Monday, February 06, 2012

"O Comboio Nocturno para Lisboa" - Pascal Mercier


Not much going on as far as reading is concerned...

Read "O Comboio Nocturno para Lisboa"(Night Train to Lisbon) as the year ended and Pascal Mercier's prose seems to have spoiled more mundane readings for me.

A book that manages to compile much of modern Portuguese history, which I, for one, tend to sometimes forget was incredibly tragic and harrowing, and create a complete philosophy in the shape of one of the most enigmatic and simultaneously magnetic fictional characters ever put to page, Amadeu de Prado.

We meet Prado through our protagonist, Raimund Gregorius, a schoolteacher in Bern who has spent most of his life buried behind books written in Latin and Hebrew. A chance encounter is all it takes - the apparently comfortable life of this middle aged divorcé is thrown into disarray after a casual meeting with a crying, Portuguese girl whose few words somehow spark an interest in an unknown language.

A visit to a book store puts a mysterious vanity press book into the hands of Gregorius: long winded meditations on several topics by a Portuguese physician who lived through the years of Salazar's dictatorship. Add a couple of books on grammar and suddenly, and completely out of character, he is boarding a night train to Lisbon, a city he has never visited.

Because luck has to favour intrepid gambles such as this, our increasingly hesitant protagonist begins almost at once to meet key figures who will help him navigate a strange city and, even more importantly, to slowly begin to make sense out of the puzzle that is Amadeu de Prado: a spiritual man who rejects organized religion and a natural philosopher and writer thrown into the path of medicine by his crippled father, a judge who, to his son's embarrassment, never spoke out against the dictatorship. Because of a tragic episode where he saves the life of a known henchman of the regime, Prado too is looked down upon by his once adoring patients - yet secretly, he collaborates with the resistance.

Slowly though, a doting older sister, a resistance brother, a former teacher and others seem to help Gregorius make sense of Prado. Or do they? Each seems to have met a different man... And so Mercier sends Gregorius and all his readers on an enthralling meditation on life, personality, choices, paths not taken and other conundrums.

Slightly over-melancholic at times the narrative holds the reader's attention through its sense of impending discovery. Will we ever get a sense of who Prado really was? Or is the answer in the first page where a few lines from Pessoa make an appearance?

2 comments:

Marianne said...

I loved reading your comment, made me feel I read the book all over again. This was certainly one of my favourites, too. We discussed this in our book club, I couldn't stop talking about it.

bookworm (inês) said...

Thank you Marianne! I'm glad you commented so I could discover "Let's Read"!