This novel has been described as a literary page turner and having read it I agree totally with that statement. It is immediately obvious why the novel is called 'Pereira maintains' although the reason why this should be so is left ambiguous at the end of the story. Despite the lead character's apparent political naiveté, which seems odd given that he was a crime reporter for thirty years, you do empathise with his situation. In many ways Dr Peirera's own lack of poltical awareness is a reflection of wider Portuguese society in the late 1930s which was very much a dark period in the history of Portugal. This is a world you are drawn into because of the author's skilful writing - in terms of his prose style and storytelling. Both sad and uplifting this is undoubtedly one of the very best novels I've read in recent years.
This short novel by the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi is set in Lisbon, Portugal in 1938. Salazar's government at the time was sympathetic to fascism, as represented by Mussolini's regime in Italy and General Franco's forces in the Spanish Civil War.
Pereira is a journalist working for a small evening paper and has been asked to set up a culture section. He does not think of himself as particularly political, just a man getting on with a rather dull, unsatisfying job and mourning his dead wife. Maybe he can promote the literature and values he loves without causing any trouble in his new position - he translates a 19th century Balzac story from French for inclusion in the paper.
Then he reads an article by a young man and offers him work, a decision which is going to shake up his life. Monteiro Rossi turns out to be totally set on writing unprintably subversive articles extolling the revolutionary political views of his heroes. Pereira is soon introduced to his attractive and fiercely opinionated girlfriend Marta.
Pereira quickly finds himself committed to supporting these young dissidents and their views, whatever the cost to him. The story is told using the phrase "Pereira maintains" several times on each page - he is trying to explain what happened, as if he was sucked in despite himself.
There is a lot to think about within this book, and it has made me want to find out more about Portuguese history, in the context of Europe in 1938 and the looming war for or against fascism. Pereira has been trying not to take sides, but in the story he feels compelled to take the side of what he feels is right, at any cost. Interestingly, when this book was first published in Italy in 1994, it was taken up enthusiastically by those campaigning against the right wing Berlusconi in the elections there.
I think I will probably try to reread it this year as I'm interested in the themes Tabucchi is exploring and I think I might have missed a lot on the first reading.
This English translation by Patrick Creagh was first published in 1995. This Canongate reissue is a compact and appealing hardback (now also available in paperback or for Kindle) with an introduction by Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, explaining why this is his favourite book.
on 24 August 2012
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.
This novel demonstrates why my previous policy of avoiding novels translated into English is a mistake. In the same way, to assume that such a short, very readable novel must be lightweight is another error.
Impeccably translated from Italian, this subtly humorous story with a growing underlying sense of menace captures Lisbon in the summer heat of 1938, as Portugal slides into fascist dictatorship on the coattails of its aggressive neighbour, Spain, under the influence of Franco.
Punctuated with the refrain, "Pereira maintains", this is the testimony of a journalist employed in a sinecure to produce the new weekly cultural page for a small newspaper, "The Lisboa". Sunk into a dull routine, overweight and unhealthy, Pereira's life revolves around eating "omelettes aux fines herbes", drinking sugary lemonade at the Cafe Orchidea, and communing with a photograph of his dead wife.
Since he is a humane man with principles, he is gradually forced out of his ostrichlike state by the examples of repression which become increasingly hard to ignore. A carter is murdered by the police for being a socialist, but staff on "The Lisboa" are too scared to report the story in the boss's absence: information on the real state of affairs has to be gleaned from listening to the BBC or obtaining a foreign newspaper. An attractive woman whom Pereira meets on a train confides that she is planning emigration to the US, because she is Jewish. The office telephone system is altered without warning so that all calls come through the nosy female caretaker, clearly a police spy. Yet the main trigger for what a sympathetic doctor calls the "rise of a new ruling ego" in Pereira is the youthful political idealism of a young couple he meets by chance and drifts into helping, with fateful consequences.
Tightly plotted, despite its misleadingly gentle rhythm, the book builds up to a dramatic and effective climax. Perhaps the "last straw" that drives Pereira to take a stand is the extension of censorship and bigotry even to his little page, where he finds himself no longer free to publish his translations of foreign authors, after a piece by Alphonse Daudet is seen by the philistines in power as anti the Germans who are propping up the corrupt Portuguese regime.
This is one of the few novels I would like to retain and reread again, to enjoy all the allusions and observations which you may miss on a first reading in the pressing need to know what happens.
on 15 June 2011
Lisbon in 1938, and Dr Pereira swelters in the heat of summer and political oppression. Germany, Spain and Italy have fallen into Fascist hands, but as a journalist himself, he feels no compunction about publishing controversial works by foreign authors. Still mourning the loss of his wife years earlier, he finds himself dissatisfied, overweight and frustrated by his lot in life. He takes on an assistant, Rossi, to prepare obituaries for the cultural section of the newspaper for which he works, but is baffled by Rossi's seemingly inability to separate politics from eulogy. Finding himself drawn into Rossi's underground, and attracting the hostile attention of the editor-in-chief, Pereira begins to find his voice stifled until a tragic event forces him to stand up for his own principles.
Tabucchi has produced a masterpiece. It isn't often that I get to say that, but this book is fantastically well-written; the sense of lingering, tormenting heat was palpable, and I found the character of Pereira intriguing, since he seems to live so much in the shadows until the last few pages, when he is suddenly thrust into another world. The ending itself, though not entirely unexpected, brought this beautiful story to an exhilarating conclusion and I had been worried that Tabucchi might ruin a great book by writing, well, something other than what he did. My concerns were unfounded, and this was easily one of the best books I've read in 2010.
on 1 September 2015
“Philosophy appears to concern itself only with the truth, but perhaps expresses only fantasies, while literature appears to concern itself only with fantasies, but perhaps it expresses the truth.”
