Pereira Maintains

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Pereira Declares: A Testimony By Antonio TabucchiPereira 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.

“This novel has it all: comedy, drama, great characterisation and a novel and engaging structure.”

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.

Pereira Maintains” by Antonio Tabucchi
Published by Canongate Books, November 2010
Thanks to Canongate Books for providing a free review copy.

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Pereira Maintains
by Antonio Tabucchi

3 Comments on "Pereira Maintains"

  1. Andrea
    10/11/2010 at 10:44 Permalink

    Thanks for that great review!

  2. cheeryscientist
    10/11/2010 at 21:15 Permalink

    This book was my first acquaintance with Tabucchi, some 10 years ago, and it left me wanting to find out more about his work. It also lead me to discover Jose Saramago, due to the Portuguese link!
    I have since read Tabucchi’s ‘The Missing Head of Damascheno Monteiro’, which I would also recommend…

  3. Mary Bor
    Mary Bor
    04/12/2010 at 18:57 Permalink

    Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll be sure to look out for that

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Written by Mary Bor
Mary Bor

Aspiring travel writer and avid Yugophile living in the UK and Slovenia. Loves (in no particular order) Scandinavian crime fiction, Indian food, walking, scavenging, Russian dolls

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