It is a literary truism that "slim new novel" often means "precious, self-indulgent garbage." Not so with Pereira Declares, a brief, absorbing and ultimately cathartic story of personal heroism in the face of political tyranny. The Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi sets his tale in the Salazarist Lisbon of 1938, and he spins his narrative out in clean, elegantly rhythmic prose that owes much of its power to its simplicity. His unassuming hero is one Dr. Pereira, a paunchy, vaguely melancholy widower who edits the cultural page of a third-rate newspaper. He coasts through life, fretting about his heart, translating the stories of notable French writers of the previous century and writing witty appreciations of deceased literary lights. His only regular conversations are with a photo of his late wife.
Pereira is content to ignore the growing political turmoil that threatens to consume Europe, content to believe that literature is the only thing that matters. Content, that is, until he takes under his wing a young firebrand named Francesco Monteiro Rossi, who joins the paper as a freelance writer of advance obituaries for famous authors, but who spends his days and his income recruiting sympathetic Portugese for the Spanish Republican cause.
Perhaps it's Monteiro Rossi's age, or the fact that Pereira and his wife had no children, or that the older man senses the chance to escape the lonely parade of identical days his life has become. Whatever the reason, Pereira finds himself becoming more and more invigorated by his protege's risky political activities. "The problem is that between us there must be a correct professional relationship, Pereira wanted to say, and you must learn to write properly, because otherwise, if you're going to base your writing on reasons of the heart, you'll run up against some thumping great obstacles I can assure you. But he said nothing of all this." When, inevitably, Monteiro Rossi incurs the wrath of the Salazar regime, Pereira's political awakening is completed, and he redeems his humanity with a defiant and singularly personal act of rebellion.
The ultimate futility -- and hence the nobility -- of Pereira's highly individual insurrection is hinted at by Tabucchi's chief literary device. Pereira Declares takes its title from a phrase that is appended to every third paragraph; gradually, it becomes clear that this narrative is some Salazarist bureaucrat's report on the Pereira-Monteiro Rossi affair, the distillation of an interview (interrogation?) that must perforce have occurred after the events it describes. The knowledge of Pereira's fate is disheartening -- just as the knowledge of his personal redemption is, in a quiet, remarkable way, exhilarating. -- Salon
A small gem of a book that touches both the emotions and the intellect.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This chronicle of a curmudgeonly Italian journalist's reluctant awakening to the stirrings of Fascism received a starred review in PW. (June)
Looks at the work and lives of three of the most significant women writers of the American radical movement of the 1930s, Meridel Le Sueur, Tillie Olsen, and Josephine Herbst, drawing on Marxist and post-Marxist theory as well as new feminist theory. Analyzes their key literary works, and places the writers in their historical, cultural, and social contexts. Draws on excerpts from the radical press of the period, as well as journals and unpublished materials. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The theme of political commitment is explored from an unusual and rewarding perspective in this moving short novel, set in Fascist-ruled Portugal in 1938, by the Italian author of Requiem (1994), etc.
Its unsuspecting hero is Dr. Pereira, a former Lisbon crime reporter who now edits the "culture page" of the cautiously apolitical newspaper Lisboa. Pereira himself eschews political opinions, but finds he's drowning in them after he hires a young university graduate, Monteiro Rossi, to write "advance obituaries of great writers who might die at any moment." The latter writes "nothing but raving revolutionary stuff"he can't help himself; Pereira, declaring Rossi's effusions "unpublishable," fills the page with his own translations of favorite writers. But Pereira is soon overtaken by events; involved against his will in his protégé's dangerous affairs; accused of concealing treasonable sentiments in the stories (by Balzac and Daudet) that he innocently translates; and pushed toward a gesture of defiance that brings the novel to a wonderfully satisfying and surprising endbecause we could not have guessed him capable of it, and because we do anticipate his fate, which Tabucchi refrains from specifically disclosing (the story is narrated by an unidentified interrogator whose repeated phrase crediting the Doctor's statements under questioning give the novel its' title). Pereira is a marvelously complex creation: An aging widower who talks to his dead wife's photograph, overweight, timid, afflicted with a heart condition, self-indulgent, yet fundamentally moral, even courageous. The raising of his consciousness proves every bit as convincing as it is awkward and hesitant.
One of the most intriguing and appealing character studies in recent European fiction, and easily the best work of Tabucchi's to have appeared in English translation.
The New York Times
“Ingenious and moving,
it links politics, commerce, and good writing in a way that’s rare in this country: rich and varied, but best of all it’s very enjoyable.”
Bondo Wyszpolski - Easy Reader
“A small gem of a book that touches both the emotions and the intellect.”
Amit Chaudhuri - TLS
“[Tabucchi's books are] economical surreal-comic novellas. There's a cosmopolitan eeriness here.”