Jewels:
Ireland A. D. 800
Nepal A. D. 862
Indonesia A. D 907
Armenia A. D. 944

Part six...Millennium:
Iceland A. D. 999
Mozambique A. D. 1000

Part seven...Plum Blossom Melodies:
Belgium A. D. 1050
Netherlands A. D. 1986
Sweden A. D. 1133
China A. D. 1191
Grease A. D. 1223

Part eight...The Refuge of the World:
Portugal A. D. 1267
North Korea A. D. 1301
Norway A. D. 1349
India A. D. 1385
Argentina A. D. 1430

Part 9...The Shadow of My Shadow:
Namibia A. D. 1471
Spain A. D. 1492
Vatican City A. D. 1512
England A. D. 1599

Part 10...A Devil’s Promise:
Brazil A. D. 1608
New Zealand A. D. 1642
Canada A. D. 1694
Japan A. D. 1743

Part 11...Good and Bad Angels:
Germany A. D. 1790
Scotland A. D. 1832
Australia A. D. 1880

Part 12...The Sun,The Moon, and the Stars:
France A. D. 1916
Czechia A. D. 1939
Russia A. D. 1961
United States of America A. D. 2016

The Spearthrower Owl A.D. 2080

John Boyne is one of my favorite authors. He’s many fans; I’m one too.
I especially loved Boyne’s last two books: “The Heart’s Invisible Furies”, and “A Ladder to the Sky”.
That said...this panoramic crusade, “A Traveler At The Gate of Wisdom”, covering 2,000 years left me fully spent and drained- by the end.
It’s a little challenging....both in content and claims on our hearts.
We are taken on a journey that’s been thoroughly researched - with masterful storytelling intimacy; we keep reading to the end because of how much we trust the author..

The first 20% was a little puzzling....but soon I knew what was going on. I had to pay close attention to the names of the characters at the beginning.
John Boyne does something very creative with the characters names - between men and women.
Once I caught on to the rhythm-name-game-change, I was comforted.
My ‘gut’ caught on faster than my mind to the clever, unique crafting.
I suspect this will happen to other readers, too.

JOHN BOYNE’S novel stands out much ‘different’ than ‘all’ others. It’s stunningly original....beguiling and evocative stories with themes of....
love, loss, duty, deceit, tragedy, betrayal, fury, ignorance, confusion, atheism, narcissism, unorthodox views, envy, sorrow, affection, travelers, father/son/father/daughter/ husband/wife/sibling relationships....( friends, cousins, enemies too)... robbers, murderers, girls treated like filth, trust issues, pain, violence ( graphic), slavery, Kings, Queens, Emperors, soldiers, merchants, artists, craftsman, sin, sinful thoughts, ancestors, past, present, and future, .....even a few blessing!

......mouth-dropping-awe-gorgeous prose:
“My hands were encased in fish-skin gloves and, over the previous week, my cousin Haansi had killed four seals and fashioned a new set of mukluks for my feet that rose far as my knees. My handsome young assistant, Parkk, had sung a lullaby about a many-colored salmon when Haansi presented the mukluks to me and the two had collapsed in laughter, although I failed to see the joke”.

“The road from Negombo to Anuradhapura was treacherous, taking me through mountainous terrain and those parts of the country where bandits and killers were known to dwell.
Considering the value of the goods that I was carrying, I felt anxious about making the journey alone and had considered asking my cousin to accompany me, but, as he remained lost in his grief, I guessed that he would prefer to remain at home”.
“I was riding to the capital for an audience with King Aggabodhi, who had commissioned me to create a set of bronze replicas of the royal family as a birthday gift for his Queen. ConsideringCasting my own bronze from a mixture of copper, zinc, lead and bismuth, I worked day and night for months on the pieces—there were sixteen in all—before wrapping them in a fabric covering and placing them in my satchel for the journey ahead. I looked forward to visiting the royal palace and seeing the expression on the King’s Face when I presented him with my work, the finest pieces that I had yet created”.

“Whenever my spirits were low, I made my way to the barren wasteland of Bamiyan Valley, where I felt a certain intimacy with the sandstone mountains surrounding the basin of our town. (Afghanistan)

“I hoped only for peace when I arrived at the monastery. At first, I felt a degree of caution about approaching the tower, uncertain whether or not I a man, I have no particular religious scruple, would be turned away from a place of holy men”. (Ireland)

Compelling struggles & differences between father and son....
“His father, Manu had always wanted him to become a warrior like him. Eventually his father gave up hope that he would ever live up to his expectations.
“His greatest wish, I think, was that I would be brutally killed on the field of battle so that he could carry me home and triumph to my mother, around his shoulders like a slaughtered lamb. He called me lazy, a coward, a half/man, but I was none of these things; I was simply more interested in the act of creation than distruction”.

Enjoy beauty hygiene tips....( transgender creativity)
“crushing beetles and the claws of lobsters into wet paste was created to make a rouge for a boys lips and cheeks”.

