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Night Train to Lisbon: A Novel by Pascal…
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Night Train to Lisbon: A Novel (original 2004; edition 2008)

by Pascal Mercier, Barbara Harshav (Translator)

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2,077793,191 (3.79)139
Member:bucketyell
Title:Night Train to Lisbon: A Novel
Authors:Pascal Mercier
Other authors:Barbara Harshav (Translator)
Info:Grove Press (2008), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:TBR 2012 & PRIOR

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Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier (2004)

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» See also 139 mentions

English (53)  Dutch (18)  Danish (3)  German (2)  Norwegian (1)  Italian (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (79)
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
READ IN DUTCH

I started reading Nighttrain to Lisbon together with quite some other frequent book-readers. I probably hadn't chosen this book by myself even though the press were very enthusiast about it. But, I didn't like it. The story seemed a bit weird, I didn't know what to think of it. And in my opinion everything happens far too easy. He finds everyone he wants to speak with, everybody is still alive. I really had to force myself to keep reading and prevent myself from putting it away. I wouldn't recommend it, but I know there are a lot of people who really like it as well. ( )
  Floratina | Sep 25, 2014 |
A turgid book, which has a few moments of interest at the beginning, when teacher Gregorius decides to change his life so radically that he abandons his classroom in mid-lesson. It’s certainly an exciting start (in a literary genre understanding of the concept of ‘excitement’, that is) though I thought the scene of a strange woman writing a phone number on Gregorius' head was beyond curious. At that stage, however, I was prepared to forgive this small oddity in the hope that the book’s interest would grow and deepen.

It didn’t. There’s a fair amount of travel in various directions, as the MC chases after the elusive (and now dead) author Prado. He meets a lot of people who make a large number of not-very-interesting and very long-winded declarations. Goodness, they do go on. The characterisation and plot gets entirely lost under a veritable barrage of words, and I abandoned all interest in the novel at a fairly early stage. Sometimes the prose is laughably bad, and there’s far too much telling and not nearly enough showing us what’s going on. Not a good combination.

I think it might have had a slight chance if the mysterious Prado had been a writer worth pursuing, but honestly he wasn’t. I grew very tired of his interminable book and his dull ramblings but the good news is they’re easy to skip as they’re in italics. Suffice it to say there’s a love triangle of some sort or other, but I couldn’t be bothered to understand much of the details. I also have no idea why all the women appear to be in love with Prado, as he strikes me as nothing more or less than a smug and pretentious egotist too wrapped up in his own perceived perfection to have any real time for anyone else.

Perhaps though, at some level, that’s the point of all this? That we all tend to pursue goals and dreams which aren’t what they appear to be, and really Gregorius would have been far better off giving the night train to Lisbon a miss, and finishing off the lesson he left so abruptly instead. The Isabel Allende quote on the front tells us she thinks it’s one of the best book she’s ever read. My suggestion would be that she widens her reading material, hey ho. Oh well.

Verdict: Turgid. 2 stars. ( )
  AnneBrooke | Jul 11, 2014 |
A title like Night Train to Lisbon might conjure up romantic visions of suspense, espionage, danger and intrigue along the lines of Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Graham Greene’s Stamboul Train, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and other titles that have cemented the lure of trains in the literary imagination. But this is to travel down the wrong track (pardon the pun). Leading down another wrong track are such books about books as Arturo Perez Reverte’s Club Dumas, Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot or Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind. To the contrary, Pascal Mercier has presented us with something very different.

Night Train to Lisbon is a book about two men, Gregorius and Prado, one of whom can only speak to the other through the written word — his books and letters — for he has been in the ground for thirty years. Yet the power of his words, this voice from the past which speaks to the other so directly and personally that it causes him to literally drop everything, to break the bonds of his quotidian routine, and to embark on a journey in search of an author but which in the end becomes a journey of self-discovery.

Night Train to Lisbon would be a bildungsroman were Raimund Gregorius not already in his fifties. Most of his life is behind him. He is a scholar and has taught classical languages for all of his adult life; he has been married and divorced. On the surface he has led a fairly conventional life albeit somewhat constricted, timid and reclusive. He is a functioning adult. But his self-awareness has been limited as though he had been sleep-walking through life.

One day Gregorius steps into a neighborhood bookshop where his attention is drawn to a book in Portuguese, a language he does not read. The bookseller, translating ad lib, reads the words that struck Gregorius with such force:

Of the thousand experiences we have, we find language for one at most and even this one merely by chance and without the care it deserves. Buried under all the mute experiences are those unseen ones that give our life its form, its color, and its melody. . . . That sounds strange, even bizarre, I know. But ever since I have seen the issue in this light, I have the feeling of being really awake and alive for the first time.

Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us — what happens with the rest?


“’I’d like to have the book,’ said Gregorius.”

The book was called A Goldsmith of Words (Um Ourives das Palavras) by Amadeu Inácio de Almeida Prado, an author unknown to the bookseller. This book, these words, this mysterious writer cause Gregorius to embark upon a search for Prado the man, a search which takes him from his quiet life in Bern via a night train to Lisbon.

