Wow...this book literally blew me away!
A friend recommended it to me saying that it relates a lot to the way I think and feel about things. I found the book a very heavy read. It sure is not meant for everyone. It is immersed in complex thoughts; hence the complex language.
The protagonist, Raimund Gregorius, leaves his world behind and takes a brave step to seek a new meaning to his existence. He travels to Lisbon in search of the character of a book that caught his attention. May be he travels to search for his own self. Some answers to his own being. Upon his arrival in Lisbon, it is nothing but a series of encounters with individuals connected to the "man-in-the-book's" life. Each one of them revealing a new facet to the strange, striking man.
A large part of the book is a deep-dive into the thoughts of a man called Amadeu Inacio Prado. It speaks of his thoughts on everything. He was a man of striking intelligence, someone who worshiped languages, someone who was so bound by expectations that he looked to others to experience the freedom he lacked of his own. It chronicles the life of Amadeu - externally through the people in his life and internally - through the book, the notes, the letters that he left behind.
What I liked -
a) The rich language - I admit that I had to re-read every paragraph at least 2-3 times to understand what it is saying. But that's the point of it. What might seem complex to most, absolutely enthralled me. This was a man obsessed with language to the extent that he wanted to re-arrange the way we speak in order to do justice to the language.
b) Dual point of view - As I said earlier, the reader learns of Amadeu from 2 perspectives. The external Amadeu - as was seen to the people who knew him and the internal - known only to himself, so self assured yet longing, his troubles, his anxieties. It makes one wonder whether what you know of people is actually how they feel like on the inside. Whats visible outside does not have to be the truth on the inside, necessarily.
c) The search, the journey - The search for one's self is at the heart of this book. And this journey is captured in the protagonist's journey to Lisbon. It is mostly in travel that one seeks to find the meaning and purpose of life. It is travel that inspires this revelation in people. The author says that it is on train journeys that one is tempted to reflect internally. I so agree and completely understand that. The most wonderful parts of my day are my book and I - in a bus - traveling to and from work - everyday.
d) The Soliloquy - It amazes me how one can capture the inner workings of the mind and soul so beautifully as the author has here. It reads like poetry. It is a dialogue of Amadeu with himself. In some way, it is him trying to ratify all that he believes. It is also about him trying to discover what he believes, him gaining clarity through words, through language. It describes his angst, his rage against his parents, of how their expectations weighed him down. He wonders if his life would have turned out differently had he not exercised so much restraint from early on in his life. How many of us wonder the same - everyday !
What I did not like -
a) At times the prose was too complex.
b) I did not like the end much. It just leaves too many things unanswered. Also, I would have liked to know more about the Gregorius, about how his life changes after the journey to Lisbon. One does get a few glimpses of it. But still, it left me wanting more.
Read but tread carefully. This is not for everyone. People who think a lot. People who are forever questioning things, people, thoughts, values, believes - you will enjoy this book. People who appreciate language and beautiful writing will love it. I would like to end by quoting one of my favorite lines from the book - "A book should be read in such a way that by the time you are done with it, it does not have letters any more. Do not read a book. Eat up the words. The words should be in you. Not in the book"
My Rating - 4 on 5 :)