Historical stories....
“My father, Marvel, liked to recount the story of how an ancestor of his, a man named Lonus, made a valiant attempt at murdering Julius Caesar, long before the conspirators drew their daggers on the floor of the Senate. Our people, Helvetii, were only days from defeat at the Battle of Bibracte and, finding the idea of capitulation to such savage trespassers repugnant to his nature, Lonus rode directly into the Roman army camp, his swinging sword ripping the heads from the three unsuspecting legionnaires before charging in the direction of the tent where Caesar was consulting with his generals. Had it not been for the quick thinking of Crassus, who hurled a spear between the shoulder blades of the would-be assassin, the fortunes of the LikedRoman Empire might have turned out very differently. I didn’t like to point out that the narrative in which he took so much pride had not only ended in failure but also in the death of his forebear, who, having survived the spear, had his fingers and toes removed with a blunt knife before being skinned alive and roasted slowly over a spit”.

Let your imagination flow....
As you walk down this book path ....which provides opportunities for learning about the curves life throws his or her way....
Buddhist teachings too....
....the awakening of spirituality of thousands across time...
change, loss, fear, grief, anger, massive upheaval, political shifts, marriages, disease, violence, and impermanence.
Challenging....and ultimately fulfilling....
John Boyne outdid himself....
He crafted a fulfilling and important path to understanding and healing ourselves and finding peace.

“Tell me your name, traveler, she said, and when I whispered it to her, she repeated it back to me, her voice carrying like music in the air”.

Thank You, Random House Publishing Group, Netgalley, and John Boyne
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,707 reviews25k followers
June 7, 2020
A mind blowing and original reading experience from John Boyne here, travelling through two thousand years of human and family history, epic, multilayered and ambitious storytelling that initially I admit had me feeling anxious, worried I was not going to get into or get this novel, but like a rubik's cube, some of the pieces began to click into place one after the other, as the connections began to become more transparent. It begins in the Roman world of 1AD, and a narrator and his family, travelling through various junctures of history and world events, clearly recognisable even when the names change in time. The story takes in a multitude of nations and adventures, the terrors and horrors of man's inhumanity to man (and women) right through the ages, the never ending cycles of birth and death, and more death, when will people learn to be wiser? There is much needed hope in the concluding parts of the narrative, a hope we so sorely need as we look at the world around us now.

This is a smart, complicated and challenging novel, captivating and engaging, but one I found hard to do justice to in this review, I am also not certain that I got everything Boyne was trying to say either. However, it is timeless, insightful and thought provoking, clearly depicting the enduring, unchanging universal nature of family and human emotions through time, whilst simultaneously so eloquently speaking to us of our turbulent contemporary times. I think many will love Boyne's latest offering as much as I did. I would have loved to have been privy to his inspiration and writing process on this most imaginative of reads. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.
Profile Image for Peter.
472 reviews2,556 followers
January 28, 2022
A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom is a story of human history brimming with mythical vibrancy as we are invited to explore the world through a nonlinear lens. The challenge is to see the progress of a man’s life and experiences from birth to an elderly grandfather over two thousand and sixteen years, plus a seismic jump into the future amongst the stars in the epilogue.

Each chapter is based on a unique time and place, with a nebulous family of different names as the language varies with region. The novel starts in Palestine in 1 AD with obvious connections to the events of the time, including the slaughter of infant boys in the towns surrounding Bethlehem, in fear that a King of the Jews was born. Death dispatched by his father, Marinus, a Roman soldier, returned home that night and stared at his newborn son, placing his hand on his head – the main character and narrator of the story.
“When he took it away, a trace of blood was left in its wake, a deadly deposit, and I’ve always wondered whether some residue of his crimes remained indelibly upon my soul, a tattoo invisible to all but the eyes of the gods, a reminder of the massacre of the innocents that was taking place as I filled my lungs with air for the first time.”
The second chapter moves to Turkey in 41 AD with the narrator’s father, now named Marek as a Roman legionnaire, under a mission for Emperor Caligula. Many of the scenes and actions illustrate that some darker facets of human existence are doomed to repeat over and over. A life of violence and predatory sex seems to follow the characters as they advance through eras, including many historical figures and events such as Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, Christopher Columbus, the Plague, and Tsunamis.

The epilogue offers a future that finally breaks the cycle of sedition and egregious behaviour and is a sign of hope – ending the continuous encounters of violence, abuse, greed, fear, sexual dominance, hardship, discrimination, and distrust.

The duplexity John Boyne creates is that we know he has thought deeply about a message or messages woven throughout his novel and makes it personal for each reader to imagine and draw their perspectives. This is a canvas to not only interpret John Boyne’s artistic genius but to paint our imagination. The multiple interpretations of the novel hail the layers of thoughtful considerations as a story unfolds with a fascinating leap between each chapter. I cannot imagine too many contemporary authors pulling this off.

