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Perlmann's Silence

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Overview

A tremendous international success and a huge favorite with booksellers and critics, Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon has been one of the best-selling literary European novels in recent years. Now, in Perlmann’s Silence, the follow up to his triumphant North American debut, Pascal Mercier delivers a deft psychological portrait of a man striving to get his life back on track in the wake of his beloved wife’s death.

Philipp Perlmann, prominent linguist and speaker at a ...

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Perlmann's Silence

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Overview

A tremendous international success and a huge favorite with booksellers and critics, Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon has been one of the best-selling literary European novels in recent years. Now, in Perlmann’s Silence, the follow up to his triumphant North American debut, Pascal Mercier delivers a deft psychological portrait of a man striving to get his life back on track in the wake of his beloved wife’s death.

Philipp Perlmann, prominent linguist and speaker at a gathering of renowned international academics in a picturesque seaside town near Genoa, is struggling to maintain his grip on reality. Derailed by grief and no longer confident of his professional standing, writing his keynote address seems like an insurmountable task, and, as the deadline approaches, Perlmann realizes that he will have nothing to present. Terror-stricken, he decides to plagiarize the work of Leskov, a Russian colleague. But when Leskov’s imminent arrival is announced and threatens to expose Perlmann as a fraud, Perlmann’s mounting desperation leads him to contemplate drastic measures.

An exquisite, captivating portrait of a mind slowly unraveling, Perlmann’s Silence is a brilliant, textured meditation on the complex interplay between language and memory, and the depths of the human psyche.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Philosophy professor Mercier’s second novel, originally published in Germany in 1995, explores depression and the desperation born of procrastination. Philipp Perlmann, a prominent professor and linguist, is in charge of a monthlong academic conference at a retreat outside the seaside town of Rapallo, Italy. Each participant must debut a new theory, and Philipp—paralyzed with ennui and writer’s block—relies on sleeping pills, a local trattoria, and his memories as means of escape. Then, after translating a Russian colleague’s manuscript, Philipp decides to pass it off as his own to meet the conference deadline. When the colleague unexpectedly decides to join the group, Philipp takes extraordinary measures to protect his secret. Unfortunately, as readers journey through his cowardice and deteriorating mental state—and the novel’s endless exposition—Philipp proves both unreliable and unlikable. Even more introspective than Night Train to Lisbon, Mercier has allowed his protagonist’s rumination to bury the novel’s other elements. (Jan.)
Library Journal
It would be simplistic to describe this novel by Swiss author Mercier (Night Train to Lisbon) as one man's journey into the hellmouth of plagiarism, and yet one must. A distinguished professor of linguistics, Phillip Perlmann is in Italy presiding over a five-week seminar with six international colleagues; another colleague, Russian linguist Leskov, is missing because his exit visa has been denied. Having recently lost his wife, Perlmann has little interest in his work and is unable to produce his own material, so he spends his days obsessively translating Leskov's work into English. As his turn to lecture draws near, Perlmann impulsively turns to Leskov's text, only to be overwhelmed with panic at the realization that he has committed plagiarism. Then it's announced that Leskov is coming after all. VERDICT If only our students took plagiarism as seriously as Phillip Perlmann does—or maybe not. For such an intensely internal novel, with most of the action occurring in Perlmann's head, there is a good deal of suspense in the latter half. It is far too wordy to keep readers on the edge of their seats, but those willing to engage with the text will be pleased they did.—Pamela Mann, St. Mary's Coll. of Maryland Lib.
Library Journal
Remember Night Train to Lisbon? It sold millions throughout Europe and was a San Francisco Chronicle and a Los Angeles Times best seller as well. Mercier's new work features linguist Philipp Perlmann, on the verge of presenting a speech to a gathering of colleagues near Genoa but unable to prepare; he's still mourning the death of his wife. So he plagiarizes the work of a Russian colleague—who unexpectedly arrives at the event. Good setup, and the writing seems tart and to the point; certainly buy where folks liked Lisbon. With a reading group guide.
Kirkus Reviews
A slow-moving portrait of grief and dislocation by the author of the fast-moving Night Train to Lisbon (2007). The Perlmann of the present novel—Swiss author Mercier's first book, published in German in 1995—is a German linguist, the master of several languages, who has recently lost his wife and, with her, his interest in much of anything that has to do with his former life. Once he had been passionately committed to the world of language and the mind, even disengaging from his parents over their insistence on speaking their native Plattdeutsch ("they were increasingly led simply by the phrases and metaphors of the dialect, and by the prejudices that were crystallized in it"). Now Perlmann hangs around his apartment, avoiding the work he is supposed to be doing. All that changes when, at one of the conferences Perlmann still constantly attends, an Italian linguist, now employed by industry, recruits him to become part of a think tank of scholars devoted to questions of how language affects mind and vice versa. Perlmann finds himself out of his element in the political jockeying of the para-academic group, where battles of one-upmanship are played out with cigarette packs (this is Europe, after all, and everyone smokes); moreover, he's frozen when he finds himself called on to deliver a keynote address, finally turning in desperation to the work of an unsung scholar that he thinks he can pass off as his own. Plagiarism thus hatched, Perlmann breathes a little easier—until, that is, he learns that the source of his stealing has scraped up the rubles necessary to travel to the conference. Writes Mercier, "There was only one thing he hadn't thought about: that Leskov was a flesh-and-blood human being with his own will and pride." The setup is worthy of a David Lodge or Malcolm Bradbury, but Mercier lacks the humor of either of those English satirists; instead, the novel settles into a kind of slow funk, the literary equivalent of moping, as Perlmann wrestles with what to do next, surprised by his own torpor and reluctance. But for readers of a philosophical bent, appreciative of slowly unfolding, elegant tales, this will be a pleasure.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802119575
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/13/2011
  • Edition description: Translatio
  • Pages: 624
  • Sales rank: 1,448,913
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

A professor of philosophy, Pascal Mercier was born in 1944 in Bern, Switzerland. Perlmann’s Silence is his second novel to be translated into English, following the bestselling Night Train to Lisbon. He currently lives in Berlin.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 1.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Disappointing

    Night Train to Lisbon was one of the best books I have read in YEARS. So, when I found out that Perlmann's Silence was coming out in English, I was thrilled! I preordered it and dove head first into reading it, the way I did with Night Train to Lisbon. What a disappointment. I couldn't even get past chapter 25 without feeling like I was going to die of boredom. Maybe it was simply that the translator did a terrible job, but something is off here. Maybe it's just me, but I can't bring myself to finish reading it. Such a shame.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 14, 2012

    I really did think I was going to enjoy this book as, for the mo

    I really did think I was going to enjoy this book as, for the most part, it is well written and engaging. However, I gave up on page 189 after finding two absurd typographical errors within a few pages; the first is a sentence something like 'him... suppose him' and the second is the word 'threw' where it should have been 'through'. These were by no means the only occurrences of typos, misprints, or instances of clumsy translation. The main fault with this book is that it is far too long - Ideas and circumstances repeat themselves too often to no advantageous effect.

    What has happened to the idea of proof reading a book before printing it? I find all kinds of errors (incorrect word order, missing or extra words) at one place or another in about half the books I read (and I read a lot).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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