Tag-Archive for ◊ courage ◊

• Sunday, March 29th, 2015

Peter Bieri, better known by his pseudonym, Pascal Mercier, was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1944. He studied philosophy, English studies and Indian studies in both London and Heidelberg, where he obtained a doctoral degree in 1971 from Dieter Henrich and Ernst Tugendhart for his work on the philosophy of time and in 1981 became an assistant scientist at the philosophical seminar at the University of Heidelberg.

At the German Research Foundation he studied: philosophy of mind, epistemology and ethics. From 1990 to 1993 he worked as a professor of history of philosophy at the University of Marburg in Germany and in 1993 he taught philosophy at the Free University in Berlin.

In the late eighties Bieri started his literary career. He wrote a few books but the breakthrough came with his third book: Night Train To Lisbon, published in German in 2004 and in English in 2007. The novel was translated into many languages, sold millions of copies and was made into a film in 2013.

The main character in Night Train To Lisbon is the learned professor, Raimund Gregorius. He is an only child born to a humble family. His father was a museum guard and his mother a charwoman. Gregorius, who is called Mundus or Papyrus by his students and colleagues, is now in his late fifties, living on his own after his divorce from Florence, a former student, nineteen years earlier. He is a philologist, teaching Latin, Greek and Hebrew with high competence at a Swiss high school in his native city, Bern, where he was himself once a student.

Gregorius is devoted to his work. He leads a dull, solitary life ruled by an immovable self-gratifying routine, until one day on his way to school he rescues an enigmatic Portuguese woman standing on a bridge. From now on nothing will be the same again for Gregorius. He finds himself going to the Spanish bookshop in Hirschengraben where he used to buy books for his former wife for her dissertation on San Juan de la Cruz, in the hope of seeing the Portuguese woman there again. By chance he discovers a Portuguese book with an appealing title: “A Goldsmith Of Words” written by Amadeu de Prado which appeared as a private publication under the name “Cedros Vermelhos” in 1975, two years after the author’s death.

Intrigued by this book, Gregorius asks the bookshop keeper to read and translate some passages from Prado’s notes which he thought, upon hearing them, were personally addressed to him alone on this very peculiar day. He is awestruck by what he hears. He is fascinated by the author. He feels a whole new horizon opening for him. He now abandons his students, leaving behind on the classroom desk even his briefcase with his textbooks that had accompanied him all his life, and walks away.

Once in his apartment, Gregorius looks at Prado’s photo and translates a couple of texts from his book from Portuguese to his own language with the help of his new dictionary and grammar book. Gregorius ponders a while before making his mind up to take a train to Lisbon.

The story is set in motion and Gregorius’ whole life is now put into question. He feels the need to know everything about Prado’s life, about his book, which he will diligently continue to translate. He wants to learn the Portuguese language in order to immerse himself into this bewildering adventure he is about to embark on. Gregorius is not aware that he is undertaking a long quest for self discovery while trying to discover who is the mysterious aristocrat, Amadeu de Prado.

He feels the liberating satisfaction of knowing that for the first time he is about to take his life into his own hands. He realises all of a sudden that at the age of fifty-seven there isn’t much time left to live and he therefore strongly senses the need to change his existence to something different.

Once in Lisbon, Gregorius is determined to start his researches without delay. He meets some people who help him find acquaintances, family and friends close to Prado. One thing leading to another, he breaks his spectacles, goes to the ophthalmologist, Mariana Eça, who introduces him to her uncle Joao Eça who was a resistance fighter with Prado.

He visits Prado’s sister, Adriana, five-years-younger than himself and his sixteen-year-younger sister, Rita, nick-named Mélodie. He also meets Prado’s only two school friends, Jorge O ‘ Kelly, the Irish pharmacist and Maria Joao Avila, Prado’s highly esteemed friend. He goes to see Prado’s former school teacher, father Bartolomeu, and discovers how father Bartolomeu had a great admiration for his astute student, Prado.

Under the spell, Gregorius continues his lengthy search and visits the places and spots where Prado used to go. He even travels to Spain to meet Estefânia Espinhosa, the former resistance fighter, who has now become a teacher. He listens intently to her story like he listened to all the others telling their stories about Prado. And when O’ Kelly asks Gregorius why is he so interested in Amadeu de Prado, Gregorius answers: “I’d like to know what it was like to be him”.

