Dr. Pereira was the editor of the culture page of Lisboa, a small nonpolitical evening newspaper in Lisbon. It was 1938, Portugal was under the authoritarian regime of Salaza, and the Nationalists were fighting against the Republicans during the civil war in the neighboring Spain. Despite Portugal’s semi-official support of the Nationalists, there were people who went to Portugal to recruit volunteers for the International Brigades to aid the Republicans in the fight against the Nationalists led by General Francisco Franco.
In the difficult time like this, Pereira was content with his life, translating 19th century French authors (Balzac, Maupassant, Alphonse Daudet,…) and writing anniversary pieces for famous authors (Pesoa, Rilke, Vladimir Mayakovsky,…). And obsessed with the resurrection of the body. He also just took on a leftist young assistant to write advance obituaries of great writers who might die at any moment. (Bernanos, Mauriac, Lorca, …). Yes, there are many authors mentioned in the novella and a little knowledge of them would help to apprehend the story.
Tabucchi questioned the responsibilities of an intellectual in a difficult time. Should Pereira declare that he was apolitical, that he did not care to write about politics, and was content with his life?
“You’re an intellectual, tell people what’s going on in Europe, tell them your own honest opinion, just get on and do something.”
In just 130 pages, Tabucchi also discussed heavy topics, from civil war, politics, to Theodule Ribot and Pierre Janet’s theory of the confederation of souls. I particularly enjoyed his musings on the souls and the ruling ego/super ego, as well as on authors and their political viewpoints.
“you must shed your super ego,…slough off grief,…stop haunting your past and try to drop in on the future.”
“Marinetti’s a swine, he started his career by singing the praises of war, he’s set himself up as a champion of bloodshed, he’s a terrorist, he hailed Mussolini’s march on Rome, Marinetti is a swine and it’s my duty to say so.”
“Bernanos, he’s a great Catholic writer, said Pereira with pride, I knew he’d take a stand, he’s a man of the highest moral principles.”
Even though this clearly is a political novel, the writing is not unsettling, violent, or brutal. The form and the writing is very unique, passionate, and charming. Reading this novella was a very fulfilling and entertaining experience. An excellent novella!
Translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh. First published in 1994.
T. Hoang Feb 2020