This Swiss- German writer is in fact a university Professor of Philosophy in Berlin, but his third novel has become a best seller and righfully so ; it is an excellent novel , totally engrossing ,long and somewhat hard to read. The hero , Raymond Gregorius, resembles the author : he is a old professor of ancient languages who one day, rescues by chance an unknown woman from throwing herself down a bridge . She holds a portuguese book in her hand which will fascinate Gregorius no end and cause him to leave Bern, his home town , to travel by train to Lisbon and start a new life . What does an unexpexted travel to an unexpected city , not knowing the language or the history of the land , does to a poetic mind ? A sort of slow revelation occurs and this interior voyage is a profond expérience ,a discovery of a colorful southern and recluse culture which drives relentlessly the the reader along .
An obscure but talented portuguese writer Amadeo de Prado, now dead , is our guide : Gregorius reads him constantly and tries to find his old surviving friends all over lisbon, a city which he discovers on his own. These essays on love, friendship, death and his own biography are somewhat reminiscent of Montaigne or even Camus : how to live one's life, achieve a sort of Virtue and survive hard times . We are thus invited on a fascinating spiritual and to a certain level political, quest of Amadeo and what he represented to Gregorius curious mind ; an isolated genius,like a Renaissance man, born in a traditional, old fashioned culture ( Portugal) steeped into the past , who endured the dictatorship of Salazar, a cruel and terrible regime not at all as well known as Franco or Mussolini's were
It is an extraordinary quest , requiring a great deal of courage and perseverance ,with the knowledge of an ultimately failed life of Amadeo and his tragic demise at the end ; we learn a great deal and are nourrished .It is a great and unforgettable book,and also a magnificent ode ot Lisbon, a wondeful and mysterious city , full of old neighborhoods and gardens, far on the other side of Europe.