Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi
Translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh
published 1994 - set in Lisbon in the 1930s
That afternoon, Pereira maintains, he had a dream. It was a beautiful dream about his youth, but he prefers not to relate it, because dreams ought not to be told, he maintains. He will go no farther than to say he was happy, that it was winter and he was on a beach to the north of Coimbra, perhaps at Granja, and that he had with him a person whose identity he does not wish to disclose. Anyway, he awoke in a good mood, put on a short-sleeved shirt, didn’t even pocket a tie, though he did take a light cotton jacket, carrying it over his forearm. The evening was hot, though happily there was a bit of a breeze. At first he considered going all the way to the Café Orquídea on foot, but on second thoughts this seemed folly. However he did walk as far as Terreiro do Paço and the exercise did him good. From there he took a tram to Rua Alexandre Herculano. The Café Orquídea was practically deserted, Monteiro Rossi had not yet arrived because he himself was too early. Pereira sat himself down at a table inside, near the fan, and ordered a lemonade. When the waiter came he asked him: What’s the news Manuel?
observations: You could argue all day about this book, starting with the title. Some version of the phrase is used close on 200 times in the book, so it’s obviously pretty key. The Italian title is Sostiene Pereira, which – apparently – could equally be translated as According to Pereira, or Declares Pereira. The repetition is a strange feature – is it implying that the book is some kind of statement, or legal document? It’s never explained. The story is a charming affecting fable about a man worried about the political direction his country is going in. But is it really Portugal in the 1930s, or, as some people believe, Italy at the end of the 20th century?
Whatever, the hot dusty days in Lisbon, and Pereira’s daily routine, and his trips out of the city, are described in convincing detail. The picture builds up: the atmosphere of avenues and cafes and good weather, the undemanding job that gives Pereira just enough to do and gets him out of his apartment, the obvious fact that he is a good man, lonely and missing his wife, who eventually cannot ignore what is going on about him. The book takes no time at all to read – it is very short – but lingers in the mind afterwards.
Links up with: Gatsby wears a light summer suit. The Finzi Continis are worrying about fascism in Italy in the same year, 1938.
The photograph is of Baron Ladislaus Hengelmuller de Hengervar, a long-term Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, from the DC Public Library.