Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier #BookReview

One man’s escape from a humdrum life in search of passion and spontaneity.

Night Train to Lisbon tells the story of mild-mannered, middle-aged Classics scholar Raimund Gregorius. When, one afternoon, he walks out of his class while in the middle of giving a lesson, his uncharacteristic impulsiveness surprises him as much as his students. This break from his usually predictable routine is driven by two chance encounters that morning on his way to work – the first with a mysterious Portuguese woman, and the second with a book discovered in a forgotten corner of an old bookshop, the journal of an enigmatic Portuguese aristocrat. With the book as his talisman, Mundus finds himself boarding the night train to Lisbon on a journey to find out more about its author, Amadeu del Prado – who was this man whose words both haunt and compel him, seeming somehow clairvoyant?

His investigations lead him all over the city and bring him into contact with those who were entangled in Prado’s life. Gradually, he makes unexpected friends, and the picture of an extraordinary man emerges: a difficult, brilliant, charismatic man, a doctor and a poet, and a rebel against Salazar’s dictatorship. And as Prado’s story comes to light so, too, Gregorius himself begins his life anew.

My Review

This is the tale of two men, Gregorius, a Classics teacher who has hidden away from life in the realm of scholarship and Amadeu de Prado, a brilliant, passionate man, a doctor who became a member of the resistance to the government of Salazar in 20th century Portugal. Abandoning his ordered life in the Swiss city of Berne, Gregorius reads philosophical passages from Prado’s book while researching his life. Prado has died but many people who knew him in Lisbon are willing to talk about this intriguing man.

As Gregorius discovers more about Prado’s troubled life and the people who mattered most to the doctor, he also analyses his own life, making daring changes in his dress and habits. Moral decisions about saving the life of a tyrant and endangering individuals for the common good are raised in Prado’s book and in his actions. Gregorius makes meaningful relationships with those he meets in Lisbon and cannot decide whether to settle there or return to Switzerland.

This is a long, thought-provoking book with only a little reported action. Gregorius is both empathetic and frustrating. The other characters, and how they were moulded by experience, are fascinating and I enjoyed reading about places in Portugal and Spain which are familiar. The history of Portugal, stagnating under the police state of Salazar’s dictatorship has always interested me so I welcomed this window into the lives of people who lived through it.

Night Train to Lisbon on Amazon UK

Published by lizannelloyd

Love history, reading, researching and writing. Articles published in My Family History and other genealogy magazines.

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