Declares Pereira

Antonio Tabucchi

translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh
Harvill Press 1995
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
Fascist Portugal in the summer of 1938, with the Spanish Civil War raging next door... Dr Pereira is the middle-aged, overweight editor of the culture page of a Lisbon evening paper; widowed and childless, he talks to a photo of his wife and dines on omelettes aux fines herbes. He has not been following political events and his translations of 19th century French classics have never attracted the attention of the censors.

When Pereira employs a student to write some articles, however, that precipitates his unlikely transformation into a hero. Monteiro Rossi delivers impossible pieces on the most unsuitable people — Lorca and Mayakovsky even! — and his girlfriend is a firebrand. Pereira supports them anyway, for reasons not clear to him — is he thinking of the son he might have had, perhaps, or is "a new ruling ego obtaining leadership of his confederation of souls", as Dr Cardoso suggests? A steady progression of events leads to a dramatic conclusion, with Pereira striking a blow against tyranny and embarking on a new life.

Dramatic but understated, Declares Pereira (Sostiene Pereira) is a fine psychological study, a compelling account of a political awakening. The title derives from a curious feature of the novel's style: it is written in the third person, from Pereira's perspective, but nearly every paragraph is decorated with a "..., declares Pereira" or "Pereira declares ...". The context of Pereira's declarations and his audience are never explained — is he safe in exile, addressing a circle of friends, or is the whole narrative the report of a fascist interrogator? But Antonio Tabucchi's subject is not the fate of the butterfly but the more dramatic metamorphosis of the caterpillar — which retains its mystery despite the transparent narrative.

August 2003

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%T Declares Pereira
%A Tabucchi, Antonio
%M Italian
%F Creagh, Patrick
%I Harvill Press
%D 1995
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1860460690
%P 136pp