Tag-Archive for ◊ metaphysics ◊

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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
Author:
• Sunday, February 03rd, 2008

Paul Scott was born in the north London suburb of Southgate in 1920, from a Yorkshire commercial artist father and a South London mother Frances Mark, a former shop clerk. He was the younger of two sons.

Paul Scott was educated in Winchmore Hill Collegiate, a private school where his education was abruptly ended at the age of 16 due to his father’s business being in financial difficulty. He decided to make a career in accountancy.

Paul Scott was conscripted to the army in 1940, and in 1941 was married in Torquay to Nancy Edith Avery called Penny. He was sent to India in 1943 as an officer cadet and ended the war as captain in the Indian Army Service Corps.

After completing his duty in India, he went back to live in London with his family. His two daughters, Carol and Sally were born in 1947 and 1948.

In 1950 Paul Scott became a director while working for the literary agent Pearn Pollinger and Higham and from 1960 onwards he dedicated himself full time to writing. His books were not recognised until quite late and he died in 1978 in hospital in London from colon cancer.

Paul Scott wrote several novels:
Johnnie Sahib in 1952.
The Alien Sky in 1953.
A Male Child in 1956.
Mark of The Warrior in 1958.
Chinese Love Pavilion in 1960.
Birds of Paradise in 1962.
The Bender in 1963.
The Corrida at San Feliu in 1964.
The Raj Quartet:
1. The Jewel in the Crown in 1966.
2. The Day of the Scorpion in 1968.
3. The Towers of Silence in 1971.
4. A Division of the Spoils in 1974.

The Raj Quartet was made into a television series under the name of “The Jewel In The Crown”.

Staying On in 1977 won the Booker Prize award and was made into a film in 1979 by Granada television. He also wrote reviews for The Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the New Statesman, and Country Life.

In 1976 and 1977 he was “visiting professor” at University of Tulsa in Oklahoma U.S.A.

Staying On is a sequel to The Raj Quartet set in the Anglo-Indian frame several years after India gained its independence in 1947.

The two main characters are Tusker and Lucy Smalley, a retired ageing British couple, mentioned briefly in The Raj Quartet novels. Married for forty years and living an uncommunicative marriage, they decide to Stay On in a small bungalow in the hills of Pankot, a small town in India. Despite being deprived of their colonial status and despite the changing times in India and the seediness of the place, they opt to stay rather than return home to England due to financial need. “I knew the pension would go further in India than in England” Tusker says to his wife.

The novel is set in 1972. It narrates the present and the past with funny, sometimes sad and sometimes touching style, the poignant silent loyalty and the resentful trust and reliance between the ageing couple (Tusker and Lucy).

The story starts with Tusker’s death. All the events in the book are a flashback till the end when the author brings back Tusker’s death in order to re-knot the beginning with the end.

Throughout the book Tusker is painted as a selfish, inconsiderate, grumpy character, but by the end and before his death, he reveals his soft, hidden, endearing side, which makes his departing deeply moving.

Nothing much appears to happen in the book, but the story is still engrossing due to the vivid description of the characters and the bittersweet subject.

Tusker and Lucy have seen better days during the time of the Raj, but those days are over and now they have to lead a modest life, “hang on”, swallow their pride, and endure the grotesque Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s bad temper. “ ‘Oh, Mrs Bhoolabhoy, Lucy began, we’re expecting a guest on Wednesday. I wonder if you’d kindly book a room-‘ ‘I have already told Colonel Smalley I can’t be bothered with that… I have other things to deal with. All I want to know is about the shears.’ ‘Shears?’ ‘Shears. Shears. Shears!’ Mrs Bhoolabhoy raised her arms and made motions. Snick-snick. Shears!’ she shouted… I will not have my property taken off the premises…She waddled away, leaving behind her a trail of sandalwood perfume which,to Lucy, was like the pungent smell of her own smouldering outraged dignity.”

Ibrahim, the Smalley’s manservant is etched in a funny light hearted way. His conversation with the mali gardener, Joseph, is hilarious : “’Ibrahim,’ Joseph said,’what happens if you are pushed by both Sahib and Memsahib ? ‘Given push, not pushed. Get idiom right.’ ‘what happens if you are given push by Sahib and Memsahib at one and the same time?’ Ibrahim looked at him thoughtfully. He said.’Suddenly you are a philosopher as well as a gardener? You are entering realm of metaphysics ? Joseph Einstein is it ? Versed in the theory of time and relativity? Haven’t I just made it plain that Sahib and Memsahib are always at logger-heads and that sometimes they do not even know what time of day it is, even in Pankot ?”

Paul Scott chose India as a rich and colourful frame work for his books, because since the time he was posted there, he fell in love with the country and wanted to convey his enthusiasm to English people, in particular for those who heard about this vast country but never visited it nor interested themselves in discovering its varied cultures.

In 1972 referring to his whole career to date, Paul Scott told his audience during his British council tour of India : “My proper answer to the question,’why do you, as a modern English novelist of serious pretensions, bother to write about the time-expired subject of the British Raj?’ is, must be, if my novels are novels at all, because the last days of the British Raj are the metaphor I have presently chosen to illustrate my view of life.”