Night Train to Lisbon

( 21 )

Overview

A huge international bestseller, 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 Europe’s 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 ...
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Night Train to Lisbon: A Novel

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Overview

A huge international bestseller, 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 Europe’s 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 Prado’s life. Gradually, the picture of an extraordinary man emerges -- a doctor and poet who rebelled against Salazar’s dictatorship.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Raimund Gregorius, a Swiss professor of classical languages, is crossing a rainy bridge in Bern when a mysterious woman writes a phone number on his forehead and utters a single word in Portuguese. Later that day, he wanders into a bookstore and finds himself drawn to a Portuguese book titled A Goldsmith of Words, self-published in Lisbon 30 years earlier. These unexplained and seemingly unrelated events conspire to tear myopic bookworm Gregorius out of his solitary and unvarying existence and send him to Lisbon in search of both the woman and Amadeu de Prado, the book's (fictional) author. This third novel by the pseudonymous Mercier caused a sensation in Europe and spent 140 weeks on the German best-sellers lists, feats unlikely to be duplicated in the United States because of the book's slow pacing. Patient readers will be rewarded, however, by the involving, unpredictable, and well-constructed plot and Mercier's virtuosic orchestration of a large and memorable cast of characters. As the stories of Gregorius and de Prado draw together, this becomes a moving meditation on the defining moments in our lives, the "silent explosions that change everything." Recommended for all fiction collections.
—Forest Turner

Kirkus Reviews
An elegant meditative book teaches a painfully ironic life lesson in German-Swiss author Mercier's searching 2004 novel, a critically acclaimed international bestseller being published in the United States for the first time. He who learns the lesson is 50ish Raimund Gregorius, a philologist who teaches Latin, Greek and Hebrew at a Swiss high school-until an unknown woman excites the scholar's interest in an obscure book of philosophical observations penned by an equally unknown Portuguese author. Impulsively abandoning his academic responsibilities, Gregorius acquires the rare volume, ponders its contents and travels to Lisbon to research the life of its "vanished" author. He discovers that Amadeu de Prado, a would-be priest who became a renowned physician, had led an even more complex life as a member of the resistance movement opposing Portugal's notorious dictator Antonio Salazar. The story emerges from Gregorius's meetings: with Prado's aged sister Adriana, the stoical though not uncritical preserver of his memory; a contemplative priest with whom the nonbelieving doctor had often debated theology; the brilliant and beautiful colleague Estefania, who may have been Prado's true soul mate; and the Resistance comrade V'tor Coutinho, who discloses the "evil" act (saving the life of a vicious secret police official) that motivated Prado to forsake the life of the mind for that of a man of violent action. The nearer Gregorius comes to the truth of Prado's passionate commitment, the more insistent becomes the question he asks himself: "Had he perhaps missed a possible life, one he could easily have lived with his abilities and knowledge?" It's the age-old intellectual's dilemma, consideredin a compelling blend of suspenseful narrative and discursive commentary (quoted from Prado's text). An intriguing fiction only occasionally diluted by redundancy and by Mercier's overuse of the metaphor of a train journey. Agent: Friederike Barakat/Carl Hanser Verlag
From the Publisher

“One of the most thoughtful and entertaining novels to come out of Europe in a decade . . . a smart, heartfelt, thoroughly enjoyable book written for thinking adults, and the most recent incarnation, from Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf right down to Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, of that potent, ever-popular myth—the book that changes your life. . . . Go ahead and buy this one—believe me, you'll want to read it more than once.”—Nick Dimartino, Shelf Awareness

“One reads this book almost breathlessly, can’t put it down . . . A handbook for the soul, intellect and heart.”—Die Welt (Germany)

“A treat for the mind. One of the best books I have read in a long time.” –Isabel Allende

“This beautiful book…lit like 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?” –Maya Muir, The Oregonian

“A book so intent on answering the larger questions of existence that if readers give it a chance, it could be life-altering. A brilliant book that manages to excite the mind and the heart in equal measure.” —Betsy Burton, The King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, UT

