‘Afirma Pereira’ (‘Pereira Maintains’) by Antonio Tabucchi

My rating: 4 stars

Certain books are set in such distinguishable periods in history that their authors needn’t have mentioned a particular year in order to create a sense of time. Afirma Pereira (Pereira Maintains in the English translation) by the Italian author Antonio Tabucchi is one of those novels. Set in Lisbon in 1938, it is a criticism of totalitarian states, censorship and repression.

The main character of this book is a journalist named Pereira, who had just become the editor of the cultural page of a third-rate newspaper. As he needed a contributor to help write anticipated obituaries, he contacted the young Monteiro Rossi, who had written a dissertation about death at university, a topic that was of particular interest to Pereira. Since the passing of his wife, Pereira was constantly musing on death.

Monteiro Rossi accepted to work for the newspaper. The articles he wrote were not what Pereira had in mind, though. His first obituary was about García Lorca, a writer that was considered to be subversive not only by Franco in Spain, but also by Salazar in Portugal. Therefore, it couldn’t be published. As Monteiro Rossi was counting on being paid to have money for food, Pereira invited him for lunch. Pereira was old enough to be his father. Maybe for that reason he started caring about what happened to him and to his girlfriend, Marta, who was too outspoken for a country oppressed by a dictatorship.

Pereira started to reconsider his outlook on life. He began to ponder on the need for freedom and the importance of listening to the public opinion. He was interested in what was happening in Portugal and the rest of Europe, but was aware that he wouldn’t know the truth from reading the newspapers. There are plenty of references to political oppression, the Spanish civil war and the persecution of Jewish people around Europe.

Throughout the novel, there are also many striking and scenic descriptions of Lisbon that completely bring the city to life.

“Naquele belo dia de Verão, com a brisa atlântica acariciando as copas das árvores e o sol a brilhar, com uma cidade que cintilava sob a sua janela, e um azul, um azul incrível, afirma Pereira, de uma limpidez que quase feria os olhos, ele pôs-se a pensar na morte.”

“On that beauteous summer day, with the sun beaming away and the sea-breeze off the Atlantic kissing treetops, and a city glittering, literally glittering beneath his window, and a sky of such a blue as never was seen, Pereira maintains, and of a clarity almost painful to the eyes, he started to think about death.”

The book is written as a testimony by Pereira. Thus, readers only get a glimpse of the undertakings which Monteiro Rossi and Marta were involved in. We never get to know them as well as Pereira, unfortunately. The story would have to be told in a different way for that to be achieved. Nevertheless, Antonio Tabucchi still managed the ending of Afirma Pereira (translated from the Italian into Portuguese by José Lima) to be affecting and powerful.

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