These three novels I picked up second-hand. I was attracted to them by the fact that they were all set in cities that I have spent time in, have fond memories of, know and love. Thus reading all these books constantly triggered off my own thoughts and memories about my own adventures in these cities.
Barcelona is the setting for Gitana [Orion Books 2001] which I visited some three years ago, Much of the action occurs in the maze of streets surrounding the Ramblas. This is the third in a series of books by author Dominic Martell featuring Pascual Rose, ‘a repentant ex-terrorist trying to make sense of his life after defecting and selling out his former comrades in the European terrorist underground of the 1980's.’ The book captures well the underground world of the gipsy barrios, the Catalan culture, and clusters of strange displaced outsiders. Always on the move, constantly under threat, Pascual tries to stay ahead of the ghosts of his past and the forces of the law. Its a good read but I did get lost in some of the plot complexities near the end.
‘Black Girl in Paris’ [The Women’s Press. 2000] by Shay Youngblood is delightful, whether read as pure fiction or disguised autobiography. Born in Birmingham, Alabama in the US Deep South, Eden makes it Paris where she hopes to make it as a writer, following in the footsteps of Afro-American writers like Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and James Baldwin, who is still in the city and whom she tries to track down. She struggles to survive – working as an au-pair, artist’s model, poet’s assistant – and explores her sexual self., The story of her adventures are rendered in sensuous poetic prose. A moving memoir drenched in the sounds and textures of the City of Light.
Night Train to Lisbon [Atlantic Books. 2009] is, simply put, a really great novel. This was the book I took with me on my journey to Ireland, and its story formed a second-level of narrative to my travels, a well as evoking strong memories of my several visits to Lisbon in the late 1990s. Sometimes you feel a book is speaking to you directly. This was certainly my experience.
The story concerns Gregorious, a teacher of ancient languages, whose life, which has been steady and regular for 3o years, is suddenly unhinged by a strange meeting with a Portugese woman on the bridge in Bern (the author’s birthplace). Captivated by the sound of her language, he then stumbles on a strange book by enigmatic Portugese author Amadeu de Prado, and sets out on a journey to investigate his story and in the process, goes through some major personal transformations.
The book works on many deep levels and requires close and measured reading. I found I had to slow right down and sometimes only read three pages at a time. Then suddenly, the unfolding plot would sweep me on through the next 50. Pascal Mercier, a professor of philosophy in Berlin, is not only a master storyteller but also a man of profound insight into the human condition.
Images from Glide-Lines blog. Text reads: ‘A peaceful revolution of militars with flowers on they're guns had return freedom of speech to the people’
The book is exceptionally interesting as it takes us into Portugese history, when the dictator Salazar and his brutal secret police ruled the roost and the Resistance were planning a revolution which, in real-life, was successful: The Carnation Revolution, led by a left-leaning military coup on 25th April 1974, returned the country back to a democracy.
Profound and powerful, this book which took a strong grip on my imagination and made me question a lot of my own feelings and thoughts. The book is a journey of the soul on which I became a fellow passenger. I am 50 pages from the end and I am reluctant to finish it
[Not everyone agrees with my perspective. Check out a range of reactions on The Complete Review]
Pascal Mercier’s real name is Pieter Bieri