Sarah Léon translated from the French by John Cullen


A Novel

Publication Date: Jan 08, 2019

320 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $16.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 978-1-59051-925-7


List Price US $12.99
ISBN: 978-1-59051-926-4

An exceptional debut novel that explores the stifled, unspoken feelings of a music teacher and his former student, and the damage done by their years of silence

Hermin, a composer and instructor, leads a secluded life near the Bourbonnais Mountains in France, composing an homage to Schubert. On a bitter January night, this studious peace is broken when his former pupil, Lenny, a piano prodigy, mysteriously knocks at his door. The two men must confront the ghosts of their past, somewhere between musical harmony, erotic tension, and revelation.

Wanderer, echoing Schubert’s recurring theme, is a novel of rare delicacy, a twilight adagio, a Winterreise, and a subtle ode to German Romanticism.

Excerpt from Wanderer

“You decided it was time for your Winter Journey, is that it?” Hermin asked jokingly.

Lenny smiled another small smile and said, “In a way…”

His silhouette stood out against the background of the snow-covered slope. Although his features were drawn by fatigue, his eyes shone. Almost laughing, he added, “Admit it, you weren’t expecting this.”

Which was putting it mildly. A teenager had left him; a man had returned.

“Well, you have taken me by surprise,” said Hermin, who was nevertheless quite aware that the youngster had always been surprise incarnate, that the role he played was the unexpected guest, the stranger passing through: on this evening, he came as a vagabond seeking shelter for a night, and that was all.

As his only reply, Lenny shrugged his shoulders. Then, casting a quick glance around, he said, “I never thought you’d leave your garret and come and bury yourself here…”

“Solitude is composition’s surest ally.”

This was as good a reply as any; Hermin wasn’t certain he believed it. “You must be tired,” he went on, pulling his friend into the Great Room, which would have seemed quite shabby had the fire not enriched it with sooty and golden-brown reflections that danced in the darkness on the furniture huddled around the hearth. Instead of switching on the lamp, Hermin grabbed two bronze candlesticks to prolong the spell. A light gleamed in the young man’s eyes.

“I remember picking those up from a junk dealer!”

“As you see, I still have them.”

“[A] staggering debut…Léon’s innovative blending of events across time and her delicate emotional precision make for a bewitching, immersive experience.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An intriguing, poetic work…the pathos of the French countryside is depicted vividly—it is a landscape of a Brueghel painting, Ms. Léon using a palette of various shades of grey and blinding, frightening white. Descriptions of the changing effects of light, perhaps a nod to Gustave Flaubert, are particularly striking.” —The Economist

“An elegant and finely focused winter’s tale. It starts out quietly dramatic and atmospheric but gradually builds and burns…nimbly done…gripping.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The friendship of two men bound together by their all-consuming dedication to music is at the center of this novel.” —The New Yorker

“Splendidly translated…an atmospheric, delicately wrought study of misunderstood emotion, heartbreaking yet incisive.” —Library Journal

“A short, intense novel…Léon’s writing is gorgeous…a beautiful account of friendship, love, and artistic devotion.” —BookRiot

“Léon perfectly measures out past and present to reach a satisfying and intimate crescendo.” —Booklist

“[Wanderer] treats the relationship between the two men with a delicacy that is unexpectedly moving.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Léon has interesting things to say about friendship and love—and about the way that those two registers of feeling vex each other.” —World Literature Today

“The German word Wanderer means ‘traveler.’ This romantic figure of the vagabond infuses this delicate and poetic story, which favors harsh winter nights.” —L’Express Styles

“This is a first novel as visual as it is musical, which reads in one go and leaves behind another beautiful melody: that of a new talent blossoming.” —Luxemburger Wort

“A story of reunion between musicians. A story of friendship between two men. A tribute to the great German Romanticism. All in a light, refined prose imbued with winter tones.” —La Montagne