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Book Review: "A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom" by John Boyne

4/5 - John Boyne writes a timely masterpiece...

By Annie KapurPublished 2 years ago 3 min read

Now, it's been a very long time since I have read anything by John Boyne and really, I have missed him a lot. A very long time ago, I read This House is Haunted and even longer before that I read the all-important The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I knew he wrote other books but after checking the blurb of The Heart's Invisible Furies I was kind of put off seeing that he was writing soppy romance-based stuff now. Recently, I decided to put that aside and check out a book called The Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom and now, I'm stuck because I think that this is possibly one of the best books I've read this year and yet, there are some points that I am really not getting about it. I am stuck on a very divisive fence.

Let's just have a look at what it is about for clarity. There is a family at the start of the book: a mother, a father and two sons. One of the sons inherits his father's rage, becoming an estranged child from other people emotionally, the other child inherits his mother's artistic grace for which he receives terror from his father for not being man enough. These boys will separate and over the course of the next two thousand years they will meet in different times and places, in different lives and be drawn back to each other by a weird and ominous unnamed narrator who will seek to make your life hell for the last half of the book because honestly, that last half really does not go anywhere and that is why I was so confused about the tone. Especially regarding the final two chapters.

Apart from that, the first half of the book is incredible. It starts in Palestine in 1AD where we get to meet the family and then continues on through the years, people and places. Eventually we meet the likes of Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare and even Columbus. We witness different things happen such as illness, death, plague, natural disaster, changes in the state, changes in the wars and the savagery of human nature.

The book is brilliantly written and researched. You can tell that Boyne put the work in to make this one of the most intense reading experiences you will have for a long time. Everything has two meanings and yet, there is a lot of stuff that will make you really think about the lives of these people. For example: there is a chapter (I won't tell you which) where a man and his pregnant wife are standing, staring out to the sea when a tsunami rises up before them. There is another chapter where one man kills another over sacred violations. There is violence compounded by humans and committed by nature. It is both beautiful and absolutely terrifying.

“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.”

In conclusion, I think that this book was definitely on the correct mark for most of the time. The first of the book was incredible whereas about 50-60% of the way through, you can see that he's struggling with ideas and begins to repeat himself. By the end of the book, it all seems a bit rushed. But from what I did read, it was truly an experience.


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

195K+ Reads on Vocal.

English Lecturer

🎓Literature & Writing (B.A)

🎓Film & Writing (M.A)

🎓Secondary English Education (PgDipEd) (QTS)

📍Birmingham, UK

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