Pereira Maintains

Antonio Tabucchi

First Sentence: Pereira maintains he met him one summer’s day.

This book was one of those books that I thought was good, almost great, with much to admire, but just not enough to really stand out in my mind for very long after I’d finished it. Even though it’s a relatively short book, coming in at just under 200 pages, it almost feels like it would have worked better as a short story or a novella. That’s not to say this is not a good book, it is. But ultimately I feel it’s one I won’t be going back to, nor would I be in a hurry to hunt out more from Tabucchi. The story itself is one man’s testimony about events that happened to him during a sweltering  Summer in Portugal. The year is 1938 and it is set against a backdrop of social and political unrest. Pereira himself is quite likeable, despite his constant need for Omelette aux fines herbes and lemonade, his likeability almost in jeopardy by the constant refrain of  ‘he maintains’ which dominates the prose. He is solely responsible for the arts section in national newspaper the Lisboa, is forever speaking to his dead wife’s photograph and by all accounts, is a lovable recluse. This is all before he meets the young journalist Monteiro Rossi who, along with his girlfriend Marta will transform Pereira into an altogether different person. I do like this book, and I’d certainly recommend it, especially of you have interest in the particular period of history, but I just feel it falls a little short of the mark on a few crucial levels. Enjoyable but not essential

* * *

Last Sentence: Better be getting along, the Lisboa would be out any moment and there was no time to lose, Pereira maintains.

Last Sentence explained: In the end, Pereira becomes a reluctant hero as he manages to get a story past the censors and publishes it before he himself has to go into hiding. Initially, Pereira hires Monteiro Rossi to write advance obituaries for the Lisboa in case any famous authors were to die suddenly. Even though these articles turn out to be unpublishable, Pereira keeps him on. He sees something of worth in this young man. He then takes a trip to a clinic for a few days, and it is here that his ascent to consciousness begins. Beforehand he spends his time translating Balzac for the paper, or talking to his dead wife, but he soon realises that the here and now is just as important as the past, if not more so, as this scene with Dr. Cardoso tells us:

[…] a man cannot live as you do, Dr. Pereira, thinking only of the past. But what about my memories, cried Pereira, all the things that have happened to me? They would be memories and nothing but memories, replied Dr. Cardoso, they would not tyrannize so violently over your present, your life is all backward-looking, for you it’s as if you were in Coimbra thirty years ago with your wife still alive, if you go on this way you’ll become a sort of fetishist of memories, maybe you’ll even start talking to your wife’s photograph.

The tragedy in the end is that Monteiro Rossi is beaten to death by fascist police in Pereira’s apartment. Pereira gives up his old life of comfort, his omelette and lemonade and talking to his dead wife, by sneaking an article about this brutal murder into the Lisboa,  ensuring that he will have to go on the run and forget about his past forever.

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