“Challenges the reader, both intellectually and philosophically. . . . I was hooked—I read the book in no more than two sittings.” —Bruce Tierney, BookPage

“Might call to mind the magical realism of Jorge Amado or Gabriel Garcia Marquez . . . allusive and thought-provoking, intellectually curious and yet heartbreakingly jaded. . . . Its lyricism and aura of the mysterious only enhance the tale’s clear-sighted confrontation with the enduring questions.” —Tony Lewis, The Providence Journal

“Rich, dense, star-spangled . . . The novels of Robert Stone come to mind, and Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fe, and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, and Kobo Abe’s The Ruined Map, not to mention Marcus Aurelius and Wittgenstein. . . [but] what Night Train to Lisbon really suggests is Roads to Freedom, Jean-Paul Sartre’s breathless trilogy about identity-making.” —John Leonard, Harper’s Magazine

“Celebrates the beauty and allure of language . . . adroitly addresses concepts of sacrifice, secrets, memory, loneliness, infatuation, tyranny, and translation. It highlights how little we know about others.” —Tony Miksanek, Chicago Sun-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. . . . Mercier has captured a time in history—one of time times—when men must take a stand.” —Valerie Ryan, The Seattle Times

“Dreamlike . . . A meditative, deliberate exploration of loneliness, language and the human condition . . . The reader is transported and, like Gregorius, better for having taken the journey.” —Debra Ginsberg, The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Readers will be rewarded . . . by the involving, unpredictable, and well-constructed plot and Mercier’s virtuosic orchestration of a large and memorable cast of characters. As the stories of Gregorius and de Prado draw together, this becomes a moving meditation on the defining moments in our lives, the ‘silent explosions that change everything.” —Forest Turner, Library Journal

“The age-old intellectual’s dilemma, considered in a compelling blend of suspenseful narrative and discursive commentary . . . an intriguing fiction.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A meditative novel that builds an uncanny power through a labyrinth of memories and philosophical concepts that illuminate the narrative from within. . . . a remarkable immediacy that makes for a rare reading pleasure.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“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 . . . . comes through on the enigmas of trying to live and write under fascism.” —Publishers Weekly

“One of the great European novels of the past few years.” —Page des libraires (France)

“A book of astonishing richness . . . a visionary writer . . . a deserved international smash.” —Le Canard enchaîné (France)

“The stuff of fine fiction . . . has the coloration and feel of Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams or Peter Handke’s Crossing the Sierra de Gredos.” —The Morning News

“This novel taps into some of the oldest veins of story, the primal ones of night journeys, of being stuck in place, yet adrift, and confused about life's purpose. It is full of people who have lived, even as the fullness of that is revealed only in the protagonist's drawing out of their stories. I'm not sure how much this book might teach us how to live, but it has reminded me of what it is to really read.” —Rick Simonson, The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA, Book Sense quote

“As mesmerizing and dreamlike as a Wong Kar-wai film, with characters as strange and alienated as any of the filmmaker’s . . . Mercier . . . is a master at mixing ideas and plot. . . . Prado’s ruminative autobiography [is] reminiscent of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations or Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet. . . . unforgettable moments of crystalline, even poetic, insight.” —Bookforum

“A sensation. The best book of the last ten years . . . A novel of incredible clarity and beauty.” —Bücher (Germany)

“Powerful, serious, and brilliant . . . constitutes one of the true revelations of this season.” —L’Humanité (France)

“Impressive . . . a life lesson and a model of lucidity.” —La Quinzaine (France)

“Mercier draws together all the big existential questions in this masterful novel. . . . visionary.” —Volkskrant (Netherlands)

“Mercier has erected a monument to literature. And he has done it wonderfully, with the full weight of his philosophical knowledge.” —La Stampa (Italy)

“Absolutely recommended.” —De Telegraaf (Netherlands)

