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Night Train to Lisbon

March 22, 2011

The 31st of this year’s January was a memorable day for me. On that special day I started reading the novel Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier. It was a present from a dear friend who wanted me to enjoy a kind of reading that is relatively devoid of focus on wars and conflicts as, for instance, it is the case in The Kite Runner.

I am writing this post to tell that friend and tell you all that I found Night Train to Lisbon a compulsive reading. The sentences had such a hypnotic power on me that once I started reading, this novel was very hard to put down. Pascal Mercier has captured the essence, both good and bad, strong and weak, of the human nature. I have read it and re-read many of its chapters and can think of no other novel for the last couple of years, that has so much moved me or stimulated in me so much reflection on the human soul.

The next is one of my favourite notes written by Amadeu de Prado, the Portuguese doctor whose words inspire the fascinating journey to Lisbon.


” …. Is the same with others: that they don’t recognize themselves in their outside? That the reflection seems like a stage set full of crass distortion? That, with fear, they note a gap between the perception others have of them and the way they experience themselves? That the familiarity of inside and the familiarity of outside can be so far apart that they can hardly be considered familiarity with the same thing?

The distance from others, where this awareness moves us, becomes even greater when we realize that our outside form doesn’t appeare to others as to our own eyes. Humans are not seen like houses, trees and stars. They are seen with the expectation of being able to encounter them in a specific way and thus making them a part of our own inside. Imagination trims them to suit our own wishes and hopes, but also to confirm our own fears and prejudices. We don’t even get safely and impartially to the outside contours of another. On the way, the eye is diverted and blurred by all the wishes and fantasies that make us the special, unmistakable human beings we are. Even the outside world of an inside world is still a piece of our inside world, not to mention the thoughts we make about the inside world of strangers and that are so uncertain and unstable that they say more about oursleves than about others…we are doubly strangers, for between us there is not only the deceptive outside world, but also the delusion that exists of it in every inside world.

Is it an evil, this strangeness and distance? Would a painter have to portoray us with outstreched arms, desperate in the vain attempt to reach the other? Or should a picture show us in a pose expressing relief that there is this double barrier that is also a protective wall? Should we be grateful for the protection that guards us from the stangeness of one another? And for the freedom it makes possible? How would it be if we confronted each other unprotected by the double refration represented by the interpreted body? If, because nothing separating and adulterating stood between us, we tumbled into each other?”


The protagonist in Night Train to Lisbon is Raimund Gregorius, a teacher of ancient languages in Switzerland. Gregorius has mostly spent a life of solitary routine, but a chance encounter with a Portuguese woman intrigues him about her language. He stops in a secondhand bookstore and finds an old book by Amadeu Prado, a Portuguese doctor. The shop owner translates the first pages for him and Gregorius is so taken by the book that he quits his job and takes the night train to Lisbon. When he arrives in Lisbon, he finds that Prado is dead. Gregorius tracks down every piece of information and contact he can find about Prado, coming to believe that Prado led a life that Gregorius wishes he had led. In researching Prado’s life, he also helps bring resolution to those who had known and loved him.

Pascal Mercier is a professor of philosophy who writes under a pen name. His real name is Peter Bieri and, obviously, a person of intelligence and erudition, qualities that are evident throughout this novel.

Pascal Mercier’s novel has received positive reviews with the San Diego Union-Tribune saying, “But while Night Train to Lisbon does require active reading (even thinking), it rewards readers with the generous gift of beautiful writing and some unforgettable images: the burned, shaking hands of a torture survivor, the specific blue of Prado’s house, the unbearable weight of new eyeglasses, the rattle and hum of an overnight train through an unfamiliar country. The reader is transported and, like Gregorius, better for having taken the journey.”

For those who want a good, intelligent read that’s an excellent analysis of character and personality and poses some fascinating questions about life and love, you won’t go wrong with Night Train To Lisbon.


From → LIFE

  1. “an excellent analysis of character and personality”
    Haha, that is so you 🙂

    I still owe you a copy of 1984 😉

    • You know me 😀

      Yessss! & I have a whole bunch of good books and novels for you.. AFTER your long-awaited graduation!

  2. This Book for my List of Book Reading in 2011 when i Read more for this book I loved it ! ” A very Philosophical Book ! ” if any one one want to asked imagine what would happen if you questioned everything about your life and started a new existence. this book written by a Portuguese doctor as a tool for ” self-discovery ”

    if any one want to know more for prompted to think more deeply about life . and about human nature in general You must This Book !

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