The final two chapters are quite different again. The penultimate chapter is based in the US in 2016 when a new president is elected, and it may just be the end of us all. I didn’t feel this chapter worked, but I can accept the following epilogue as a means of leaving us with some hope. I would highly recommend reading this book and would rate it 4.9 stars. I want to thank Double Day Books, Random House UK and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Beata.
755 reviews1,156 followers
June 28, 2020
John Boyne is one on my favourite authors and I was thrilled to open his latest novel. What I was offered was a most original concept that I could not have anticipated. A boy in born in Palestine in A.D.1 just when his father receives an order to kill infant boys under the age of two ... Next chapter begins in A.D.41, in Turkey and is a continuation of the story, with the same characters, whose names whose names are different but always begin with the same letter. What a concept!
Reading A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom was a tour across time, places and events. The idea behind the novel is so unique that it took me several chapters to accept it. But I did, and allowed the author to tell me the stories of a man seeking love, revenge and trying to do become a master craftsman.
I am in awe regarding the amount of research of all kinds the author did preparing to write this novel about the journey across the continents and times.
A novel that will be among the best published this year.
*A big thank-you to the Publisher for contacting me and providing me with arc in exchange for my honest review.*
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,192 followers
September 25, 2020
A sprawling journey through time, centuries actually, and across the globe, a story of a family and so much more, wonderfully written as I anticipated with a John Boyne novel. A unique structure as dates and places change, the names of the characters vary, but have the same beginning letter, and the story line expands reflecting the history and culture of the place and time. A “time travel” story of sorts as the family appears again and again and again in each chapter. An unnamed, artistic boy grows into a man, not the warrior his father wants him to be. Through the centuries he crafts wooden cemetery monuments, jewelry, sandals, beautiful dresses. He is a stoneworker, a painter, a playwright, in the different places and times, always the artist, but a different art form created in each time period. This is a universal story of family, loss, love, grief, marriage, betrayal, revenge, murder. The pages are filled with the subservient position of women in history, natural disasters, wars, slavery, murders, brutal violence at times, a depiction of true history in so many ways, and the reality of human flaws along side decency and love .

Its a fascinating trip around the world through history with appearances from Atila the Hun, Lady Macbeth, Ferdinand and Isabella, Cristobel Colon (Christopher Columbus), Michelangelo, Shakespeare. Boyne takes us to the 2016 election, an event weighing heavily on my mind as I write this, then to the final stunning chapter to the future. It’s impressive to say the least. Some may call what ensues here reincarnation, or time travel. I don’t know what to call it other than brilliant story telling. It’s evident that the research effort was immense. I have to admit that by the last quarter of the book, I started to think it was somewhat overly ambitious, and it seemed to move quickly to modern day and to the future, but it’s well deserving of 4.5 stars because I couldn’t put it down. I recommend it if you’re looking for a different kind of story .

I received a copy of this book from Hogarth Press through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,080 reviews620 followers
November 14, 2022
How to describe this book, that’s the challenge. Reading it is certainly a different experience to that provided by any novel I’ve come across before. At first it confused and frustrated me and later, as I settled into its rhythm, it amused and entertained me but towards the end I started to wonder what it all meant, what it was it that was Boyne trying to say. And though I’m not really sure that I’ve gained a true comprehension of the author’s intentions I do believe this truly epic tale is one that’s going to get lots of people talking.

The story takes the form of a kaleidoscopic series of adventures: small sections of people’s lives that at first seem unconnected until gradually – or maybe suddenly – a connecting thread becomes apparent. A recognisable cast of characters evolves from the pages and despite the fact that the names are different, that time has lurched forward perhaps a generation and the location has moved to another part of the globe, these are the same people. At least that is true for a small central group of characters, and yes this defies logic but at the same time it must be so. The changing of the names really confused me to start with, but look closely and you’ll soon spot a pattern. As the narrative starts to settle we move steadily through time, taking in numerous countries and cultures. In all we’ll see events that transpire from 1 AD up to the present time, and somewhat beyond!

All this unfolds through the eyes of one man, a man who remains nameless throughout. It’s all here: birth, life, death – lots of death – and pretty much anything that can happen in a lifetime. No that’s not quite right, it’s what can happen in many lifetimes but compressed into one man’s experiences of a life spanning more than two centuries. Along the way we bump into real figures from the past, many of whom are easily recognisable, and quite a few famous historical events too. Our lead man walks in the shadow of history but without leaving a documented mark of his own.

By the time I reached half way through this book, and it’s a weighty tome, I had settled in and cast my doubts aside. I learned to go with the flow and hoped to work it all out later. And I’m really glad I persevered with it as I was now I was really looking forward to seeing how it would all be wrapped up but also dreading the book coming to an end – always a good sign.

So did it all eventually make sense? In truth I’m not sure. I think the clue to this book is in its title: we bear witness to some of history’s many vile characters and the terrible deeds they perpetrated, we experience some of the very worst moments our past has to offer. And along the way we also see how cultures through history mistreat whole swathes of people and how prejudice and bigotry gain a foothold and become ingrained. But the final section suggests that lessons may have been learned by the people who supersede the current population of this planet and that the mistakes of the past may have been largely eradicated by this new group, that maybe at last the lessons of history have been learned. Perhaps it’s a call out to people to wake up and smell the coffee, to do what’s right for the greater good. That’s my take on it anyway. It’s certainly an inventive and stirring book but one that might just divide opinion due to the very inventive way it’s constructed.

My sincere thanks to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,130 followers
August 24, 2020
3.5 Stars
A unique and imaginative story that held my attention from the very first chapter. I loved the construction of this novel, and John Boyne is a master in storytelling and but those last two chapters just didn’t fit with what went before and what was a 5 star read turned into a 3.5 star rating for me which means I enjoyed the read just not one for my favourites list.

A whistle stop tour of 50 countries through two thousand years that was epic in scope and quite a tale but what a well crafted story by Jonn Boyne. I loved how the principal characters remain with us through all the different countries but just little changes in names to suit the country the chapter it is set in. When I first read the premise for this novel I was intrigued if not a little daunted by the fact that this might be a novel that would be difficult to keep pace with. Therefore I had a kindle copy as well as the audio version and read and listened to the story. The story is so well constructed and it is not difficult for the reader to follow once you realise you are following the same set of characters.

