Night train to Lisbon

Can God create a stone He couldn’t lift? If not, then he isn’t almighty; if yes, He isn’t either, for now there is a stone He cannot lift.

This book was like poetry. Sentences flew out of the book like lyrics of an old forgotten song and I secretly wished for nttl1the book to never end. Translations usually don’t work for me. Reading “Choker Bali” in English was a disaster. Night Train to Lisbon was written in German initially and that was reason enough for me to be apprehensive. But am I glad that I picked it up! It will undoubtedly remain one of the best books I have read. If you have read a few of my previous posts and have been thinking that why the hell have I turned so philosophical, then the reason is this book.

Raimund Gregorius is a teacher of Classic Languages at the Swiss lycée. He is considered as the best teacher by his students and colleagues and is well respected. One day he saves the life of a captivating Portuguese woman. The act triggers a chain of events and brings him to a book written by Amadeu de Prado, a Portuguese doctor. Raimund is completely drawn towards the book and thus starts his quest to know more about the man who wrote it. Raimund, whose life was nothing less than an immaculate timetable, leaves his class in the middle and takes a train to Lisbon, to know about Prado’s life. To know about the man who could weave magic with his words.

It is death that gives the moment its beauty and its horror. Only through death is time a living time. Why does the Lord, the omniscient God, not know that? Why does he threaten us with an endlessness that must mean unbearable desolation?

As Raimund reaches Lisbon and pick up the threads of Prado’s life, he begins to understand the man, his mind and his hardships through the eyes of people who had known him.

He meets Adriana, Prado’s eighty years old sister who had been living with the ghosts of her brother’s existence and kept everything the way he had left it years ago.

He meets Jorge O’Kelly, Prado’s best friend and confidant for years and the only man Prado could bear to be close to. 

He meets Estefania Espinhosa, the woman who had a brain that could carry every minute detail of the plans of the rebellion against the Salazar’s dictatorship; whom Prado fell in love with and had to part with because of the fear of her falling in the hands of the dictator.

He meets João Eca, an active member of the rebellion and the silent spectator who saw Prado both as a successful and an established doctor and then as a crippled man struggling with life; who had his own horror stories written all over his body. 

He meets Maria João, the woman whose kitchen gave Prado the most dangerous ideas to write. Who saw him go through the trauma of his wife Fatima’s death and who again saw him wither away for Estefania.

But when we set out to understand someone on the inside? Is that a trip that ever comes to an end? Is the soul a place of facts? Or are the alleged facts only the deceptive shadows of our stories?

The most beautiful aspect of the book is the way the story constantly switches between the past and the present, which is entwined with the excerpts from Padro’s book. As Raimund completes the jigsaw of Prado’s life through the numerous people he meets during the course of his journey, you can feel the upheavals of his own life and the transitions he goes through. The book would question your philosophies about life and would force you to look at life in a way you would have never seen it before. It would leave you in an upheaval. 

The book was a major hit in Germany that spent 140 weeks on the best-seller list and went on to become one of Europe’s biggest literary blockbusters in the last five years selling over two million copies. 

Highly recommended. Don’t miss it.

Written by – Pascal Mercier.

Rating – 5/5

44 comments on “Night train to Lisbon

  1. The book sounds beautiful and as you said so beautifully ‘like the lyrics of an old forgotten song’..
    will pick this up soon

    a beautiful from the heart review…

  2. besides your review.. beautiful as it is.. it was these lines that made me decide finally..that I want to read this book

    It is death that gives the moment its beauty and its horror. Only through death is time a living time. Why does the Lord, the omniscient God, not know that? Why does he threaten us with an endlessness that must mean unbearable desolation?

  3. geez… so many of you are reading so many books… i just have run out of patience.. sounds interesting, the book though…

    but i have too long a list to finish before hand..

  4. Sounds really good! Luckily, I’m going to a bookstore today. Sure adding this one to my list. Thanks for the review 🙂

    PS – Belated happy birthday!

  5. I’ve been avoiding this book for the past couple years – because I wanted to read the original first. (I identify completely with your take on translations – often so much is lost!) But I finally gave in and put it on hold in the local library a couple months ago. Know what’s funny? I got an email yesterday morning saying it’s ready for pick-up :)) And here you post about it!!

    g

  6. Hmmm…. So u’ve finally unfolded the reason of you turning so philosophical!!

    Yes the book definitely seems to be beautiful but I can only append it to the already compiled list of mine. 🙂

  7. Not all translations are bad. I too used to be apprehensive but after reading Gabriel Marquez works, all apprehension gone like urs went off after this….:) Seems to be a nice pick.

    • Yes, I agree with you that all translations are not bad. I think “Love in the time of Cholera” was better translated than “One hundred years of Solitude”.
      Even there was something missing in “My name is Red”. I am sure it must be beautiful in its original language.

  8. “Can God create a stone He couldn’t lift? If not, then he isn’t almighty; if yes, He isn’t either, for now there is a stone He cannot lift.”

    “It is death that gives the moment its beauty and its horror. Only through death is time a living time. Why does the Lord, the omniscient God, not know that? Why does he threaten us with an endlessness that must mean unbearable desolation?”

    beautiful lines,Man!!
    I am literally not able to take them off my mind!!
    I would be picking it up very soon. 🙂

  9. Although your review is making me think positive about this book, my past experiences with translated books dragging my idea of reading it back 🙂

  10. Hey Amit, wassup? Im gonna pick up the ‘Night train’. I’m sold.

    Hey and ur NOT dumb. hhaaaha. Ur comment really made me laf. Listen, Ive edited the post a bit and Ive declared the 12th of may as the date where I reveal the answer.

    u dont hv to come over to my blog to check it out if ur busy ofcourse, but I’ll let u know anyways. 🙂

    And hey, I like the way u write dude. Gud going.

    • Hey Anand! Welcome to my blog. Well, yes, do read it. Its good.
      And, yeah, I stared hard at the table for 5 minutes but couldn’t find anything wrong with it. 🙂 I’ll check out the results. I did read a few of the comments.
      And thanks! 🙂

  11. What a review!!!

    I think I am gonna like this book. I have always loved books & movies which blend past & present (Remember RDB??)

    BTW i had loved the translated Chokher Bali though I can not say the same for another of the translated Tagore book…abhi naam bhi nahin yaad!!!!

    140 weeks???? Man that’s too good na!

    • Thank you ji!
      I am sure you will like it. Yes I agree, such books have a charm of their own. And its written very beautifully.
      I don’t know why but I slept through Choker Bali. 🙂
      140 weeks is very good. Its a kind of a record. I wonder why the book never won any major awards.

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