Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Night Train to Lisbon - Pascal Mercier

Many a times, our life takes a turn triggered by some incident of no significance. Raimund Gregorius , a 57 year old High school teacher of classical languages, encounters a mysterious portuguese woman in the street who writes a phone number on his forehead, on a rainy day. Something has changed in him for ever. He leaves the class room mid-way through the lecture leaving the books on the table. He goes to the known Spanish bookstore, which he used to visit with his , now separated wife, and was drawn to a book written by Portuguese philosopher, doctor and writer Amadeu de Prado. The book keeper reads the initial paragraphs of the text to him and he is so moved by these words, takes the book home and starts reading the pages with the help of dictionary.

Mundus, as he is known, leads drab solitary life after his marriage ended years ago. The only person he talks to is his friend and eye-doctor Constantie Doxiades, a fellow insomniac, with whom he also engage in the game of chess.

Fascinated by the book of Prado, and driven by the words of Aurelis (Do wrong to thyself, do wrong to thyself, my soul; but later thou wilt no longer have the opportunity of respecting and honouring thyself. For every man has but one life. But yours is nearly finished, though in it you had no regard for yourself but placed thy felicity in the souls of others. . . . But those who do not observe the impulses of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy) Gregorius takes a train to Lisbon, in order to discover the man whose writing has made such an impact on him. He visits the places and sites of the writers life, meets and interview his sisters, friends, lovers and others in the resistive movement. Prado, a praciticing doctor, was active in the movement against the oppressive regime of Salazar, before coming to a sudden death caused by aneurysm. From his diaries and other unpublished writing , which he obtains from the people he meet, the life of Prado is revealed to Gregorius as well as to the reader. To me every one of the character is trying to re-discover themselves in the process, including Gregorius.

A very appealing book and well structured, the writer ( who is a professor of philosophy), explores the life of another intellectual through Gregorius. For me, every individual is trying to escape from something that is locked within themselves. Gregorius trying to escape his monotonous life and the walls of his school where he has spent his entire life , first as a student and later as a teacher. The others associated with Prado is still trying to get out the haunting memories and the effect of Prado from their life. His sister Adriana, gets the clock stopped to the time of his death, for 31 yrs, until Gregorius set it to motion again, along with her life. Many of them hand over unread, unopen envelops of Prado's writing not wanting read them. Everyone associated with him as a distinct image of him, guided by admiration and awe for his prowess.

Pascal Mercier, is able to develop the portrait of a man, as a doctor, an intellectual , a member of resistance movement, a son who is in awe of his powerful father, a husband and brother. More so, an individual who in his time influenced a large number of people through his profession and words.

Swiss author Pascal Mercier (actually: Peter Bieri) was born in 1944 and also teaches philosophy. It is not surprising that the book has a lot of philosophical and intellectual side of writing. It is already a huge success in Europe, and has been translated to English in the beginning of the year. Initial pages are a bit laborious and not very convincing ( his sudden change of thoughts and leaving the teaching job and taking a train to Lisbon on an impulse etc), as I think it was rather forced on the reader, but once the writing gets into the real mission of exploring the character of Amadue Prado, it gets interesting and falls in line with the quite a simple story.
Night Train to Lisbon
Pascal Mercier ( Real Name : Peter Bieri) translated by Barbara Harshav
Grove Atlantic
Rs 323/-
436 Pages

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