A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom

Author(s): John Boyne

Novel | Read our reviews!

Some stories are universal. Some are unique. They play out across human history, and time is the river that flows through them. This story starts with a family. For now, it is a father and a mother with two sons. One with his father's violence in his blood. One with his mother's artistry. One leaves. One stays. They will be joined by others whose deeds will determine 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 Palestine at the dawn of the first millennium and journeying across fifty countries to a life amongst the stars in the third, the world will change around them, but their destinies remain the same. It must play out as foretold. From the award-winning author of The Heart's invisible Furies comes The Shadow of My Shadow, an epic tale of humanity.

John Boyne has written the quintessential everyman’s novel. It has an intriguing premise: spanning all history with one man’s story at its centre ranging in time from AD 1 to 2016 and following a life from birth to an unknown future self (the epilogue / future self is intriguing). We meet our traveller through time in the opening pages, at his birth. It’s Palestine AD 1 and he is the second son to be born to a proud, violent father and a caring, slightly unorthodox mother. As you can imagine, the second son cannot please his father no matter his significant creative and imaginative talents that range (over time) from young artist to gifted craftsman (in various fields) to a spinner of words in many forms. A father that would rather rage against the world as soldier and womaniser with unfettered pleasure sees little use in the talents of his son and bemoans the fact that his first son has fled the home for greater adventures leaving him the hopeless second. This is a novel with family at its centre — firstly the child and his family, then later the man and his wives and children. Much misery, as well as joy, befalls our hero, and revenge or justice plays a large role in this man’s journey. There are some wonderful explorations and descriptions of place and the time. And highly enjoyable are the cameos of the famous and infamous dotted throughout the book. Our man in his various guises works on the Buddhas in Afghanistan, he is an assistant to Michelangelo, he sails with Abel Tasman and shares a jail with Ned Kelly. Each chapter propels us through time in about 50-year leaps: in the first part, entitled 'A Traveller in the Dark', we start in Palestine, find ourselves in Turkey, AD 41, then on to Romania AD 105 and Iran AD 152 and through to Italy AD 169. It’s a fascinating way to pin some of the greater historical moments into a work of fiction, and it is a work of fiction (licence can be allowed with the ‘facts’ as long as it stays convincing). For this is a novel where you are propelled forward by your involvement in this man’s plight, in his loves and hates, in his wanderings to find a sense of peace in either new places or new relationships, his joy of having a child, his pleasure in success, and his anger and sorrow when the fates strike him down. There are some wonderful moments in the book that keep you hooked firmly in this story. Italy, AD 169 — being forced as a child to be the Emperor’s son’s playmate to the extent of being locked in with him when he has the plague to keep him company. AD 260, Somalia — after finding himself captured during battle and becoming a slave. In Switzerland AD 214 — he finds himself in the opposite position: a slave owner. This juxtaposition balances the conflicting aspects of our traveller. In the fifth part, Boyne manages to place the action in a series of monasteries and chapels. Devastated by a mishap in his life, the man finds refuge in these peaceful places and uses his skills to pay his way. In Ireland, 800 AD, he is an illuminator; in Indonesia, AD 907, a sculptor. And so this pattern continues as he seeks the answers to his life’s misfortunes and seeks his cousin who has wronged him. The confrontation when it comes is not what he expects. Across time and place, he finds his brother, takes opportunities, seeks a family of his own, and encounters actions that harm him and others. A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom is ambitious, and like all of John Boyne’s novels, it is great story-telling: clever and inventive.   


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Product Information

General Fields

  • : 9780857526205
  • : Transworld Publishers Limited
  • : Transworld Publishers Limited
  • : 0.537
  • : May 2019
  • : 3.2 Centimeters X 15.3 Centimeters X 23.4 Centimeters
  • : July 2020
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : John Boyne
  • : Paperback
  • : en
  • : 823.92
  • : 368