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Antonio Tabucchi: Pereira Maintains (1994)


Dr Pereira is the editor of the newly-founded culture page at Lisboa, a not-very-but-reasonably prestigious evening paper. He’s a widower, elderly, overweight, has heart problems, and his life is generally not overly exciting. But the country is Portugal and the year is 1938. Things are about to change for Dr Pereira.

Pereira meets a young man, half Italian, half Portuguese, and hires him as an assistant on a whim. Monteiro Rossi, it transpires, has two problems: he can’t write what Pereira needs – he’s too fond of life to be writing obituaries and too politically committed – and he’s in trouble. He and his girlfriend Marta are part of the resistance movement against Portuguese dictator Salazar and are also helping the Spanish Republican band in the Civil War happening just across the border.

Against his will, over the course of the summer Pereira is drawn deeper and deeper into current events he first tries so hard to steer clear of. As dark clouds gather over Europe, Pereira has been living his life as if nothing were happening. But as he opens his eyes, he realises what is happening and that the paper he works for is much less politically neutral than he initially claims. And thus, he begins to counteract repression from within, from his culture page. As events unfold, his convictions become stronger and stronger, until they culminate in a truly courageous act.

Pereira Maintains is the story of a personality growing in the face of oppression. I loved the development of the main character. Pereira doesn’t just throw himself head first into political action; he’s reticent, reluctant, he worries. Is what others are telling him true? Where can he get unbiased information? What can he do, as the editor of the cultural page of a fairly obscure evening paper? Should he do anything?

Pereira slowly but surely finds answers to all these questions both within himself, within his very own human decency that emerges in the conversations he maintains with the portrait of his dead wife, and from the individuals that surround him. The barkeeper who seeks out the latest information, the doctor who treats him for his health problems but is much better at treating his conscience, Marta, on whom he almost develops a crush, and Monteiro Rossi, who becomes the son he never had.

I got so drawn into Pereira’s personal development that I read through the whole of Pereira Maintains on a single train journey. Personally, I was most struck by the way in which Tabucchi presents the possibilities of an ordinary individual to make a difference from his own little corner of the universe. Pereira, who by no means sees himself as influential or as an activist becomes progressively more convinced and convincing.

Pereira Maintains is beautifully written and I’m very glad Caroline’s Tabucchi week led me to “meet” a writer I’d never come across before for some strange reason. You can find the other reviews written for Tabucchi week here.

Original Title: Sostiene Pereira (Italian)
German Title: Erklärt Pereira: Eine Zeugenaussage
Spanish Title: Sostiene Pereira

Author: bettinathenomad

Nomad. International Relations geek. Reader. Feminist. Swimmer. Boulderer. Runner. Hiker. Not necessarily in that order.

15 thoughts on “Antonio Tabucchi: Pereira Maintains (1994)

  1. Thanks a lot for this beautiful review. I meant to read this as well but didn’t get a chnace. It’s interesting how all those who chose to read this so far had such different impressions. Everyone liked it but it seesm to speak to each in anaother way and that’s precisely what I love about Tabucchi that reading him can be such a personal experience.
    I like what you write about an ordinary individual who can make a difference.

  2. Pingback: Antonio Tabucchi Week « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  3. Beautiful review, Bettina! I liked what you said about how Pereira grows as a person through the novel. I also loved what you said about his doctor. Pereira’s conversations with his doctor and the priest and two of my favourite parts of the book. Thanks for this wonderful review!

  4. Wonderful review! I was like you, I couldn’t put this book down and I was blown away by his ease of writing for such a complicated story. And watching Pereira grow over a short time was fascinating.

    • I got completely sucked into it. I actually had other things to do on said train journey but I just couldn’t put it down. I finished it as my train pulled into a station where I had to change onto a regional train and spent the remaining 40 minutes of my journey digesting what I’d just read. What a wonderful little novel.

  5. Nicely done post. I like that you’ve focused on Pereira’s “awakening” and growth, his inability to shelter himself from events that have such grievous consequences for those around him. I know of few novels that so directly address political commitment and the inescapability of being a political being. “<i?Should he do anything? is a question Tabucchi cleverly turns back onto the reader, we who are called to be witnesses to this account, and unsure of our place in it.

    • Thanks, Scott. Pereira’s “awakening” was what struck me most about the novel, probably because I often wonder how much of a difference I can make as an individual in my daily life. The answer, I suppose, is “as much as I try to make”. Pereira goes for it, even though he sees himself as a perfectly normal person, and that’s what I love about him as a character.

      • I loved that about your review – the way you focus on Pereira’s character and his struggle to live honestly and do the right thing. It felt so believable, with the gradual transition and the doubts and fears along the way. I also think about what I can do in my own life, and feel dissatisfied. I don’t live under a dictatorship, and yet there are plenty of things I disagree with but don’t do much about.

        I like the conversation Pereira has with Senhora Delgado on the train, where he’s saying he can’t really do much and he has no power and so on, and she says “I understand, but surely there’s nothing one can’t do if one cares enough.” That really made me think.

  6. Thank you for the beautiful review. I won’t add anything, because it’s perfect, except this: while I was writing about this book yesterday, I kept thinking that it was a perfect book to be read on a train… 🙂

  7. Pingback: Antonio Tabucchi Week – Wrap Up « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  8. This is one of my must-read-in-2013. I feel I know more about Briotish or US history than that of my own country and have decided to start reading more historical fiction about Portugal, especially Lisbon. I’m up for non-fiction as well. Have recently read “Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light,1939-45” by Neill Lochery and it was really interesting.

    • I have to say – Scribacchina points this out in her review – there is less Portuguese history in this one than you might expect. While the dictatorship isn’t interchangeable, it provides the background for Pereira’s character development more than anything else. I still highly recommend it, but it won’t give you a lot of historical detail.

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