“ Author: Antonio Tabucchi / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 21 July 2011 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd / Title: Pereira Maintains / ISBN 13: 9781847679369 / ISBN 10: 1847679369 / Alternative EAN: 9781847675712 „
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This short novel by the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi is set in Lisbon, Portugal in 1938. Salazar's government at the time was sympathetic to fascism, as represented by Mussolini's regime in Italy and General Franco's forces in the Spanish Civil War.
Pereira is a journalist working for a small evening paper and has been asked to set up a culture section. He does not think of himself as particularly political, just a man getting on with a rather dull, unsatisfying job and mourning his dead wife. Maybe he can promote the literature and values he loves without causing any trouble in his new position - he translates a 19th century Balzac story from French for inclusion in the paper.
Then he reads an article by a young man and offers him work, a decision which is going to shake up his life. Monteiro Rossi turns out to be totally set on writing unprintably subversive articles extolling the revolutionary political views of his heroes. Pereira is soon introduced to his attractive and fiercely opinionated girlfriend Marta.
Pereira quickly finds himself committed to supporting these young dissidents and their views, whatever the cost to him. The story is told using the phrase "Pereira maintains" several times on each page - he is trying to explain what happened, as if he was sucked in despite himself. This repetition could be irritating from a lesser writer, as could the long paragraphs, but it worked here.
I liked this book a lot. There is a lot to think about within it, and it has made me want to find out more about Portuguese history, in the context of Europe in 1938 and the looming war for or against fascism. Pereira has been trying not to take sides, but in the story he feels compelled to take the side of what he feels is right, at any cost. Interestingly, when this book was first published in Italy in 1994, it was taken up enthusiastically by those campaigning against the right wing Berlusconi in the elections there. I would definitely like to reread this one as I am interested in the themes Tabucchi is exploring and I think I might have missed a lot on the first reading.
This English translation by Patrick Creagh was first published in 1995. This Canongate reissue is a compact and attractive hardback with an introduction by Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, explaining why this is his favourite book - I appreciated this as I like to learn which writers novelists admire, and the introduction also includes some useful information about the author and this novel.
I received a free copy of this book through the librarything.com Early Reviewers scheme, and this review first appeared there in a slightly different form.
Format: Hardback 200 pages
Publisher: Canongate 2010
"Pereira Maintains" is set in Lisbon during the swelteringly hot summer of 1938, a time when the Spanish Civil War was just coming to a close, while war loomed on the horizon in other parts of Europe. Pereira, of the novel's title, is a former crime reporter but now edits the culture pages for a small circulation independent evening newspaper. It's clearly a drop in stature for Pereira but he takes his work very seriously. When Pereira, who has never gotten over the death of his wife, reads an article about death which moves him greatly, he tracks down the penniless young author and offers him a job as his assistant, writing obituaries for literary figures.
When Monteiro Rossi starts submitting these obituaries, Pereira finds that they are unpublishable; they are too political and that is something that Pereira, almost totally oblivious to what's going on around him as Portugal moves closer and closer to becoming a civil dictatorship, could never be accused of. But something about this earnest young man and his mysterious girlfriend, Marta, appeals to Pereira, and, against his better judgment, friendship develops.
This is a relatively short novel and Tabucchi has used a really clever narrative structure to set the scene for one dramatic event. The story is told from Pereira's point of view but as a third person narrative. Each paragraph or detail as remembered by Pereira is punctuated with the words "Pereira Maintains" so that the account reads like one of the journalist's newspaper stories. The effect is brilliant and really draws the reader in; it's soon clear that Pereira's account is moving towards one significant event and the teasing style really makes you stick with the story to find out exactly what that event is.
Ultimately the novel centres around the truth that literature can be a powerful tool in times when the population is oppressed. Pereira claims to be uninterested in the political machinations of the day; what he does know, he learns from the waiter at the restaurant he visits daily for a glass of cold lemonade and an 'omelette aux fines herbes'. Pereira would rather bury his head in the sand, talking to the framed photograph of his dead wife and translating into Portuguese the novels of his favourite French writers. Pereira, though, isn't as innocent as he makes out; he may admonish Monteiro Rossi for choosing to write about controversial writers, but he is, at the same time, making his own political statements by including patriotic stories that champion the French, not a wise move in Portugal in those days.
In spite of its serious subject matter, "Pereira Maintains" is a beguiling and utterly charming work; the repetitive nature of Pereira's daily routine lends an almost fairytale quality to the story though it is firmly rooted in real events. Tabucchi does a great job of evoking 1930s Lisbon and there is a palpable sense that something grave is on the horizon. This sense of foreboding is heightening by the contrast of the more serious aspect against the almost comical scenes, such as when Pereira takes himself off to a thalassotherapy centre for a few days.
It's hard to find fault with "Pereira Maintains"; the clever narrative structure pulls you in immediately and the colourful yet economic character sketches make you feel intimate with the characters with a couple of paragraphs. Marta could have been a little more fleshed out; I found her an intriguing character - a female revolutionary always adds a touch of excitement - but she seemed superfluous at times. The only real failing is the author's assumption that readers can dive straight into the story and understand the regional political situation at the time; my knowledge is patchy though I managed to wing it, other readers may not be so forgiving.
The translation works well; the narrative flows nicely and the dialogue is realistic. It's also worth noting that Tabucchi, an Italian, seems to perfectly capture the Portuguese character.
This novel has it all: comedy, drama, great characterisation and a novel and engaging structure. Tabucchi is not an author who I was familiar with but his name will certainly be cropping up in my reading lists in the future.
Published by Canongate Books, November 2010
Thanks to Canongate Books for providing a free review copy.
This review first appeared at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk
195 pages in hardback