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The Last Great Road Bum: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Though billed as a novel, this book is essentially the true story of a world traveler, vagabond, writer, and guerilla fighter in El Salvador’s bloody civil war named Joe Sanderson. Tobar spent more than a decade reading Sanderson’s journals and other writings and interviewing his family, friends, and fellow revolutionaries. Throughout the book, “Sanderson” playfully interrupts the narrative to correct Tobar on points of fact and call out places where he might be taking too much literary license. In writing this story of an American from the Midwest, Tobar, the son of Guatemalan immigrants, has created a book that is both a big, old-fashioned novel of adventure, personality, and daring-do, and a meditation on narrative authority.

— Rico


One of Publishers Weeklys Top 10 Fiction Books from 2020. Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence and the Joyce Carol Oates prize. One of Exile in Bookvilles Favorite Books of 2020. One of LA Weeklys Top 10 California Books of 2020.

In The Last Great Road Bum, Hctor Tobar turns the peripatetic true story of a naive son of Urbana, Illinois, who died fighting with guerrillas in El Salvador into the great American novel for our times.

Joe Sanderson died in pursuit of a life worth writing about. He was, in his words, a road bum, an adventurer and a storyteller, belonging to no place, people, or set of ideas. He was born into a childhood of middle-class contentment in Urbana, Illinois and died fighting with guerillas in Central America. With these facts, acclaimed novelist and journalist Hctor Tobar set out to write what would become The Last Great Road Bum.

A decade ago, Tobar came into possession of the personal writings of the late Joe Sanderson, which chart Sandersons freewheeling course across the known world, from Illinois to Jamaica, to Vietnam, to Nigeria, to El Salvadora life determinedly an adventure, ending in unlikely, anonymous heroism.

The Last Great Road Bum is the great American novel Joe Sanderson never could have written, but did truly livea fascinating, timely hybrid of fiction and nonfiction that only a master of both like Hctor Tobar could pull off.

About the Author

Hctor Tobar is a Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist and novelist. He is the author of the critically acclaimed, New York Times bestseller, Deep Down Dark, as well as The Barbarian Nurseries, Translation Nation, and The Tattooed Soldier. Hctor is also a contributing writer for the New York Times opinion pages and an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine. He's written for The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times and other publications. His short fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories, L.A. Noir, Zyzzyva, and Slate. The son of Guatemalan immigrants, he is a native of Los Angeles, where he lives with his family.

Praise For…

Praise for The Last Great Road Bum

[A] hybrid narrative of travel, rebellion, swagger, restlessness and indignation... Some younger writers and readers may not realize how big a pile of yellowing paper a life of writing could amount to in a world before computers and random-access memory. In Joe Sandersons case it was monumental, an enormous task to sort through, and Tobar became a ruminative Rumpelstiltskin, spinning this straw into gold. Paul Theroux, The New York Times Book Review

A remarkably juicy true story [Joe Sandersons] death - at age 39 - should be tragic and terrible, yet in Mr. Tobars hands it reads like a triumphant arrival. Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

While Joe is collecting material for his unwritten novel and attempting to find a suitable voice, he is also engaged in a process that Tobar considers far more important, especially in our bewildering present moment, when writing often seems to be entirely about the privilege of self-discovery. Joe is beginning to discover not just the relationship between the world and his aesthetic impulses, but also the bloody, vital interplay between writing, politics, and the world, with the ensuing dialectic of failure and hope that forms the subject of Tobars own novel . . . Tobars flawed and human hero stands out with surprising clarity. Siddhartha Deb, The New Republic

A sweeping story of an innocent abroad...The writing is...immersive...The authority, the sense of place, the keen eye for detail...its nearly impossible to tell where the line between fiction and non begins and ends. No matter. One of the books pleasures is that the line is gleefully crossed...The cross-cultural connection is the books greatest achievement The Last Great Road Bum does what every American novel, great or otherwise, ought to do - it broadens our understanding of America. Robert Rea, The Southwest Review

A very different type of road narrative . . . Tobar granted Sanderson, perennially viewed as an outsider what eludes so many journeying narratives: a sense of belonging."Connor Goodwin, The Atlantic

Hctor Tobar uses every method at his disposal to encircle the facts of the conspicuous gringo whose archive landed in his lap. Im in awe of the results, an alchemical amalgam of tender portraiture and illuminating context, with a voice full of riffs and references, and charming as hell. Tobar can seemingly do anything as a writer; here he bridges fiction and nonfiction effortlessly. Jonathan Lethem