The research that the author must have done in order to create a novel set in so many countries over 2 millenniums must have been incredible. The characters are well imagined and I loved moving from country to country with them. I enjoyed recognising characters from his past novels inserted within the story. The female characters really don't fare well and I did find that made for uncomfortable reading and yet I know it was pretty accurate to the history of women in the past.

Without going into detail I didn't like the the last two chapters of the book, it just didn't connect with the rest of the story (for me) and I finished the book a little underwhelmed with the conclusion. The story does lose a momentium about 50% through and I felt it a little repetitive.
Having said that I really did enjoy the story, its unique, extremely well written and researched and definably going to create a much needed reading stir in 2020.

The narration by Tim McInnerny was absolutely faultless and and really added to my enjoyment of the novel.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,140 reviews2,757 followers
July 28, 2020
With A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom, be prepared to be taken on a trip through time and place. With each chapter, we are introduced to a reincarnated version of the same man, watching his life progress a little more each time. It shows us the continuity of life, in small ways like certain images to the larger similarities of life events. Alternating between the positives and negatives, the winners and losers, we see both sides of each equation. “I have traveled further than you know, as have you, my son. My journeys might be at an end now, but so many lie in wait for you. Do your memories never surprise you? Do you not dream of the past and the future and recognize both with equal clarity?”
It’s interesting how this soul becomes fully fleshed as the book progresses and I came to feel like I knew him. His talents might change from life to life, but his artistic soul remains the same.
As the book goes on, I found myself having to resort to googling many of the names, to get the backstories of the historical figures. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of research needed to write this book. Luckily, as we move through time the people are more well known and less research was needed.
Needless to say, this is a very philosophical book. “We are a small people in an ever changing universe. The world around us might be in a state of constant flux, but the universe within?” I wasn’t at all sure how Boyne would bring this to an end. But he does so in a totally satisfactory, inventive manner.
If you appreciate books that take chances, you will enjoy this. It will strike a chord with anyone who loved Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.
My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,155 followers
August 24, 2020
A true ORIGINAL......

Oh Boy! How do you rate a virtually Unputdownable!....Absolutely Extraordinary! read with a beyond weird....out of this world last chapter? Hmmmmm.....Overall I thought the epilogue fine, it actually made me laugh, albeit I prefer to keep out of my one true source of escape from reality....especially during a pandemic....especially during a tumultuous A TRAVELER AT THE GATES OF WISDOM actually did that....99% of the time.

Anyway, so much good stuff here......

"Someday I shall live among the stars."

A TRAVELER AT THE GATES OF WISDOM was an engrossing and fascinating read from about chapter four on (when I got the hang of it). It's a most unusual....one-of-a-kind....read that follows a traveler and his family (with name variations consistent with country) all around the world beginning in Palestine A.D. 1 and ending with (a bizarre, out of sync, inconsistent final chapter...for me) of USA - A.D. 2016, followed by quite an epilogue that takes us through 2080.

It's an amazingly imaginative story of life through the ages with love, loss, betrayal....and murder(s). (characters do well to keep their heads on their shoulders in this story!)

There are apparitions, earthquakes, storms at sea, lots of history and historical people of the time, the plague and the extreme ugliness of slavery. There's even a bit of magic and a mysteriously respected blind elder with some mighty special powers of her own. (Whew!)....the traveler thanks you! There's some absolutely hysterical one-liners that Boyne does so well....like the traveler's brother who admits he "prefers the welcoming valley to the pillar and stones" and another young man with a very unhappy forced marriage who "wants to pluck his eyes from his head" when he sees his new wife in a state of undress for the first time and describes a laugh-out-loud repulsive (to him) marriage act....or rather non-act of "trying to force a sleeping worm through a keyhole." Oh. My. Gosh. I could not stop laughing or reading these perfect, seriously written, descriptive and all-consuming words that continue throughout the story.

And most of all, could not wait to find out, in this story of a constantly changing world and "so many lives to live" what happens in the on-going search for vengeance against the atrocious acts.....of a man who walks on sticks.

So....in the end, yes....despite the last chapter and that part of the epilogue that put me off, still a 5 Star read!

Don't miss out on this one! One of John Boyne's best. (for me)

Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,484 reviews842 followers
May 30, 2020
“Indeed, Marinus was as likely to be found in a virgin’s bed as her grandmother’s, and on the rare occasions when his advances were rebuffed he assumed the woman suffered from a disorder of the mind and took her anyway, for he recognised no one’s rights but his own and those of his peers within the Roman legion.”

A family saga of the Family of Man, humankind from the first year in the Christian calendar, AD1 in Palestine. Roman legionnaire Marinus is the father of the family in a story that opens with bloodshed.

“On the night that I was born, my father, Marinus, left our home while my mother was in labour and, over the eight hours that followed, slaughtered a dozen infant boys, the sons of our neighbours and friends, each one under the age of two years.”

Whether the story of Herod killing babies is myth or truth, is not for the likes of me to decide. This is an epic tale that transcends truth, and (dare I say?), wisdom.

Boyne has done the impossible. I know nothing about the Gates of Wisdom, (because I am ignorant) or the philosophy or religion/s which may incorporate or refer to the concept (as I said, because I am ignorant). No matter, it isn’t necessary.

Have you ever stood in a lift/elevator that has multiple mirrors where you extend into infinity? This reminds me of that. Might my ancestors or all my other selves from way back when be informing my current self?

