Tag-Archive for ◊ Antonio ◊

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• 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.

 


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Category: Book Reviews  | One Comment
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• Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Niccolo Ammaniti was born in Rome in 1966. He studied at Liceo Classico and then at university where he read biology. He quitted university before obtaining a degree and decided to breed fish in his bedroom in twelve aquariums containing two thousand litres of water, as a business, in order to earn some money.

Ammaniti wrote his first novel “Branchie” in 1994 and in 1995 published an essay titled “Nel nome del figlio”. In 1996 a collection of short stories called “Fango” came out. As for his great rural novel “Ti prendo e ti porto via” which was written in Scotland during his six months there, it was published in 1999. He then went to the United States in 2001 in order to write the script for an American production called “Gone Bad”. His third novel, “I’m Not Scared” (Io non ho paura) was published in Italy in 2001. Niccolo Ammaniti is the youngest ever winner, at the age of 34, of the prestigious Viareggio-Repaci prize for his novel “I’m Not Scared”, which has been his biggest success so far.

“I’m Not Scared”became a best-seller in Italy for months, and was translated into 20 languages. It was also made into a feature film directed by Gabriele Salvatores, the Academy-award winning director of “Mediterraneo”. It premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2003. Niccolo Ammanity, who lives in Italy, mentioned that he is longing to be a film director, and that his novel “I’m Not Scared” was originally conceived as a film project.

In “I’m Not Scared”a thirty year-old Michele remembers a shocking episode from his childhood in the very hot summer of 1978, twenty years ago in Aqua Traverse, an isolated community living in a hamlet of five houses in the middle of wheat fields, in an unidentified poor region in southern Italy, a nine year-old boy Michele discovers a horrifying secret, unbearable for his age, which is going to change his whole life. He will be thrown into adulthood when he loses his innocence and his faith in the adults around him,and realises that those closest to him are not what he thought they were. And through finding out adult cruelty in kidnapping a child his own age and demanding a ransom from his parents. Michele is put through a dilemma, whether to keep his promise to his father by not going back to see Filippo, or listen to his pure heroic nature. He is helpless and confused as a child and yet courageous and righteous as an adult. The complexity inherent in growing up.Having lost faith in his idealised father and mother and all grown ups surrounding him, he has to work things out by himself and act like a humanitarian hero.

The whole novel is narrated through the nine year-old Michele’s eyes, therefore the language is simple, the sentences short, the paragraphs brief and the image clear, which conveys strength and authenticity to the narration. The author writes with great accuracy the feeling of fear and fantasies of corpse-eaters, ghosts, monsters, and bogeymen that come out at night, which are part of everyday life of a child. Michele is intimidated, like the other children of the hamlet, by Skull (Antonio), who seems to have hold over them through fear and seems to take a sadistic pleasure in ordering his friends around and getting away with it. There is also the fear of Skull’s brother, Felice Natale, who is portrayed as a despicable character.

The story is very well constructed, Michele’s character springs to life while the adults are portrayed in a sketchy way. Ammaniti excelled in capturing with great precision, Michele’s childish thoughts and vocabulary.The story starts in a slow rhythm which conveys the stifling summer heat and also the isolation of the Aqua Traverse people. Nothing much seems to be happening, the children are glad to get together every day to go cycling in the middle of the wheat fields, happily, innocently and without any worries, away from the adults’ evil tension, kidnapping, blackmail and guns. Then comes the black side of the story, the dark black hole opposed to the sunny wheat fields, Michele’s terrible discovery which he keeps to himself. Then follows the tension and violent arguments among the adults which holds the suspense going strong à la Hitchcock, leading to the climax which carries the twist at the end.

Niccolo Ammaniti, a talented story-teller with vivid imagination, is considered one of the best novelists in Italy.