Gregorius has endeavored to know all about this extraordinary person who wrote in his notes about God, about the meaning of life and death, the strict rules of friendship love and loyalty and many other self-reflective philosophical thoughts written in his Goldsmith Of Words. Now for the first time, Gregorius asks himself what would have happened to his life had he chosen to travel to Isfahan and learn Persian instead of choosing classical languages and the safety of home?

After all his assiduous investigations, Gregorious discovers that Amadeu de Prado died a sudden death from aneurysm thirty one years earlier in 1973 and that he was a poet, a goldsmith of words, a would-be priest, a philosopher, a successful physician and a member of the resistance movement fighting the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar who ruled Portugal for decades. All the pieces of the puzzle now fit together and the picture becomes clear.

Night Train To Lisbon is an accomplished, competently written and well-structured novel with richly depicted characters. Pascal Mercier, who is a professor of philosophy, has mirrored himself in his two characters, Gregorius and Amadeu de Prado, whose notes and letters are interspersed amid the story and in parallel with the events. Pascal Mercier takes the reader into the labyrinth of metaphysics, thought-provoking and soul searching subjects, beyond courage, friendship, love and death.


• Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Arto Paasilinna, one of seven children – five sons and two daughters – was born in 1942 in Kittilä, Lapland in Finland to a civil servant father and a housewife mother. He studied at the General and Elementary School Line at the Lapland Folk Academy.

As a young teenager, Paasilinna worked in various jobs. One of them was as a farm labourer and a wood cutter. He says: “I was a boy of forests, working the land, timber, fishing, hunting, the whole culture that is found in my books”. Later he worked as a journalist, writer and editor for various newspapers and literary magazines.

In 1975, finding journalism “more superficial and meaningless”, he decided to dedicate his time to writing his novel, The Year Of The Hare. He sells his boat to finance the novel which becomes an instant success. From now on Paasilinna is able to live off his writing. He becomes the most acclaimed writer in Finland and in other Scandinavian countries. He is a prolific writer and millions of his books have been sold worldwide.

The Year Of The Hare, Arto Paasilinna’s favourite and most famous novel, has been translated into several languages. It was first published in Finnish in 1975 and in English in 1995. The Year Of The Hare was selected by the Unesco Collection of Representative Works which funded the English translation by Herbert Lomas. It has won three major international awards and was twice adapted for feature films: a Finnish film in 1977 named “Jäniksen vuosi” and a French version in 2006 called: “Le lièvre de Vatanen”.

The middle-aged Finnish journalist, Kaarlo Vatanen, and his middle-aged colleague photographer,“two dissatisfied, cynical men” are driving back to Helsinki from Heinola, after an assignment for their weekly magazine, when their car hits a leaping leveret. The photographer stops the car and Vatanen goes looking for the wounded animal in the nearby forest. He finds it with a broken left hind leg and holds him in his arms for comfort before nursing him.

In the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit – cousin of the hare – has represented Hope for Chinese people for a long time and in the Chinese legend, the moon goddess, Chang’e, had a rabbit as a pet.

Vatanen, who is going through a middle-age crisis, instantly senses a bond between him and the leveret, who will become his inseparable companion. From this moment on, Vatanen finds himself magically connected with nature away from the strain, turbulence and rampant consumerism of urban life which he can no longer endure.

Vatanen feels free from all constraints for the first time in his life. He decides to sell his possessions, abandon his wife and his job after realizing that he neither cares for his unloving wife nor for his empty, boring job and travels across Finland’s wild nature away from civilization. Vatanen chooses the path of no return with no regrets, seeking an adventurous new life. A fascinating exchange occurs: the conventional Vatanen becomes an untamed man while the wild hare turns into a domesticated animal. In each others company, man and animal will help one another to heal their afflictions: psychological for one and physical for the other.

During this one year several surreal events happen, Vatanen lives doing odd jobs, repairing a hut or cutting logs in the forest as well as fighting a ferocious forest fire. He even gets engaged to Leila, an attractive young lawyer, while being drunk but once sober he surprisingly has no recollection of taking such an important decision. While living and working in the forest, Vatanen has to fight a ravenous, cheeky raven and a dangerous, vicious bear and follow it across the border to the Soviet Union which leads to his arrest by Russian soldiers accusing him of spying.

The satirical and cynical Year Of The Hare is a story of a dissatisfied, embittered man who takes his courage in hand by giving up everything to fulfill his dreams in the hope of attaining a serene life. It’s a quest for freedom and a journey of exciting adventures. Consequently, this tale unleashes the dream that lies deep inside each one of us: the search for the meaning of life and the yearning to lead a simple harmonious existence in peace with nature beyond the bounds.

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