Infinity mirror

I expect there will be people who will be reminded of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, some of the works of James MICHENER, or more recently, Annie Proulx’s recent far-reaching Barkskins, but nothing I can think of can touch this for breadth. Moving at the pace of roughly a couple of generations, John Boyne takes a family around the world to live its story in a different place at a different time.

What seems confusing at first becomes compelling reading, as you quickly catch on that the father’s name begins with M, the mother’s with F, the sister’s with A, the brother’s with a J, and so on. As I recall, the first few stories pretty much repeat themselves, with only a little embellishment, but as it moves forward and the reader becomes more accustomed to what’s happening, more details are added.

The circumstances of the time and place alter people’s responses . . . somewhat. Wars, colonisation, slavery are commonplace. Enlightenment? Not so much, although art, in all its forms, continues to fight its way through.

A truncated version of evolution, from self to selfie

The narrator is an artistic boy, “the boy” or “little brother” or similar. He grows up over the course of the novel. His father is a macho sort of fellow, his mother is loving and artistic, his sister is conniving and murderous, and his older half-brother disappears from home when the narrator is still young. The circumstances change, the names change, but the thread of the story picks up each change and nuance all the way to the year 2080.

I apologise to the author for the following illustration. I don't mean to suggest that this is another Dr Who, just that it's only the 'new' doctor we see today.

Dr Who nesting dolls in 14 incarnations

There are many things this is not. It’s not time-travel, not time-shifting, not sliding doors, not alternative universes or the matrix. It’s a bit more evolutionary than that, more like different, slightly updated versions of a basic story.

I have also not read Ovid's classic Metamorphoses, which I understand includes the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, itself drawn from an old myth, which we would recognise as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and later the more modern musical, West Side Story. I will say this is kind of like that, each story appropriate to its own generation. Thwarted lovers must be a universal theme, no?

In some of the later stories, there are echoes from the past – designs that recur, patterns that feel familiar to a character. In the eighth century in Bulgaria, a dying father recounts to his son (our narrator) how he won his wife after fighting off enemies in Cappadocia.

‘Cappadocia is in the Ottoman Empire, Father,’ I told him. ‘You have never travelled as far as that.’ . . .

‘I have travelled further than you know. As have you, my son. My journeys might be at an end now, but so many lie in wait for you. Do your memories never surprise you? Do you not dream of the past and the future and recognise both with equal clarity?’ . . .

‘Your shadow falls both behind you and before you while you stand between the two pretenders, a mask across your eyes.’

What do we inherit? Whose influence is so pervasive that we aren’t even aware of it?

This is the most layered, multi-faceted story I think I’ve ever encountered. The base layer is the Roman legionnaire, and the tracing-paper layers build up on top of it, each layer covering the bottom but extending a bit around the edges as the characters acquire depth and the story itself extends and moves forward.

There is just enough bending of reality to make it still feel real. It’s as if you could put a needle through the centre of each layer and string them together, like the necklaces one of the narrator’s artistic selves makes.

It is amazing. I dare not think about the layouts and drafts that Boyne must have designed to incorporate world history, major events, and real people. Tsunamis, earthquakes, wars, the Plague, Shakespeare, all as they happened, where they happened. Crete, Guatemala, France, Norway, England. But also China, Russia, Mexico, Argentina. Babies, elders, blind prophets.

There are more than 50 countries/places (I think), with narrative language that suits the times without being historically accurate. It mostly “sounds” right, which is the point.

It’s hard to avoid the word “universal”, but that word sounds too dry to me. This is not dry history. It’s an ambitious, clever, intelligent novel, and it’s a lot of fun. Straight to the favourites shelf, or as Aussies would say “straight to the pool room”.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House (and John Boyne!) for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted. This is due to be published in July 2020.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews690 followers
September 1, 2020
What a journey this has been!  I absolutely love this author's originality and flair.  The chartered destiny of a family is laid out in these pages and it is enthralling.  Not sure why, but it made me think of an old TV show that had a lead-in of  "Man.  Woman.  Birth.  Death.  Infinity."  It didn't take long to fall into step with the way in which this was presented and it was superb.     

The last chapters grabbed me right by the nose hairs and clobbered me upside the head.  Why did you do that, John Boyne?  It changed the whole tone of the book to me, and made me as cranky as an old wet hen.  I had every intention of shooting that fifth star into the rating bar before running into that; however, I refuse to allow it to sully the entire exercise.  My apologies to one and all if I am missing something integral or if I am reading this part of it wrong, but there it is.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,796 reviews2,388 followers
August 11, 2020
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme…

-- Songwriters: Alan Menken & Howard Ashman

Beginning in A.D. 1 and ending in 2080, this story, these stories, connected by people, place, the nature of people and the condition of the ever changing, but not-really- changing-so-much-at-all world, is epic.

As this story begins, it is on the night when the narrator in A.D. 1 is born in Palestine, although his father is not there to witness this event, as he, along with thirty other soldiers, had been sent to Bethlehem, in order to rid Bethlehem of all of the male infants born there.

