Pereira is no longer young. Reminders of his own mortality are knocking hard at his door, his heart is not so good, high blood pressure, he should lose a few pounds, since his wife died and left him alone with no other family he's let himself go a little. He's not miserable, but he is complacent. He has a cosy job, editor at the Lisbon paper, now in charge of the weekly arts page, a new rubric which mostly consists of Pereira's own translations of 19th century French classics, which deliver him not a littlesatisfaction and pride. The concierge from his apartment block comes in to do the cleaning and leaves him a meal prepared. He has built himself a tidy wee nest, a corner of the world where he can plod along at what he does, no worries.
This cannot last. Obviously. No sand in the machinery, no story.
The hot summer weather makes Pereira all the more aware of his physical decline. He sweats, he is short of breath, his heart races. His thoughts turn to death, so that an article in a literary journal which consists of an extract from a dissertation on the subject of death catches his eye. He rings the young man who wrote the dissertation. Arranges to meet this young man. And as he makes his way to their meeting place that warm summer evening in Lisbon, it becomes clear that there is another reason why Pereira's rather bland idyll cannot last: for this is the summer of 1938 and fascism is sweeping across Europe. Even his decision to publish nothing but 19th century French classic tales in his arts section is a form of collusion with a dictatorial regime. This is a situation in which it is impossible to remain neutral. Those who do not defy the system are collaborators.
In translucent, quiet rhythms, Tabucchi sets out each careful, tiny step that Pereira takes towards following his heart. It is not an easy or sudden transformation, Pereira needs help along the way from those good people who challenge his complacency, who remind him of his better self, who give him permission to change. Each tiny step, the help along the way. Heroism as a joint achievement, an act of courage by an individual, yes, but with many contributors.
Tension is maintained throughout by the repeated use of the phrase 'Pereira declares', as in a testimony, which most vividly suggests a police interrogation. The temptation to sneak a look at the last page is almost irresistible.
Everyone should read this. Young, old, and all of those between. Everyone.
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