Set in pre-war Portugal, Pereira Maintains is about Dr Pereira, editor of the culture pages of a mediocre weekly newspaper, ageing and lonely and struggeling with his health. By a series of coincidences he meets Monteiro Rossi, a young man on the edge of the Spanish resistance movement against Franco. The times are tense, Europe is about to erupt into a bloody war and these are not the times to be associated with young vagrants with doubtful political affiliations. Yet Pereira find himself drawn to Rossi and his friends, an attraction which will eventually lead this little story to a brave and dramatic conclusion.
This is a small book which might feel slow and uneventful at times, but suspense it not Tabucchi's motive. It is a hearbreaking glimpse into Dr Preira's life where we get a very human perspective of the choices he makes. We meet a man who, at the tail end of his life, is desperately lonely since his wife died. He is mourning for the children they never had and dreaming wonderful dreams of his youth while his overweight body slowly lets him down. Pereira is a lost, weak and vulnerable old man.
The narration is unique - it reads alost like a witness statement. The phrase 'Pereira maintains' is repeated throughout this book, giving us the sense that he is being pressed on the accuracy of his account. At the same time, it has a finicky, tentative tone of an old man. It pays attention to the weather and what he is eating, how he sleeps - all things an old man would be concerned with. It fits Pereira perfectly - He is hesitant and timid, he prioretizes his comfort and is startled by small changes in his routine. It is a perfect process of character creation, which makes his final act of rebellion even more impressive.
This book has a slow build and a quick finish - As long as you take it for what it is, and as long as you are not expecting a fast-paced political thriller, there is no reason why you shouldn't enjoy this book as much as I did.