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Perlmann's Silence Hardcover – January 3, 2012

3.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Invited to speak at an international conference, renowned linguist Philip Perlmann finds himself so paralyzed by grief over his wife’s recent death that he can scarcely write a word. When he solves his problem by plagiarizing from a manuscript by a brilliant foreign colleague, he finds himself trapped in an impossible dilemma after the colleague unexpectedly decides to attend the conference. Mercier draws his readers into this dilemma in a narrative taut with lethal intentions, rich with literary and linguistic implications. The implications intensify as Perlmann weighs every syllable exchanged with his now-threatening but still naive and trusting colleague, striving to keep his scholarly theft hidden, his reputation unscathed, yet hating his own deviousness. As they share agonizing days with the protagonist, readers plumb the depths of a mind endowed with rare power, a heart lacerated by tempestuous emotions. On the tightrope Perlmann walks—balancing guilt with self-justification, perilous dangers with desperate hopes—readers gain a perspective on how words unite and divide their speakers, how meanings and motives metamorphose in crossing the boundary of translation. That Mercier’s own acclaimed novel has itself traversed the boundary from German to English—thanks to the gifts of translator Whiteside—will occasion considerable gratitude among American readers. --Bryce Christensen


Praise for Perlmann’s Silence

Perlmann’s Silence is a self-reflexive, analytically philosophical thriller and action novel in the best artistic tradition. . . [Mercier’s] immense outlay of knowledge and reflection always cuts through to a precise observation even of everyday events.”—Friedmar Apel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany)

“A poignant read, and so hauntingly realistic. . . . A colossal literary artwork”— Südkurier (Germany)

“An intelligent and considered novel. . . . Entertaining yet erudite.”— Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany)

Praise for Night Train to Lisbon

“A mother lode of insight. . . . Mercier has captured a time in history—one of those times—when men must take a stand.”— Valerie Ryan, The Seattle Times

“Darkly dreamlike . . . More than any mystery . . . since, say, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Night Train to Lisbon challenges the reader, both intellectually and philosophically.”—Bruce Tierney, BookPage

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

“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.” —Tony Miksanek, Chicago Sun-Times

“One reads this book almost breathlessly, can hardly put it down. . . . A handbook for the soul, intellect, and heart.”— Gunther Nickel, Die Welt (Germany)

“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

“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

“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

“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

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Tra edition (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802119573
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802119575
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,311,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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For a book where, on the surface, nothing happens, this was surprisingly a page-turner. What was it about? Linguistic theory? Murder? Suicide? Slow and painful breakdown? The follies of academia? Perlmann's revelation of himself and of others is an intricate and fascinating dance. The workings of a mind in both intellectual and emotional spheres is tragicomedy: you feel the pain but you can't avoid laughter of one kind or another. Events may be seen through Perlmann's eyes, but he's under the microscope also. It's a book that has stayed in my mind beyond the reading of the last page.
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A sometimes convoluted but, nonetheless, spellbinding novel of the inner panic, fear and anguish of a prominent German scholar overcome by the obsessive anxiety of presenting a scientific paper to a high-powered panel of colleagues in modern day Italy. This is neither a page-turner nor a thriller. To the contrary, it can't be rushed. It requires an investment of time and needs to be savored.

What you will ultimately find is the delicious tale of a neurotic professor beset by memory lapses, ennui, crippling self-doubt, and short-lived bouts of elation as he tries to mobilize his thoughts and gain some coherence in the days leading up to his, "Moment on the stage." Literary curveballs abound. The overall effect is oddly humorous and even hysterical. It is embellished by the academic competition and confrontation among the assorted scholars as the tension inexorably mounts.

Truth be told, all of this contributes to a deeply satisfying and dynamic novel of obsessive self-analysis and ruminative introspection. As an aside, some the narrative deals with higher order philosophical abstractions---some which I actually found myself starting to grasp. There was, however, some unresolved confusion and ambiguity at the end, when we try to understand the perspective of a Russian academic, as he describes how he thinks his manuscript went missing. In fact, there are several seemingly contradictory possibilities embedded in his final letter. And so, if anyone can clarify what the Russian actually concluded, please do so in a comment to this review.
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The book begins very promising establishing the main character, very flawed, nevertheless is with obsessively contemplative internal dialogue about memory, time, language, and self. I found many theoretical reflections interesting and philosophical and spend a long time, trying to really understand them. Perlmann's internal struggles are worthy of and consistent with his character and the subject matter and the stories are structured with good flow of time between present and past. However, from the part 2 and on, the story disintegrates and the Perlmann's behaviors dramatically deviate from his well established identity. He turns into a petty, insecure, spiteful academic/premeditated homicidal sociopath, and his internal struggle loses the philosophical depth. I even felt that he became rather a comical figure, more like George Castanza character from Seinfeld, however, the serious tone of the book does not allow the reader to enjoy that kind of twisted dark humor which would have been at least entertaining. Then the character changes again in the last part, and it is all about his effort to make things right. (no spoiler), and in detail about obstacles he faces. After over 600 pages of rather incoherent, repetitious, neurotic details about Perlmann feels rather excessive and meaningless, and the last sentence of the book describes how I feel about this book "nothing had happened".
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I am having problem reading about Perlman.the book is big and heavy (small hands).
2008 I read the Night Train to Lisbon tre times I enjoyed it very much and gave it to a friend who has BA in latin and greek.
The new book about Perlman is difficult to like.it is like reading a psyciatric journal.
He is in sorrow after his wife died but selfish? What I liked was made an effort to change a room.
I understand the neichbors playing Bach an couging. I read something Mercier has written in german
selberkenntis " why so valuable?
I will try reading Perlman soon in a better mood.
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I was so excited to find a new Pascal Mercier book but this one was an utter disappointment. First of all the main character is boring beyond words
and a complete loser as well. Who wants to read about a guy having junior high period angst when he's forty? Plus it is so pedantic it was a slog to get as far as I did. I suppose college professors might find the people and the gathering interesting but not me. I gave it a real shot hoping for something to make it worth the work but never found it.
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Wow. This is very long. Initially it seems a little confusing, kind of existential thought, but then story evens out a little more. Interesting oh the min works in this main character. Like a silent stream of consciousness. Very deep. Not a quick read and difficult for average reader, I think.
Still I thought it was excellent. True literature.
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I bought this because of a very positive brief review in The New Yorker and because Alberto Manguel was also very positive about it (in The Guardian), seeing is as "reaching greater depths" than Mercier's earlier and very well-received Night Train to Lisbon.) The opening, with the aging Perlmann made more insecure both by the coming of age and by the detachment he has come to feel, after the death of his wife, from his long academic career, is very good at capturing the performance anxiety of an academic (both in the classroom and, more specifically here, in the context of a conference). Perlmann is a professor of linguistics able to read and express himself in several tongues, and the early pages pick up on the familiar themes of the limits of language, what happens to the personality when the individual expresses himself in different languages, etc. These are developed more particularly in terms of the construction of self and, especially, memory. See, for example:

for Leskov [the Russian linguist whose work Perlmann is translating] there could be no such solid core, a constant that was taken for granted in all narrative appropriation, because what applied to one piece of memory applied to all. If he was ready to claim that a self, a person in the psychological sense of the word, had no solid core and nothing whatsoever in terms of substance, but was a web of stories, constantly glowing and subject to a constant process of relayering--a little like the structure of cotton candy at a carnival, except without material?
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