One of Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Fiction Books from 2020
In The Last Great Road Bum, Héctor 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 Héctor 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 Sanderson’s freewheeling course across the known world, from Illinois to Jamaica, to Vietnam, to Nigeria, to El Salvador—a 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 live—a fascinating, timely hybrid of fiction and nonfiction that only a master of both like Héctor Tobar could pull off.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
There’s no simple way to describe Joe Sanderson. Words like “traveler” or “adventurer” don’t quite do justice to an individual so restless that he eventually died fighting in another country’s civil war. In this fantastic blend of real events and invented scenes, Pulitzer-winning journalist Héctor Tobar introduces us to a fascinating, larger-than-life man we’d never even heard of before. Bored by his comfortable suburban upbringing, Sanderson threw himself into travel starting in the 1960s, searching for experiences he could transform into the Great American Novel. Tobar draws on Sanderson’s unpublished diaries, letters, and works of fiction to track the thrill seeker’s journeys all over the globe, culminating in his participation in a 1983 rebel uprising against the military-led government of El Salvador. A seamless blend of fact and fiction, The Last Great Road Bum reads like a cross between On the Road and Into the Wild. Joe Sanderson never got the chance to write his big novel—lucky for us, Tobar has the skills and talent to finish the job.