But, it doesn’t stay there long, and travels to 47 different places, and times, and while time advances, and the settings change, there is so much that remains the same. The stories of the various people throughout this vary in some ways, while there is a constant theme, perhaps themes, that run through their stories. Tales of revenge, of love, of sorrow, of life. The connection of man’s need for revenge, man’s need to subjugate women, the need of all people to be seen and heard and treated with value. And maybe this is a take on a time traveling with a twist, or maybe it’s a commentary on humankind, how no matter how many years have passed, things rarely change. Or, as my mother was fond of saying, ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same,’ plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Or perhaps it’s both.

This sounds more daunting than it actually is, and initially I thought it would be a difficult read with so many places and times. So, I decided fairly early on to let go of all of that, and let Boyne take me on his magical carpet ride. And I’m glad that I did, because the message is still the same, regardless. It is a saga of all people, the human race, men, women and children, and while it only covers a little over two-thousand years, what it says about us, about what we’ve learned in all those years is what was the most important part of this. At least, for me.

I haven’t read everything that Boyne has written, but every book I’ve read of his has been original, inspired and ingenious, as well as heartbreaking, perhaps especially in this, his latest. An impressive journey through time, and the evolution of the human race told by a master wordsmith.

Published: 11 Aug 2020

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group – Random House / Hogarth
Profile Image for Anne .
455 reviews376 followers
April 4, 2023
4.5 stars

John Boyne is a very gifted storyteller and he uses this gift well in this hugely creative, ambitious and thought provoking epic that had me enthralled from page one. The story begins in AD 1 and moves forward in time through the centuries to the present and ends in the year 2080. The story is told by the narrator, our protagonist, with whom I felt a deep affinity; an artist who started life only wanting to love and create art. But, this epic is the story of man’s imperfections and violence throughout the centuries and our narrator lives through most of our world’s most violent periods with the most violent leaders. He inevitably is affected by this violence. In fact, in Chapter I, in AD 1, our protagonist is born on the same night during which King Herod has his soldiers slay 200 Jewish newborn males. Our narrator’s father is one of these Roman soldiers and when he arrives home he places his hand on the head of his newborn son who thinks (like any infant might),

“When he took it away, a trace of blood was left in its wake, a deadly deposit, and I’ve always wondered whether some residue of his crimes remained indelibly upon my soul, a tattoo invisible to all but the eyes of the gods, a reminder of the massacre of the innocents that was taking place as I filled my lungs with air for the first time.”

Through the years our narrator moves from infancy to adulthood and his story moves forward as does that of his family. Each chapter starts in a different time and part of the world but continues the narrator’s story just changing the specifics to fit the new time and place. For instance, our narrator is always an artist or artisan of some kind so with each new time and place his art changes. Some of his jobs were that of stone carver, an amulet maker, dressmaker, painter, sandal maker, and novelist (Sir Walter Scott loved his work). His father, no longer a soldier, becomes a warrior in most of the succeeding chapters.

Our narrator's father hates that his son works as an artist. He wants him to be a warrior, like himself. But our narrator is not cut out to be a warrior and wants nothing but to live peacefully and to work at his craft. But the violence around him has its affects on our protagonist. At times he questions from where the violence around him and in his heart has come. He wonders sadly, is “aggression the natural state for our species?” This seems to be Boyne’s main concern in this novel, alongside the place of women in society who are often treated badly if not brutally. This novel is not all violence. There is also a lot of love, friendship, kindness and humor and always the lovely and searching character of our narrator who tries to understand himself and the world around him.

Through our narrator’s trip through history he sometimes find himself meeting famous people of the day such as King Herod, Michelangelo and William Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth, Christopher Columbus, Attila the Hun and others. Some of these meetings are very humorous.

My only problem with this book were the last two chapters. This is a very long book at 50 chapters throughout which Boyne takes his time moving our narrator though his life and world events. Then suddenly we move very quickly to the end. The next to last chapter is almost comedic and very different in tone from the rest of the book. Perhaps it was funnier on audio. I was literally laughing during this chapter. It felt like a skit from Saturday Night Live. I’ll just say that it involves the 2016 election which was and is no laughing matter.

The final chapter which takes place in the future offers hope for man and suggests that he has learned from history and gained wisdom.

Other than these last 2 chapters this book was a wonderful ride. Despite it’s length I never wanted to stop reading, always curious about what trial would befall him next.

This audiobook was beautifully narrated by Tim McInnerny.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,509 reviews29.5k followers
October 22, 2020
3.5 stars, rounded up.

A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom is a sweeping look at love, family, history, and destiny.

Have you ever read a book that you felt you couldn’t describe properly? That’s definitely the way I feel about John Boyne’s newest book. What I can say, however, is once again, his storytelling blew me away.

We start at the dawn of time, 1 AD. A baby is born to a warrior and his wife, amidst his father’s acts of violence. The baby has an older brother, who mostly resents him.

The story shifts as time passes, changing locations, names, certain facts, but the general thrust of the story remains the same, as if to say that what is destined will happen no matter who or where you are. We travel through history, getting glimpses of historical figures and events through time, all the way to the future.

At times this felt more like interconnected short stories than a cohesive novel. This was an interesting concept and I loved what Boyne has to say, that no event or emotion is unique to just one person. In the end, though, I don’t know that this worked for me as much as I hoped it would. But his storytelling transcended it all, so much like I felt about Fredrik Backman's Anxious People , the writing elevated the book, in my opinion.

If you’ve never read Boyne before, please read The Heart’s Invisible Furies, The Absolutist , and A Ladder to the Sky .

