Night Train to Lisbon

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This article is about the novel. For the 2013 film adaptation, see Night Train to Lisbon (film).
Night Train to Lisbon
Night Train to Lisbon.jpg
Original German cover
Author Pascal Mercier
Translator Barbara Harshav
Country Switzerland
Language German
Genre Novel
Publisher Carl Hanser Verlag
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 438 pp first paperback English Edition
ISBN German ISBN 3-446-20555-1, English Paperback ISBN 978-0-8021-4397-6

Night Train to Lisbon is a philosophical novel by Swiss writer Pascal Mercier. It recounts the travels of Swiss Classics instructor Raimund Gregorius as he explores the life of Amadeu de Prado, a Portuguese doctor, during António de Oliveira Salazar's right-wing dictatorship in Portugal. Prado is a serious thinker whose active mind becomes evident in a series of his notes collected and read by Gregorius.

The book was originally published in German as Nachtzug nach Lissabon in 2004 and was first published in English in 2008. The novel became an international bestseller.[1] Danish film director Bille August adapted the book into a 2013 film of the same name, starring Jeremy Irons as Raimund Gregorius.


Raimund Gregorius is a teacher at a Swiss gymnasium in modern day Bern, expert in ancient languages (Greek, Latin and Hebrew). He encounters a mysterious woman, which leads him to find an intriguing book. To understand its author, Amadeu de Prado, he abandons his teaching position and goes to Lisbon, where he investigates Prado and Prado's associates.

Amadeu de Prado was a doctor who lived during the Salazar Dictatorship, which began in 1928 and ended in 1974. Prado had a strong interest in literature and, because of this awareness, begins questioning the world, the experiences he knows, and the words contained in conversation and written thought. He writes these ideas in a series of notes and journal entries which his sister, Adriana, edits and publishes. His life and his thoughts are strongly influenced by the dictatorship around him. His father is a judge. Prado saves the life of Mendez, the Regime's Chief of Secret Police, and, in reaction to others' criticism of him, joins the resistance movement.

Maria Joao is a girl who Amadeu de Prado loved since a child. She seemed to be only one person who knows about Prado well.

Mariana Eca is an ophthalmologist in Lisbon and gives perfect glasses to Gregorius when his glasses were broken by an accident. She has an uncle, Joao Eca, who played schubert, and lives in a nursing home now but he knows many things about Amadeu. Gregorius visits him often to talk about Amadeu. Jorge O'Kelly was Prado's best friend and Prado gave him a pharmacy for free. Prado wanted to be a member of the resistance through him and met Estefania who was going out with Jorge and had a good memory.

The dictatorship lasted until 1974 and relied heavily upon a brutal secret police force, the PIDE. Salazar himself died in 1970, two years after he had handed over power to Marcel Caetano, who continued his policies until the Carnation Revolution of 1974 overthrew the regime.


Night Train to Lisbon spends considerable time contemplating ideas, exploring on one hand Gregorious' contemplation of self and the other de Prado's journal and philosophies.[2] Epigraphs include Michel de Montaigne, Essais, Second Book, I, “De l’inconstance de nos actions” and Fernando Pessoa, Livro do Desassossego. Mercier uses various activities and subthemes to help explore these deep, self-reflective subjects including "night journeys, insomnia and dream-filled sleep, of being stuck in place yet somehow adrift, and confusion about life's purpose." With this introspective approach, Mercier is able to review concepts of "who we are, how we control our experience of life, and how fragile that construction is."[3]


Like the depiction of the city of Lisbon as mysterious and intricate, the text of Night Train to Lisbon is intricate and complicated, sometimes withholding information from the reader.[2][4] Multiple reviewers also pointed to the thriller qualities the novel takes on despite the philosophical focus of the themes.[3][4]

Critical reception[edit]

Anne Phillips in The News-Gazette noted that Night Train to Lisbon was "reminiscent of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind and commented that "mystery romance and political intrigue" keep the pages turning.[5] Robert Moyle of the Herald Sun also points out how engaging Night Train to Lisbon is, pointing out how easy it is for the reader to identify with Gregorius.[3] Daniel Johnson of The Telegraph placed Mercier, with this novel, amongst the best European novelists alive.[4]

Film adaptation[edit]

Danish film director Bille August's film adaptation of the same name, with Jeremy Irons as Raimund Gregorius, was released in 2013.


  1. ^ Paul, Steve (June 9, 2008). "Suggestions for all you Night time readers". The Kansas City Star.  (Accessed in NewsBank Database (Requires Subscription))
  2. ^ a b MacKin, Laurence (February 14, 2009). "The Irish Times: Go Read". Irish Times.  (Accessed in NewsBank Database (Requires subscription))
  3. ^ a b c Moyle, Robin (June 7, 2008). "Riddle in Portuguese". Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia).  (Accessed on NewsBank database (Subscription required)
  4. ^ a b c Johnson, Daniel (24 Feb 2008). "Throwing in one life to look for another". Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  5. ^ Phillips, Anne (August 9, 2009). "Works mix, ponder illusions and reality". The News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, IL).  (Accessed in NewsBank database (Requires subscription))

External links[edit]