I loved this book; a novel of friendship, love and loss, history and loss, literature and loss...
An American, known throughout by his surname - Kennedy - living and teaching in Istanbul, takes the eponymous train across Europe to Poland, in search of fellow American, his buddy Don; in search too, of clarification as to the novel manuscript Don has abandoned in Istanbul. Can Kennedy persuade Don it's the masterpiece Kennedy believes it to be?
No sooner settling to sleep in Don's Warsaw apartment, Kennedy is dragged back onto the train to head across Poland in search of a girl Don had fallen for on an earlier train journey.
They find themselves in Abel, a small summer resort - in the middle of winter - where they eventually find the girl. They also find Jacek, a friendly English-teaching Pole, and, crucially, his mother, the beautiful, intriguing, and dying, Krystyna.
It becomes her book, in two ways: firstly, by her character, her experiences in pre-and post-War Poland (Don's family too had lived and suffered in war-torn Poland) and later work as a scientist in America, and her insouciant courage in facing her death; secondly because it is she who convinces Kennedy that only he, as an outsider, can write Don's latest story, of the forlorn trip to Abel.
It ends with heart-wrenching adjustments of perspective for both Don and Kennedy, perspectives on love, life, history and loss.
But it is wonderfully funny getting there. The jokes crackle through the prose, but are there for a purpose - to delineate the character of the relationship between the buddies, Kennedy and Don. But they still add immeasurably to the reader's pleasure in a sparkling and understatedly moving novel.
I'm so glad someone had the nous to publish this book.