NetGalley and Hogarth Books provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2019 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2019.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,080 reviews917 followers
June 24, 2020
When I was offered the opportunity to read John Boyne’s upcoming novel I immediately said “Yes, please!”, I didn’t need to know anything about it. I loved his A Ladder to the Sky and The Heart’s Invisible Furies.

So I started reading it without having any idea what to expect. I got startled a bit, thinking it’d be a Jesus/Christian parable, reinterpretation etc. , soon to realise that it wasn’t. Phew. It was slightly confusing in the beginning, it didn't take long to get the gist of it. Our unnamed hero traverses time and countries, the novel spans over two millennia. I was pleasantly surprised to see a chapter on Romania, with accurate names and historical context for that era. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to charm me and keep me engaged. I found myself avoiding getting back to it, never a good sign. Boyne used this device to show that people are the same, they have similar struggles, aspirations for love, safety, health, happiness etc. Jumping through time, we also get to see how society progresses, painfully slow, when it comes to many aspects such as women’s rights, war, tribalism etc. Certain well known historical figures make an appearance.

A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom reminded me of Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time. Unfortunately, while it preached to my convictions, I wasn’t captivated by this novel, it was a bit too obvious for my liking and I could feel Boyne’s presence throughout, which prevented my full immersion into the main character's epic journey, I ended up just going with the flow, without actually caring for our protagonist.

While this novel wasn’t my cup of coffee, I’m looking forward to reading Boyne’s next project.

I’ve received this novel via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks to Random House UK for the opportunity to read his galley.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,181 reviews30.5k followers
November 9, 2020
3.5 stars!

Thank you to Random House for the gifted ebook. I also bought a physical copy.

A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom is only my second book by John Boyne. My first was A Ladder to the Sky, which I loved. A Traveler was so very different from that one, and I think that speaks to Boyne’s immense talent.

In a nutshell, this book travels from ancient time through the future with common characters and story elements. It also travels through different places/countries over that period. It is epic in scope, and I cannot imagine the level of research and detail it took to put this book together.

While I typically prefer my books much more character-driven than this one was, the story served a much different purpose, one you have to “explore” for yourself when you read this book. A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom is a feat, a marvel, and most definitely an experience of a read!

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Paula K .
435 reviews417 followers
October 28, 2020
I loved John Boyne’s novels A Ladder to the Sky, and The Heart’s Invisible Furies. When contacted by the publisher to read his latest, I looked forward to the opportunity.

A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom is unlike those I’ve previously read. An historical fiction where a man travels through different time periods and many countries. The novel is original and very ambitious. Sad to say it wasn’t one I found enjoyable. However, many friends on Goodreads felt differently and rated Boyne’s book highly. Do take a look at other reviews before deciding to read his latest or not.

Many thanks to Crown Publishing and NetGalley for the advanced copy of A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne in exchange for an honest review.

3 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Holly.
1,449 reviews1,086 followers
June 12, 2020
I can honestly say I have never read a book quite like this before. I am also really stumped on how to describe this book without giving anything essential away.

Ok, here we go. I am sure most of us have been exposed to the idea of a person having multiple earlier lives going back in time. So take that concept, but imagine that your earlier lives and the earlier lives of everyone around you, are mostly unchanged from life to life, beyond just the changing of time and place for each life. Even when you have a really complicated life story. That's this book. It's the same life narrative of one character, only told across multiple iterations of their lives.

If you take away the multiple lives/times/places and told the story of only one life/time/place for this character, I think this book would kind of fall flat to be honest. The story is interesting enough, but the unique concept is what really sets it apart. And whether you like that concept or not will determine how much you like the book. I think most people will like it more when the time/places become more recognizable - which for me started at 1492.

I will say that the last two chapters (well, the last chapter and epilogue) felt REALLY weird and different compared to the rest of the book. And I say that even though this book's progressive viewpoint is the same as my own. I just don't really understand why it ended on that particular note - was that what the author was working towards? Or was that just where it ended up? I don't know.

I think what I enjoyed most about this book is that it made me consider whether this concept is something that is possibly actually happening in the real world. How would I know whether or not someone who was me in an earlier life during say the early 1800s in a completely different country, married my same husband in his earlier life and then had my two children in their earlier lives? It's an interesting thought.

I did receive this ARC for free, but it did not impact my review. If you have not read John Boyne before, I would NOT start here. I would instead read any of these (that I loved):
A Ladder to the Sky
The Heart's Invisible Furies
The Absolutist
Profile Image for Nadia.
271 reviews178 followers
May 30, 2020
With his latest novel, John Boyne proves once again what a talented, creative and versatile author he is. 

A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom is unlike any other book I've read. Spanning over 2000 years and set in countries all over the world, it might seem at first that the individual stories are not related, but they are all intertwined. The narrator might be a different person each time but his voice is the same as his life story repeats and he seeks his vengeance over the course of 21 centuries. 

I can't imagine how long it must have taken JB to research all the historic periods this book is set in, but it's obvious he's done a really great job. This is a unique book that I really enjoyed and would highly recommend.
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
678 reviews1,322 followers
October 19, 2020
DNF @ 50 pages.....I don’t think I’m smart enough to read/understand this book 🙃
Profile Image for Faith.
1,899 reviews535 followers
August 14, 2020
This is a very gimmicky book. It tracks a nameless craftsman and his family from 1 AD to 2080 AD. Each short chapter takes place at a different time and place, but each successive chapter picks up the story where the previous chapter left off, even though there can be a 40 year gap between chapters. It was probably a fun exercise to write this. I found it clever and enjoyable, but sort of pointless.

