Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Night Train to Lisbon

Everyone who writes or wants to write has suggestions about "keys" to great writing. Getting started is the most important. Never quitting is next. And then - - - reading well. I've tried to read well most of my adult life and with the pandemic quarantine I've redoubled that effort.
Last night, I finished reading Night Train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier. It's a philosophical novel about a language teacher, Raimund Gregorious, who is propelled by a combination of events on a quest to explore the life of Amadeu de Prado, a Portuguese physician and writer who was a member of the 1960s political resistance against the Salazar dictatorship.
The story is told through excerpts from Prado's writings, alternating between that and details about Gregorious' experiences, incidents from the life of Pardo, and from the lives of those who knew him. All of which provide the context for an exploration of ideas about purpose, meaning, the nature of memory, and the effect memory exerts on understanding.
For instance, Prado writes, "Of the thousands of experiences we have, we find language for one at most and even this one merely by chance and without the care it deserves. Buried under all the mute experiences are those unseen ones that give our life its form, its color, and its melody."
Suggesting, the things we remember are merely incidents that protrude like mountaintops from the sea of all that transpired in our lives, regarding most of which we have no conscious recollection. But the things we can't remember are still there, shaping our understanding of the present.
That's the flavor. I found it intriguing - six or seven story lines folding in on each other and the ideas that weave them together. And the quest to learn the details of someone else's story is something I readily identify with as a writer. I have several of those quests going right now, in fiction and non-fiction.