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PEREIRA MAINTAINS by Antonio Tabucchi: a powerful, perfect novel. Rebekah Send a noteboard - 07/12/2010 11:26:10 PM

It is Lisbon, 1938, and Dr Pereira maintains that he wants nothing to do with politics, for getting involved in European politics in the 1930s is a dangerous thing to do. But when he hires an assistant for the Culture section of the evening paper he works for – the Lisboa – he is reluctantly drawn into a world of revolution and counter-revolution. As his carefully constructed isolationism crumbles, Pereira’s political awakening creeps into his work, culminating in a daring act that changes everything.

Pereira Maintains is Canongate’s new edition of Sostiene Pereira by Antonio Tabucchi, which was published in Italy in 1994 to great acclaim. It’s a story of fear, courage, corruption, change, and a man’s love for his dead wife. It’s a story where inconsequential-seeming things have great significance, where self-deception turns into self-awareness. It’s a story of growth and loss. It’s a story of great beauty.

Patrick Creagh’s translation was previously published as Declares Pereira and I think the change is an important one. “Pereira maintains” gives a feeling of interrogation, or a man trying to convince others (and perhaps himself) that this is exactly how events took place. “Pereira declares” seems to carry more confidence than the character has in the book, so doesn’t work as well for me.

This is a book where word choice is important. It’s a slim novel – 195 pages of large text in this edition – so it seems like each word has been carefully chosen. (I’d love to be able to read the original to see how well this translation bears up.) Despite this economy of language, the titular phrase is repeated frequently throughout the book. Initially it was a little irritating as Pereira maintains some very commonplace things – the kind of omelette he has for lunch, the fact he sweated because of a hot day – and I tend to dislike repetition, but after a couple of chapters it felt rather lyrical. It also gave the strong impression that this book is, perhaps, a report of an interview with the suspect of a crime, or an article in a newspaper, and it made me wonder who was to be convinced by the stressing of these phrases. Is it the reader, a detective, or Pereira himself? And taken with the ending of the book, it also creates an impression of continuation: what happens to Pereira once this tale is told?

I don’t usually like books that have such a wide-open ending. I want to know the outcome of a character’s actions; I want some closure. But it works so well here. It’s lovely to think that there’s a life of possibility for a 60-something widower, even though that possibility includes unpleasantness.

Pereira Maintains is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s a huge novel contained in a small book, and it’s a very satisfying read. I can’t find fault with it. The next time I read it I’d like to be sitting in a café with a tall glass of lemonade and some quiet jazz playing in the background. Or maybe seated in a cosy chair by the fire with a red wine. Either way would be perfect.

Read it.
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Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx
This message last edited by Rebekah on 07/12/2010 at 11:29:54 PM
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PEREIRA MAINTAINS by Antonio Tabucchi: a powerful, perfect novel. - 07/12/2010 11:26:10 PM 4847 Views
It sounds interesting - 07/12/2010 11:35:31 PM 657 Views
Re: It sounds interesting - 07/12/2010 11:38:32 PM 768 Views
Re: It sounds interesting - 07/12/2010 11:41:11 PM 678 Views
I don't like jazz - 08/12/2010 12:12:31 AM 667 Views
Nobody's perfect. - 08/12/2010 08:56:03 PM 675 Views
It was lovely. - 11/03/2011 08:45:29 AM 1153 Views

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