Along the way, the craftsman (his craft changes from chapter to chapter) marries (and loses) multiple wives, travels, seeks revenge, experiences reunions, has children, commits murder, goes to prison and encounters forks, the plague and several foundlings. He also bumps up against Michelangelo. Shakespeare and Ned Kelly. The most entertaining part of the book for me started at around 1050 AD when the tone of the book suddenly lightened up and the protagonist was seduced by Lady Macbeth. My least favorite parts were the chapter on the 2016 presidential election night, which is too painful to relive, and the chapter set in the future.
Profile Image for Lorna.
719 reviews417 followers
January 31, 2022
A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom is the most recent book by John Boyne that at first perusal is a bit overwhelming. A few years ago, I read my first book by Boyne, and he quickly became one of my favorite contemporary Irish authors. I will admit that I found the wide scope of this novel somewhat intimidating but early on I just decided to trust the writing of John Boyne and allowed myself to journey through two millennia and hopscotch around the world to at least fifty countries with the first tale beginning in Palestine AD 1 with King Herod's order that all male infants were to be killed to ensure that the King of the Jews would perish and ending in 2080. This gifted storyteller then transported us to countries like Turkey, Iran, Switzerland, Guatemala, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Mexico, Nepal, Ireland, China, Greece, Argentina, Vatican City, England, France, Russia and the United States of America to name a few. And add to the narrative many cameo appearances such as the like of Atilla the Hun, Lady Macbeth, Christopher Columbus, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Michelangelo, Pope Julian, and William Shakespeare.

This was a very philosophical and ambitious novel that captivated me from the beginning spanning multiple timelines throughout the world. As the story opens, our narrator was the son of one of King Herod's soldiers sent to kill the newborn infants on the night that his own son was born. He is an artist and a dreamer with visions that are replicated in his art but from the time he was a young child he was fascinated with the stars:

"What fascinated me the most, however, were the stars. It thrilled me to lie outside when the sun had set, staring up at the constellations in the night sky, drawing imaginary lines between each shining instant and wondering who, if anyone, might live within those bright patterns. In my dreams, I floated among them, a traveler in the darkness, looking down at the world from an orbit that I was still too young to comprehend."

However, the time and place of his narrative is in constant change as it continues until its resolution with the overlapping of myth and history that is enthralling throughout the far-reaching scope of this magnificent book. As our narrator's time and place of his residence is constantly changing, his story continues where the last chapter ended, giving us new insight as we journey on as witness to events as they unfold culminating in a stunning conclusion.
Profile Image for Rob.
511 reviews119 followers
August 27, 2020
A masterly stand alone novel by John Boyne published 2020.

I’ve read many books by lots of author and no matter how good the author might be there is always, at least, one of their books that falls short of the mark for me. But this has yet to happen for me with any of John Boyne books, so far.
This book is thought provokingly unique and is equally unique conceptually. I should qualify that by saying ‘for me’.

John Boyne takes us on a journey that starts at the start of the Christian calendar and continues past our current history into the future.

The book follows all the normal problems confronted by humanity.
Greed, avarice, sex, control, murder and a lot more besides but what’s different here is that the story unfolds over two thousand and a bit years.

Along the way we will meet some of the worlds most revered and loathed people in world history.

A chain of events occurs at the start of our journey but then as the story continues a few decades or centuries have pasted. Not only do we move forward in time but we move from one country or continent to another with each telling. The narrator changes many times but the story continues on the same path. One narrator might be in the company of Attila the Hun and the next is with Able Tasman or William Shakespeare. This is one hell of a journey.
To put some icing on the top the author alludes to scenarios from some of his other books which made me smile as I remembered these books.

It all sounds a bit disjointed but surprisingly it all flows seamlessly from one narrator to the next, such is the skill of the author.

At the beginning there is a dream and at the end that dream becomes reality.

This is fiction writing at its very best.

A confident 5 stars.
Profile Image for Maureen.
347 reviews82 followers
September 10, 2020
I have been a lucky reader to receive this book through goodreads giveaway program. I was awarded a kindle version.

John Boyne is one of my favorite authors. He is an outstanding story teller. This book takes the prize.
It is totally unique from anything that he has written. I guarantee you have never read a book like this one.

It is a world wide tour of many countries and different time frames.
The saga starts in Palestine 1AD. We meet a nameless man and his family and learn of his life during this time period. The next story line is in Turkey 41AD, where the names change but the story continues even though it is 40 years later. This epic tale continues for 2000 years. It is an incredible journey. And oh the people you will meet along the way.

This was a very challenging but spellbinding read. The last two chapters will blow you away.

Give this book a try. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Margaret Mary.
20 reviews9 followers
May 25, 2021
I wondered at the beginning where John Boyne was going with this book and I must admit I felt I just didn't get what everyone else could see. After a few chapters and iterations of jumps through time and realising that the same character seemed to be central to the story, it started to feel like a special piece of writing.

I imagine John Boyne had a fundamental message to convey but also gave his readers the space to explore their own interpretations. The cycle of how dark human behaviour exists in ordinary lives feels profound and hopefully, we can escape the darkness in our souls.

I would recommend this book to everyone, but those who enjoy something very different and imaginative will enjoy this one.
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