Pereira maintains – Antonio Tabucchi’s novel

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“Pereira maintains he met him one summer’s day. A fine fresh sunny summer’s day and Lisbon was sparkling. It would seem that Pereira was in his office biting his pen, the editor-in-chief was away on holiday while he himself was saddled with getting together the culture page, because the Lisboa was now to have a culture page and he had been given the job. But he, Pereira, was meditating on death. On that beauteous summer day, with the sun beaming away and the sea breeze off the Atlantic kissing the treetops, and a city glittering, literally glittering beneath his window, and a sky of such blue as never was seen, Pereira maintains, and of a clarity almost painful to the eyes, he started to think about death. Why so? Pereira cannot presume to say.”

“Sostiene Pereira”. English title: “Pereira maintains”. Written by Antonio Tabucchi in 1993, has been mentioned often as a symbol of the “resistence” against Berlusconi’s government in Italy. The plot is set in Portugal, in 1938, during Salazar’s dictatorship.

Antonio Tabucchi was considered for the Nobel’s prize and has been a professor at the university of Siena, a translater (especially he translated Fernando Pessoa), won several important prizes for literature such as the Premio Campiello, and was one of the major intellectuals in the second part of the nineteenth century. He died in 2012.

Pereira is a journalist. His story takes place slowly. The cover of the book in my hands says: “the lonelines, the dream, the conscience of living and making choices, inside history. A great civil novel.”

Every chapter starts, somehow, by saying “Pereira maintains”. The style is smooth and honest, essential and slow. Most of the pages are flowing with suggestions of what Pereira was thinking but he does not want to tell, because, he maintains, is not strictly pertinent with the story. Journalism flows through the pages as a reality, but mostly, as a way to defend culture and its essential meaning in people’s life. The defender is Pereira. Not a hero, not a young man struggling for adventure. A middle-age man, that has already lived a big part of his life and is now looking for a way to find himself and live with his memories.

Reading Pereira is something that most people do at hig-school in Italy. But it feels often that good books are coming to people when the time is right. So, I guess, is hard to fully understand Pereira being just a teenager.

Youth is full of ideas of what people will be, like seeds in the dirt. They will grow and along the way figure out what their shape has been since the beginning, maybe, or will change accordingly to external conditions. Pereira is in transition, but a hard one. He is sensitive and erudite, he has his routine and experienced grief. Is a man concerned with death while having a quiet life, that finds somehow again an enthusiasm for it, in hard times. Does he?

Is the novel a study of a character? Isn’t this character so similar to many of us?

In current times, often, I feel like Pereira. Many people of my age, or younger, do. Even though is easy to compare the professional effort of Pereira against a regime with what has happened and probably is still happening is a certain measure, in Italy, there are other ways to approach the novel. Pereira is not a sustainer of a political vision. He has his own ideas, as far as it is possible to have a clear mind on certain things, but he mostly is a practical person. He states facts. And in the end, those facts, are paying him a visit, pushing him forward, toward a new self, and somehow pulling him back to whom he was for a long time: a crime journalist.

What’s the point then? I don’t know, but it might reside in the sense of loneliness pervading the situation of many people between 20 and 30 years old, today, in Italy at least. Is hard to understand what’s happening in the world, even harder to understand what place is reserved to these people. What are they meant to be? The best thing to do, most of the times, seems to struggle in order to keep an ordinary safe life. But troubles are there: to find a job, to have a family, or just to rent a house may appear very hard. When did it happen? What is the cause? Are we all little Pereiras in transition? Is there something bigger and hard to be seen? Are we all not reading newpapers, not listening to reality? The ignorance of Pereira is surely a sign of how much he doesn’t belong to the world of Salazar’s Portugal, but also it seems a deeper state of mind. The state of mind of people who are used to think on their own and somehow lost their path in daily life? The difficulty of understanding history? The way history becomes a personal matter, a choice of life, even when we try to avoid it?

Even though there is no enemy such as a dictatorship in 1938, the feeling of having something to regret for, the feeling of being somehow linked more to the past than to the future can be strong. Isn’t this a reason good enough to flee, to go look for fortune elsewhere? Pereira appears to be looking for something, maybe not consciously, but he is. Aren’t many of us looking for our lost future? Our lost self?

“Do you still believe i public opinion? Well let me tell you public opinion is a gimmick thought up by the English and Americans, it’s them who are shitting us up with this public opinion rot, of you’ll excuse my language, we’ve never had their political system, we don’t have their traditions, we don’t even know what trade unions are, we’re a southern people and we obey whoever shouts the loudest and gives the orders.”

Marta Pellegrini

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