“A novel for people with great expectations for literature . . . written with brilliance, incomparable talent and obvious artistic power, and a wide knowledge of the human nature, mind, and soul.” —Berlingske Tidende (Denmark)

“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 . . . Pascal Mercier does all of this and more, masterfully, alertly, intelligently. . . . I’m not sure how much this book might teach any of us how to live—that’s for anyone to decide—but it has helped remind this reader of what it is to really read.”—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company“Contains style, narrative richness and philosophy . . . I read it in three nights. Then I was convinced to change my life.” —Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany)

“A serious and beautiful book about the examined life.” —Le Monde (France)

“Mercier has founded a new artistic tradition in the novel.” —La Quinzaine littéraire (France)

“A book in which poetry and philosophy are intimately intertwined.” —Tages-Anzeiger (Switzerland)

“Both philosophical and spell-binding . . . a novel to absorb . . . One and a half million German readers can’t be wrong: Philosophy can go to the heart!” —Politiken (Denmark)

“An existentialist novel with a post-modern view of the self, a well-researched taste of the magical city Lisbon, but also a searching picture of an unusual and rarely described protagonist’s life in it’s most appalling and life-affirming phase.” —Nordjyske Stiftstidende (Denmark)

“Exceptional . . . a thriller of a philosophical novel. You cheat yourself by not bringing this book with you for the holiday.” —Weekendavisen (Denmark)

“Beautiful . . . An elegant narrative of the exploration of one human being by another. . . . throw[s] as much light as it seems possible on the inexhaustible question: What does it mean to be a human being, and to what extent can we know each other—and ourselves?” —Børsen (Denmark)

“You are not the same person you were before you started reading. This is very likely the biggest compliment you can give a novel—and this book deserves it.” —Kristeligt Dagblad (Denmark)

“An intense novel, an initiation into the interior life for refined palates.” —La Repubblica (Italy)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616851880
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/21/2007
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

A professor of philosophy, Pascal Mercier was born in 1944 in Bern, Switzerland, and currently lives in Berlin.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 21 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(7)

4 Star

(6)

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(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2008

    Night Train To Lisbon

    The plot of Night Train To Lisbon begins with a well-worn premise: a character stuck in the routine of life suddenly receives an epiphany and goes on a horizon-expanding quest to find himself. But few novels or movies plumb the philosophical depths of this novel, the third by Swiss philosophy professor Peter Bieri, whose nom de plume is Pascal Mercier. A bestseller in Europe when it was first published in 2004, it is translated for the first time from German to English by Barbara Harshav. In this novel, the soon-to-be englightened protagonist is Raimund Gregorius, a 57-year-old divorced teacher of ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew at a secondary school in Bern, Switzerland, the same one he attended as a school boy. For years he has stuck to this uneventful life, watching his students come and go over the top of his Coke-bottle glasses and beloved textbooks of dead languages. But he is inspired to 'take his life into his own hands for the first time' after meeting a mysterious Portugese woman on the bridge he crosses every day to go to school. Thus, he abandons class, goes to a bookshop and comes across a Portugese book titled A Goldsmith Of Words by a man named Amadeu Inacio De Almeida Prado. He knows not the language, but has the bookseller translate for him. He is struck by a sentence: 'Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us - what happens with the rest?' We find out when Gregorius ups and leaves, abandoning home and school to travel to Lisbon, in search of the mysterious author of the book. He finds out that the latter, a doctor and a member of the resistance fighting against dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, died in 1973. But he is able to track down siblings and friends through some painstaking detective work. Most of them have their own samples of Amadeu's writing, and Gregorius slowly (and the plot indeed takes its time to unfurl in this 438-page tome) gains insight into a brilliant, melancholic man, a clever wordsmith who was yet frustrated by the inabaility of words to truly bridge the distance between people. The characters in the novel are rather old-fashioned in a Romantic sort of way, with soul-tortured people who haunt rooms where time has stopped, who harbour heart-rending regrets that from the central core of their lives, who swoon and bang their heads against the walls due to inner tumult. But such gothic cheesiness is compensated by the nuggets of philosophy revealed as Gregorius goes about his quest. This is a book that trustst the reader to concentrate, to plough through chunks of italicised excerpts from Amadeu's book, with musings ranging from why we fear death to how travel allows us to bridge distances externally and internally. This novel is a dense, and at times tedious, read. But the moments of exquisitely crystalised insight will have you scrambling for a pen to jot them down, and are well worth this long train ride.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2009

