Spanish author and poet Andres Neuman’s new novel, “Traveler of the Century,” tells a story about forbidden romance, the search for identity and the metaphorical link between love and literary translations. Set in the fictional 19th century town of Wandernburg, Germany, the book follows the protagonist Hans as he meets an odd assortment of characters and falls in love.
Born in Argentina, Neuman has lived in Spain for more than half his life. He said he wanted to write about Europe because it’s his “second shore.” “So I always say that I’ve got two passports, but as well two foreigner feelings,” Neuman said. His mother was a violinist in Argentina and fond of German composers. Neuman said he learned those songs by heart and wrote this novel as homage to her.
Neuman said he cried while writing about the death of one of his characters, the organ grinder. But he said he shouldn’t have cried, comparing writers with actors who need to control their feelings. Through this, Neuman said he learned how fictional characters could become like real people. “When you kill a character, you’re killing life. So you have to be very careful and respectful with that,” Neuman said.
Hans, a mysterious traveler, falls in love with Sophie Gottlieb, who is engaged to an aristocrat in an era when family controlled women. Neuman said Sophie’s character was inspired in the beginning by all the very first generation of European feminists. They fall in love by translating poems, with a dream of building an infinite anthology of Western poetry, which Neuman calls “impossible.”
Originally written in Spanish, this is Neuman’s first book that was translated into English. Neuman played an editorial role in the process and said he was very amused by the male and female pair of translators because they reflected the book’s plot. He said translating a text is not only about transferring words into another language, but also about sometimes radically changing the connotations and nuances.
You can read the full transcript here.
Excerpted from “Traveler of the Century” by Andrés Neuman, published in May 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright 2009 by Santillana Ediciones Generales. Translation copyright 2012 by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia. All rights reserevd: