S Cohn, January 12, 2008 (view all comments by S Cohn)
You have to be of romantic disposition to like this book. It tells the story of a Swiss teacher who, upon finding a book containing the philosophical musings of a Portuguese doctor, leaves his job and home to discover more about the man, and as it turns out, about himself. Roaming through Lisbon he discovers the persona of the mysterious, dead philosopher by talking to surviving relatives and friends. In the process he uproots many of the semi-unconscious processes that have shaped his own life.
Not only is the story romantic, the book demands high tolerance for baroque language. The sentences are full of metaphors, necessary to contain the even more ubiquitous adverbs and adjectives. Feelings are routinely described as "streams of burning lava" that "scorch the soul". Characters are never less than "deadly tired" and there is a constant occurrence of events "that change everything".
I am not much of a romantic and pretty allergic to pretentious style, so this book was not for me. But if you like soul-searching in unbearable-lightness-of-being style, you do well to read it. The composition is good, and, before they drown in the pile, there are some true philosophical and stylistic gems to be found!! Skip it--I would highly recommend reading Tino Georgiou's bestselling novel--The Fates--if you haven't yet!!
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Grove Press -
From its first memorable passages to the complex tale that emerges, Night Train to Lisbon never relents in its existential telling of what life can be. A soulful look into the heart of what nourishes you; a compelling and beautiful book to savor.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"In Swiss novelist Mercier's U.S. debut, Raimund Gregorius is a gifted but dull 57-year-old high school classical languages teacher in Switzerland. After a chance meeting with a Portuguese woman in the rain, he discovers the work of a Portuguese poet and doctor, Amadeu de Prado, persecuted under Salazar's regime. Transfixed by the work, Gregorius boards a train for Lisbon, bent on discovering Prado's fate and on uncovering more of his work. He returns to the sites of Prado's life and interviews the major players — Prado's sisters, lovers, fellow resistors and estranged best friend — and begins to lose himself. The artful unspooling of Prado's fraught life is richly detailed: full of surprises and paradoxes, it incorporates a vivid rendering of the Portuguese resistance to Salazar. The novel, Mercier's third in Europe, was a blockbuster there. Long philosophical interludes in Prado's voice may not play as well in the U.S., but the book comes through on the enigmas of trying to live and write under fascism." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
by The Oregonian,
"For me, this beautiful book, philosophical inquiry included, lit a fuse that snaked its way into my consciousness, sending out sparklers of light that made me feel more alive, more awake, for days. I hated to see it come to an end. What more can one ask?"
by Seattle Times,
"The text of Amadeu's writing is filled not with mere nuggets of wisdom but with a mother lode of insight, introspection and an honest, self-conscious person's illuminations of all the dark corners of his own soul."
by Tages-Anzeiger (Switzerland),
"A book in which poetry and philosophy are intimately intertwined."
by Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company,
"Night Train to Lisbon taps into some of the oldest veins of story, the primal ones of night journeys, of a distant land, of being stuck in-place, and yet adrift and confused....I'm not sure how much this book might teach any of us how to live...but it has helped remind this reader of what it is to really read."
by Page des libraires (France),
"One of the great European novels of the past few years."
by Die Welt (Germany),
"One reads this book almost breathlessly, can hardly put it down....A handbook for the soul, intellect, and heart."
by Hold All,
A huge international best seller, this ambitious novel plumbs the depths of our shared humanity to offer up a breathtaking insight into life, love, and literature itself. A major hit in Germany that went on to become one of Europes biggest literary blockbusters in the last five years, Night Train to Lisbon is an astonishing novel, a compelling exploration of consciousness, the possibility of truly understanding another person, and the ability of language to define our very selves. Raimund Gregorius is a Latin teacher at a Swiss college who one day—after a chance encounter with a mysterious Portuguese woman—abandons his old life to start a new one. He takes the night train to Lisbon and carries with him a book by Amadeu de Prado, a (fictional) Portuguese doctor and essayist whose writings explore the ideas of loneliness, mortality, death, friendship, love, and loyalty. Gregorius becomes obsessed by what he reads and restlessly struggles to comprehend the life of the author. His investigations lead him all over the city of Lisbon, as he speaks to those who were entangled in Prados life. Gradually, the picture of an extraordinary man emerges—a doctor and poet who rebelled against Salazars dictatorship.
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