Good Reads Review: A Traveller At The Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne
**spoiler alert** John Boyne is no stranger to writing compelling, expansive stories. Not only that, he has an eye for finding ways to take settings and ideas that have been done before, but reform and reinterpret them in such a way that feels almost completely new. So new, in fact, that it feels like you are experiencing it for the first time.
While it has yielded incredible books like The Boy in Striped Pyjamas and The Telegram Man, this new effort from Boyne, A Traveller At The Gates of Wisdom, might be his most ambitious and expansive story yet.
Without spoilers, the story is … so difficult to talk about without giving away too much. To put it simply, Boyne follows the story of one family through millennia, told through a kaleidoscope of small, interconnecting characters in each chapter. As the story evolves, the people in the family change, the names change, the setting will change, but as the book goes on you start to see a pattern emerging, that despite being separated by generations, these are the same people.
All of this is told from the perspective of an unnamed man, showing for the reader what can happen across the span of many lifetimes. To say Boyne was biting off more than he could chew with this book is really an understatement.
And yet, despite the seemingly overwhelming subject matter, the storytelling works superbly. Once you get past the opening sections of the book, which sets up the style of storytelling, you start to pick on how intricately intertwined and detailed these characters and the descendants of these characters are. Boyne covers a lot of ground, discussing life, family, love, loss, revenge, and death. Lots of death.
The difference is, unlike for the physical experience of our lives ending with death, Boyne eloquently displays how life continues on like a cycle, with every member of this family going through their own trials and tribulations.
Expansive storytelling on a millennial scale is something we have seen before, the most obvious other example of recent times being David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The difference is, while Mitchell wears his sci-fi connections wholly on his sleeve and uses it to drive the story, Boyne does something much more close to home. This is a story driven by emotion, and connection, and loss of connection. It has so much to say about the circle of life, death, and more.
This is a personal, challenging story that will exhaust you and overwhelm you. But above all, it will leave you in awe at the triumph of family and the human spirit.
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