TITLE: NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON
AUTHOR: PAUL MERCIER
I had to think long and hard before deciding how to mark this book. But in the end it had to be a 5, since it is one of those exceptional books unlike any other book I've ever read; because a book that compels me to mark pages with 9 sticky notes (see the quotes later) has to be special.
Having said that, this book was anything but a fast read, and who-ever proof read the book ought to be shot. And although my German is far too limited to know exactly how and why the translation went wrong, I couldn't help feeling that the translator had a struggle with this book at times, and in some instances lost the struggle.
The story centers around Raimund Gregorius, a scholar and teacher of classic languages who has led a predictable and uneventful life for 30 years.
Then one morning, on his way to teach his classes in Bern, he meets a Portuguese woman who intrigues him. Later on the same day he discovers a book written by a Portuguese aristocrat, Amadue de Prado, in a book shop.
Next thing he knows he amazes both himself and his students by walking out of his classroom during a class.
Not knowing any Portuguese he still starts translating the book and is so fascinated by De Prado's thoughts that he feels compelled to take the night train to Lisbon to find out more about the author.
His journey of discovery leads to him meeting fascinating people and an insight in to De Prado, Portugal and the rebellion against dictator Salazar. It also leads him to insights into himself and a re-assessment of his life.
In the end I was left wondering how many similarities there really were between the two men, and in how far the whole journey was set off by a developing neurological problem (one of the similarities).
This is a book that will stay with me for quite a while. In fact, I dreamt about it last night.
"But those who do not observe the impulses of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy."
"To be able to part from something (...) you had to confront it in a way that created internal distance."
"There were people who read and there were the others. Whether you were a reader or a non-reader - it was quickly noted. There was no greater distinction between people."
"It's an unrecognized form of stupidity (...), you have to forget the cosmic meaninglessness of all our acts to be able to be vain and that's a glaring form of stupidity."
"So, the fear of death might be described as the fear of not being able to become whom one had planned to be."
"Prado had asked himself (...) if the soul was a place of facts or whether the alleged facts were only the deceptive shadows of stories we tell ourselves, about others and about ourselves."
"Only an aneurysm. It can burst any minute, any minute, how should I live with this time bomb in my brain."
"Often it was others who complained that somebody was no longer himself. Perhaps this is what it really meant: He's no longer as we would like him to be?"
"Life is not what we live; it is what we imagine living."