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