Pereira does not rock the boat but it is 1938 Portugal and Europe are about to explode. Spain is in a brutal civil war, Portugal is ruled by the dictator Salazar. Pereira maintains he is "nobody's comrade" that he is a journalist and cultural editor for a second rate publication describing it like this “We are non-political and independent, but we believe in the soul, that is to say we have Roman Catholic tendencies.”, he is concerned with death and resurrections of the soul and the flesh and he has too much flesh. His wife died but he speaks to her photo and takes her the photo with him on trips so that they can continue their talks, he Pereira maintains he still needs her. Pereira also maintains he is not healthy.
One day he meets a young man Monteiro Rossi and he offers him a job and pays him from his own pocket because as he explains to his wife he is “about the age of our son if we’d had a son”. Pereira maintains he does not want to change but his ailing heart can not help it.
A small book with some big messages and a character that is big in every aspect, funny and sad, satirical and real, that starts with small defiances, and a growing need for freedom; from a man facing his mortality, his morality, an assertion to stand up for truth and freedom with testimony and action.
Antonio Tabucchi’s book is well worth reading, and will leave you thinking long after you have finished it. Set in Portugal in 1938 we meet the main character, Dr Pereira. We never know what the doctorate is for but we can probably conclude that it has something to do with literature.
The Spanish Civil War is in full swing, and Salazar effectively rules Portugal. Pereira keeps a low profile, suffering from obesity and trying not to get involved in politics he runs the cultural page on a small newspaper. When he takes on an assistant though to help with writing the obituaries, he is about to find his life getting more complex. Monteiro Rossi, his new assistant, starts popping out obituaries for those who have died or will do so in the future, but due to their political content are deemed unpublishable by Pereira.
Both philosophical and metaphysical in style this novel makes you think of the freedom of speech, the freedom of political thought, the nature of personality, and the nature of free will. We see Pereira avoiding politics in the same way he avoids dieting, but as he meets and talks to other characters here we see him start to alter, as these characters all in some way affect his psyche. Indeed we can even look on these other characters as an expression of Pereira’s thoughts.
Creating Portugal and the uncertain times in broad brushstrokes Tabucchi does set a perfect scene for this tale, one which we must not forget has not really gone way. With the recession and the rise in Nationalism again, Tabucchi’s tale is one that is still very relevant for today’s Europe. This is well worth reading and despite its relative brevity does become quite a meaty read when you really engage with this novel. This would make a great choice for book groups.
on 7 July 2011
This novel is set in Portugal in 1938 at a time authoritarian regimes were on the rise in Europe (Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal). This is an environment that does not immediately affect Pereira and he finds it difficult to acknowledge. He carries on life as normal concerning himself with three things:
- his job as the editor of the culture page of a second rate evening newspaper (thereby enriching the lives of the readers)
- the memory of his wife and
- spiritual concerns over the resurrection of the body (something he does not want as he does not want to lug his overweight body around for eternity).
Whilst Pereira is clearly intelligent (he was a crime reporter for many years) he appears in denial over the state of the country and is trying his best to ignore the situation, finding it increasingly difficult to do so as the book progresses. Several other characters affect his life and eventually make it impossible for him to continue to deny what is happening around him. These include:
- a young couple who are involved with the anti-Franco movement in Spain,
- a Jewish lady on a train expressing concern over her position in Europe at that time,
- a Doctor with a modern view on psychology that helps him to see that events are changing him
- his long-time friend and priest who spells out the difficulties
- his editor-in-cheif, supportive of the regime, demanding patriotic articles.
Pereira's 'awakening' begins after meeting the young couple - he begins supporting them by buying articles from them, and as they prove to be completely unsuitable for publication he pays for them out of his own pocket. His continues involvement with this couple and his interaction with the other characters in the book ensure Pereira gradually realises the state of the nation as his awareness grows at an increasing pace and with devastating results.
The story is written in a manner to ensure a foreboding - the words 'Pereira maintains' are used often as if the author were reporting an interrogation.
As for reading it - I read it over a period of a month (not recommended). Once I reached the end (which is stunning) I closed the book, turned it over and immediately opened it again - re-reading it in a couple of days - this is a much better pace.
I do have one critisim in that I am not 100% happy with the translation but this is overshadowed by the story and themes.
on 2 February 2011
This is a great novel, and quite unlike any other I have read. It relies on its very particular language to evoke the atmosphere of 1930's Lisbon, but is so beautiful to read that it seems totally effortless, and makes one reluctant to put it down. As such I strongly recommend putting aside enough time to read it in one hit; in retrospect I very much wish I had done this. It is not a long book; half a day should suffice, preferably a hot summer's afternoon. The experience will stay with you a long time.
on 17 April 2012
Pereira Maintains is a quirky and yet very refreshing novel, that describes a time in Portugal's history which is not widely documented. The writing style is different and is written from the central character, an old reporter Pereira's perspective - he constantly maintains his version of the story. The author sets the scene in Lisbon around the time of the Spanish Civil War very vividly, you can imagine the sounds, smells and atmosphere. At the end the book leaves you wanting for more, but is very thought provoking. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different.