    Captivating

    From the very beginning; the cover, the title, leads to a captivating plot, style, and evolving characters. A story beyond the narrative, that forces unto the reader a deeper look into the self and our existence. A bit tedious at times, with some very minor translation snaffus. A must read...

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 13, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, translated from German

    Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, translated from German by Barbara Harshav

    This is the story of two men - Raimund Gregorius and Amadeu Ignácio de Almeida Prado - and how a book joins them forever.

    Raimund (Mundus, or Papyrus) is a professor of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew at the The Gymnasium, a Swiss Lycée in Bern, and has a very structured life. You can predict what Mundus will do because it has remained the same for over 30 years.

    One day, Mundus meets a Portuguese woman at a bridge and he thinks she's going to jump into the river. Mundus does the unthinkable - he talks to her and in doing so, something snaps inside him. He asks the woman to come to his lecture and, later, he actually goes to a bookstore and is given the posthumous works of Amadeu Ignácio de Almeida Prado - Prado. As Mundus thinks the book is talking to him, he's transformed - and decides on an impulse to go to Lisbon on the next train so he can find out more about this mysterious man who "speaks" to him.

    The transforming book is the story of Prado - a physician who was cursed because he saved the life of the butcher of Lisbon, Rui Luís Mendes, Salazar's top cop under his dictatorship. To atone for this, Prado joins the resistance and helps save the love of his life.

    The two stories develop as a parallel in which Mundus has to visit everyone who was important in Prado's life: his two sisters, his love interests, his friends....

    In doing so, the author presents his views on just about everything: life, love, religion, loneliness, death - thus becoming a metaphysical work.

    The work is narrated from the the third person point of view, except for Prado's work which is narrated from the first person point of view. This is not a light read, it's cerebral and it reads slowly. I enjoyed the work, but I was disappointed with the ending. It left me wanting to know what eventually happens to Mundus...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2012

    Very good book

    Good story and excellent writing. Best book read in a long time

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2012

    i read mystery novels almost exclusively. i found this in a use

    i read mystery novels almost exclusively. i found this in a used book store, the cover caught my attn so i read the back. i bought it. it is a great story. a wonderful change from the predictable mystery is this predictable epiphany novel. it is not a book i read in 2 hrs. if you can purchase this title i encourage you to do so and sink into this engrossing tale.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 29, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Peevish Prado

    Two hundred pages in I got the gist and wanted it to end. Prado's life is not that interesting, his questions (and speculative answers) are not profound and the people who knew him should have smacked him a few times.<BR/><BR/>Had this book featured female characters, they would have been labeled whiners and the novel one long petulant lament.<BR/><BR/>Very disappointing.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 11, 2010

    Interesting

    This book was interesting to read because i have been in Lisbon and the author describes the city really well, even though these days it is a very diferent city, it is funny the way he feels so confused about everything in his life, there are so many people that feel the same way and just don't have what it takes to do something about it the way he did. And the fact that he encouters someone that he relates to on his journey to discover himself is also interesting, i just didn't know that alot of people in Portugal spoke french so well. The book is good, sometimes gets a little boring and confusing but overall very good, i did enjoy it. Just think about it for a second; would you be able to pack a bag and take off to rediscover yourself? How many of us don't wish we could? It is food for though.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2010

    Too many words, not enough story.

    Too many words, not enough story. The guy is a looser that rejected all responsiblity on a whim. He needed to get a real life. I struggled to get through the whole book.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 29, 2010

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    Posted November 1, 2008

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