Tobars stunning follow-up to Deep Down Dark draws from the unbelievable true story of Joe Sanderson, a peripatetic would-be-writer who left a comfortable existence in Urbana, Ill., in order to travel the world in search of material for a great American novel. Instead, he found romance, danger, and the dark heart of the mid-20th century...Tobar brilliantly succeeds in capturing Joes guileless yearning for adventure through high-velocity prose that is both relentless and wry. Publishers Weekly, starred review

The vividly realized particulars of [Joe Sanderson's] restless journeys are offered in Tobar's remarkable novelization of Sanderson's real life, his adventures and misadventures.... His life itself has inspired what is inarguably a great novel, a tribute to him that is beautifully written and spectacularly imagined. Tobar writes that it took him 11 years to complete this wonderful book. Readers will rejoice that he persisted.
Booklist, starred review

I admire everything [Tobar] does. Hes an embodiment of the stature of California writing, California thinking, and what I like to think of as the California diaspora, which is a double lens, involving not just those who are from here but also those who come here. Its a tension that drives the state itself, and it sits at the center of Tobars work. David Ulin, Alta

Part fact, part fiction, The Last Great Road Bum follows the wild, peripatetic life of Joe Sanderson, who dropped out of college in the 60s to hitchhike across the globe, visiting, by his estimate, 70 to 80 different countries throughout his short life. Traveling from Jamaica to Vietnam to Nigeria, Sanderson would ultimately die fighting with the guerrillas in the civil war in El Salvador. Inspired by writers like Thoreau and Hemingway, Sanderson wrote prolifically, leaving behind a significant archive of letters, notebooks, and journals, which Tobar used to write the Great American Novel that Sanderson himself could not. The AV Club

Incredible . . . This is a book you will not soon forget . . . Hctor Tobar has done far more than write a book about a quirky guy who liked to travel. This is a book about the commonality of all people . . . Joe Sanderson never wrote the novel he wanted to, but we are lucky that Hctor Tobar wrote this one. It is well worth your time. The Oklahoman

The speed and respect and sensitivity with which Tobar can encapsulate a life is dazzling...The novel muses on who gets to tell stories as it probes the lines between myth and reality. This is first rate storytelling from a writer who deepens the sky with every book he writes. John Freeman, Lit Hub Summer Preview

"One of my favorite aspects of the book is Tobars self-awareness of being a Brown author writing from the perspective of a white man. Tobar even imagines Sandersons commentary on his narrative, with humorous footnotes." Bobby Hundreds, author of This is Not a T-Shirt

Praise for Hctor Tobar
A riveting story...[but] why its an extraordinary book is because of Hctor Tobars writing, which is so beautiful and so thoughtful that hes taking on all of the big issues of life: what is life worth, what is the value of one human life, what is faith, who do we become in our darkest hour? He really brings this story to a level that I dont feel anyone else could have done . . . Its the best book of the year. Ann Patchett, NPRs Morning Edition on Deep Down Dark

Hector Tobars The Tattooed Soldier brings the enmities of the Guatemalan civil war to the L.A. riots. Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times on The Tattooed Soldier

[Tobar] succeeds in bringing into focus both the civil turmoil that racks Guatemala and the inner turmoil that can consume people anywhere. People, on The Tattooed Soldier

A triumph . . . Crosswires de Tocquevilles Democracy in America with Che Guevaras Motorcycle Diaries. Steve Erickson, New York Times Book Review, on Translation Nation

A book of extraordinary scope and extraordinary power. Richard Rayner, Los Angeles Times, on Barbarian Nurseries

[Tobar] exhibits a seismographic sensitivity to the tensions along the fault lines of his cultural terrain . . . His illuminations become our recognitions. Rebecca Donner, The New York Times Book Review, on Barbarian Nurseries

Both timely and timeless . . . Tobar continually creates moments of uncommon magic. Elle, on Barbarian Nurseries

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374183424
ISBN-10: 0374183422
Publisher: MCD
Publication Date: August 25th, 2020
Pages: 416
ABA Admin Product Details
Data Source: ONIX
Created At: 9/15/2019 06:02am
Last Updated At: 2/27/2021 03:02am