Leon, Sarah. “Wanderer”, (translated by John Cullen), Other Press, 2019.
Sarah Leon’s novel “Wanderer” looks at the power of one person and one complicated relationship, to define our entire life. This amazing novel was first published in France when the author was a mere 21-years-old and it went on to win the prestigious 2016 Prix des Lecteurs.
Hermin has lived a secluded life near the Bourbonnais Mountains in France and is quite satisfied with it. In fact, he has deliberately secluded himself so that he can write a tribute to Shubert. That isolation ends one day when Lenny, his protégé and former piano student shows up at his door and shocks Hermin. It was already ten years ago when Lenny was a teenager and left Hermin without any advance notice or even a simple goodbye. Now Lenny is a young man and well known in the fine arts world who wins praise as a gifted pianist. In the ten years that have passed, the two have had no communication and there are unspoken and unanswered questions—why did Lenny leave? And why did he choose now to return?
Lenny has become a pianist of genius but is now emaciated and tormented. He tells Hermin that he has definitively renounced music. From then on, two narratives respond to each other, that of this clumsy reunion, where the secrets of a mysterious departure are glimpsed, and in echo, that of their meeting, of their friendship and their musical osmosis, until the inevitable rupture. We guess and feel Lenny’s confusion. He is unable to find his place. Hermin is divided between the anger aroused by the attitude of his friend and a sense of attachment that goes beyond all reason.
We move back between past and present as Hermin once again relives and remembers his relationship with the young man especially how Lenny’s musical gift struck him. But along with that gift there were secrets, periods of Lenny’s introspection and jealousies. Seeing him now as a man Hermin wonders if anything at all has changed since he still is not ready to discuss the past.
Set aside the glorious snows of winter in France, the two men are forced to confront their pasts. While this is the story of a reunion, it is also the story of friendship and past lives. Sarah Leon writes with emotion and grace and romance. We meet two men, whose complementary talents, composition and interpretation, have met with a hidden passion for each other. Sarah Léon’s first novel is mature and alive and punctuated by glorious music. The story is delicate, powerful, and beautiful.