I have just finished reading Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi. It is a remarkable book to read – slow moving, understated – it takes the reader to Lisbon in Portugal in the summer of 1938. I felt the heat, I sat at this cafe and ate omelettes with herbs and I got to know Pereira intimately. He is grieving for his wife and talks to her framed photo daily. He is a journalist in charge of the cultural section of a weekly paper and spends much time translating french novels which are published in his column. Reading this book is a bit like listening to music – there is a rhythm and lyricism that lulls the reader into the world which becomes real. On almost every page is the phrase “Periera maintains” – the voice of the author – it is not Periera, but then again, it is his story, told from his perspective.
Periera meets a younger man Monteiro Rossi who has written about death. Periera thinks he would be suitable to write obituaries for his section of the paper about writers who have not yet died. We discover that Rossi is about the age of the son that Peiera never had – an insight perhaps into one of the many unspoken parts of his life – his grief, his regrets, his disappointments. In many ways, he is a middle-aged man of “traditional build” waiting to die. However it is this encounter and ensuing relationship with Rossi that turns Periera’s life upside down.
This is a fascinating time in the history of the world – Germany was poised to invade and take over the rest of the world, Spain was in the midst of a revolution, the political parties of Portugal were behind Germany and Franco and anyone who spoke up against this did so at their own peril. There is much fear in Portugal that summer.
You could read this book in one sitting – I read it over many nights lingering over the words and descriptions and finished it reluctantly. I remained in Lisbon on finishing the final page and my mind tried to complete the story – the author has enticingly left the reader hanging – and I am able to fill in the blanks and imagine “what happened next”. This is the mark of a good book in my estimation – it allows the reader to participate in the story – and I did. It has been translated from Italian and is still beautifully written. A masterpiece.