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Night Train to Lisbon: A Novel Paperback – October 15, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 209 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review


“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

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (October 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802143970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802143976
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (209 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'll admit that the book might not sound that interesting. A schoolteacher having a sort of midlife crisis picks up a book of philosophical essays that somehow speak to him that were written by a Portuguese doctor who died 30 years ago, drops everything in his life, starts to learn Portuguese and translate the book, and travels to Lisbon to interview people who knew the writer. The writer was an intense personality who made a deep impression on the people around him, who are more than happy to talk about him, if only to bring him back to life a little through their reminiscences. As the book progresses, layers are pulled back and the protagonist penetrates deeper into the life and thoughts of the writer, eventually coming to understand his tragic end.

As dull as the book may sound, I couldn't put it down. I found it to be a thought-provoking meditation on life, arranged in such a way that one was eager to see what would happen next. At the same time I can understand why there were a number of negative reviews here. This book has a kind of European sensibility to it that might not appeal to the typical American audience. But if you are looking for something a bit different, I recommend giving it a try.

Note: I read the original, not the translation. The language of the original seemed to me to be kind of fancy and a bit overblown, and thus perhaps hard to translate without losing some of its elegance. But I glanced at the translation and it at least seemed pretty readable.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm a bit surprised by some of the negative reviews this book is getting. What a wonderful novel, thought provoking and beautiful, about the power of language and it's ability to draw out the mysterious depths of a human life. Mercier has created such a haunting character in Mundus, his anxieties about the future and the past are heartbreaking and all too familiar. I found it to be thouroughly engrossing, one of the best written novels i've read in quite some time; emotional, romantic, evocative, and- unlike some novels of its kind- not preachy, but searching, earnest. It possesses such a sadness and such a hope... in a world where entertainment ((even the novel nowadays, what a shame)) is so deeply mired in 'what happens next', Night Train to Lisbon's unapologetic introspection is a welcome change of pace.
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Format: Hardcover
I was overwhelmed by this book. It is a psychological novel that explores one man experiencing a sudden change of heart about the meaning of his circumspect life. He finds a book that speaks to his deadened soul and searches out details of the author's life in a quest to know about someone who might have found the way to a meaningful life.
My response to this book reminds me of my response to the great novelists Solzhenitsyn or Dostoevsky. I am admittedly a middle aged introspective and idealistic person with the past experience of having my moorings suddenly cut. My flailing about in an effort to then find meaning in a life suddenly without the solidity of my belief in family, marriage and church was painful and illuminating. This book described my interior experience. Besides appreciating the echo of my experience, I loved the prose, the place descriptions and the meandering plot line. This book understands the random beauty of life and of relationships.
Although I read this book as a library loaner, I must have a copy for my library.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A German friend of mine recommended this book. In Germany, it has been a great hit. I was hooked from the start. If you like foreign movies, dramas, listening to people, and don't crave only movies with special effects, multi-sensory input, and the fantasy of multi-tasking, this book might be exactly what you'd like to curl up with on a chilly Sunday morning or night.

It starts out with a stodgy classics professor who is walking home on his regular route. He lives a life of routine, rarely examining what, why or how. On this walk home, he meets a woman in distress, throwing some papers off a bridge. This event is the beginning of a change in his life. He also stops in a bookstore and the owner gives him a beautiful, self-published book by a Portuguese doctor named Prado. The book is this man's epiphany. He wants to know Prado, really KNOW Prado. He takes the night train to Lisbon, and so the search begins.

As the author is a philosophy professor in Berlin (or so the book jacket states), there is quite a bit of philosophical journeying in this book of fiction. I loved it. I loved every page. I hardly ever mark up my fiction books but I found myself high-lighting phrases and re-reading passages. The search, the mystery, the events, the people, the journeying outward and inward all serve to make this book a modern masterpiece.
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Format: Hardcover
I found myself deeply engaged in this book, curious to follow the adventure of Gregorious on his late-middle life journey, literal--to Portugal from Switzerland where this master linguist did not know the language, and metaphorical--to new realms of self knowledge as he sought to understand the author, Prado, of a book of meditations that so touched his life. Equally, I was curious to follow the unfolding of the heroic life of Prado, a brilliant thinker and physician who juggled duty and dutiful rebellion under the repressive regime of Portugal's Salazar. Gregorious learns that repression need not be external, nor that external repression need not be internalized.

For me, this was one of those rare books which I took my time to read and to savor, for it became quite personal for me, and I did not really want it to end.
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