He teaches himself enough Portuguese over the coming days and weeks that with the aid of a dictionary he is able to gradually translate Prado’s book wherein Gregorius discovers that it is an account of the writer’s own self-examination. Part of what is revealed in Prado’s self-exploration is the lucid yet forceful beauty of his writing and also a realization of the bankruptcy of his Catholic upbringing, yet he acknowledges the lingering aestheticism that survived his loss of faith:

I would not like to live in a world without cathedrals. I need their beauty and grandeur. I need them against the vulgarity of the world. I want to look up at the illuminated church windows and let myself be blinded by the unearthly colors. I need their luster. . . . I need their imperious silence. . . . I want to hear the rustling of the organ, this deluge of ethereal tones. . . . I love praying people. I need the sight of them. . . . I want to read the powerful words of the Bible. I need the unreal force of their poetry. . . . A world without these things would be a world I would not want to live in.

But there is also another world I don’t want to live in: the world where the body and independent thought are disparaged, and the best things we can experience are denounced as sins. The world that demands the love of tyrants, slave masters and cutthroats. . . . What is most absurd is that people are exhorted from the pulpit to forgive such creatures and even to love them.

I revere the word of God for I love its poetic force. I loathe the word of God for I hate its cruelty. . . .

The poetry of the divine word is so overwhelming that it silences everything. . . . It is a joyless God far from life speaking out of it, a God who wants to constrict the enormous compass of human life.


The fundamental question Prado asks is: “How can we be happy without curiosity, without questions, doubts and arguments?” He became a doctor “to fight the cruelty of the world” as he perceived it under the corrupt authoritarian regimes that dominated Portugal during the early twentieth century.

Gregorius would pursue the elusive Prado through his written words and also by tracking down people in Lisbon who had known him. We come to understand through what unfolds that Prado’s goodness and love for his people led him ultimately to participate anonymously in the resistance, his activities known only to a very few. The truth behind Prado’s death was quite different from what was widely believed.

Gregorius conducts his exploration of Prado’s life in a surprisingly forward way considering the quiet and unassuming life he has been accustomed to. He boldly knocks on the doors of complete strangers in pursuit of understanding.

At the conclusion we know both men very well. And through it all, we hear not a single word of judgment from Gregorius. But it is unmistakable that his Lisbon experience has expanded his reality. “Of the thousand experiences we have . . . ,” he found language in the end for more than one. ( )
10 vote Poquette | May 14, 2014 |
READ IN DUTCH

I started reading Nighttrain to Lisbon together with quite some other frequent book-readers. I probably hadn't chosen this book by myself even though the press were very enthusiast about it. But, I didn't like it. The story seemed a bit weird, I didn't know what to think of it. And in my opinion everything happens far too easy. He finds everyone he wants to speak with, everybody is still alive. I really had to force myself to keep reading and prevent myself from putting it away. I wouldn't recommend it, but I know there are a lot of people who really like it as well. ( )
  Floratina | Jan 23, 2014 |
Very philosophic, very "dense" book. I didn't advance at all in this book maybe because it made me wonder upon how i look at certain feelings, emotions, rationale, and in general the questions in life one asks himself from time to time.
The author is philosopher, i am heavily interested in philosophy and this book tempted me time and time again, not to read on, but to reflect on my own life, why are we going on all the time: at work, at home, everywhere. Without taking the time to question everything?
Mixed feelings afterwards but a recommendable great read to everyone who is not afraid of being challenged. ( )
  Lunarreader | Jan 11, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
Stilsikker, ordrik og eksistenstung
En vidløftig, men i beste forstand politisk roman, fra Portugal under diktator Salazar.
added by annek49 | editDagbladet, Cathrine Krøger (Jun 16, 2010)
 
Throwing in one life to look for another

Having situated himself on the disputed border between fact and fiction, Pascal Mercier now takes his rightful place among our finest European novelists.
added by annek49 | editThe Telegraph, Daniel Johnson (Feb 24, 2008)
 
De grote klasse van het fictieve Portugese - en daarmee van het oorspronkelijk Duitstalige - boek blijkt niet alleen uit Amadeu's beschouwingen, maar ook uit daadwerkelijk gemaakte keuzes op twee beslissende momenten, of beter: uit zijn analyses van de complexiteit daarvan.
De titel Nachttrein naar Lissabon symboliseert niet alleen de reis terug in de tijd, maar verwijst ook naar een magistrale, visionaire allegorie van het ondermaanse leven in een sleutelpassage aan het eind van het (boek in het) boek.
added by sneuper | editde Volksrant, Gert Jan Dijk (Jun 6, 2006)
 
De absurditeit van Gregorius' onderneming verdwijnt in dit bijzonder helder geschreven boek niet. Een eindoordeel over de persoon Amadeu de Prado blijft uit. Gregorius is naar Lissabon vertrokken en heeft zijn distantie laten varen. “Tevergeefs', mompelt de leraar klassieke talen op een gegeven moment zomaar, over alles en niets, maar niet zonder inzicht.
added by sneuper | editNRC, Merel Leeman (May 5, 2006)
 

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mercier, Pascalprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harshav, BarbaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meijerink, GerdaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pollen, GeirTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802143970, Paperback)

Raimund Gregorius teaches classical languages at a Swiss lycée, and lives a life governed by routine. One day, a chance encounter with a Portuguese woman inspires him to question his life—and leads him to an extraordinary book that will open the possibility of changing it. Inspired by the words of Amadeu de Prado, a doctor whose intelligence and magnetism left a mark on everyone who met him and whose principles led him into a confrontation with Salazar’s dictatorship, Gergorius boards a train to Lisbon. As Gregorius becomes fascinated with unlocking the mystery of who Prado was, an extraordinary tale unfolds.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:24 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Former Latin teacher Raimund Gregorius boards the night train to Lisbon, carrying with him a book by Amadeu de Prado, with whose work he becomes obsessed, and journeys all over the city in search of the truth about the author.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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