Night Train to Lisbon
by Pascal Mercier
Translated by Barbara Harshav
Grove Press, 2008
“Last Train to Lisbon” was going to be read in a book club a friend of mine belonged to. The club started it, then decided to drop it. Another friend started reading it and has yet to complete it.
The criticisms were consistent: it was too long; it was too windy; it was too dense; the memoir writing was too tedious and philosophical; there were too many characters; there were too many scene shifts.
Well, I’m here to say. I finished the novel. In fact, I read it twice. What can I say? I was an English teacher. I love a challenge.
On the surface, the story is really quite simple: an aging philology teacher finds a book of memoirs in a book store. He starts to read them. The author of the memoirs was a Portuguese doctor and a resistance fighter during the Salazar dictatorship.
Gregorius, the teacher, has found his fantasized soul mate in this resistance fighter, Amadeu Prado, a brooding and tortured aristocrat, a “goldsmith of words” who destines himself “to rescue the silent experiences of human life from their muteness.” Continue reading