Antonio Tabucchi week: two books and a movie

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Antonio Tabucchi was. When I first read (and loved) Pereira Maintains, he was already famous because of it. It was his one famous book, and the only one I knew, and I loved it.

But I didn’t know the first thing about Portugal, and I had a feeling that you needed to see those places to understand, truly, not so much the book as the author himself. How can you appreciate The Woman of Porto Pim if you have never been to Porto Pim in the first place?

OK, so this was only an excuse to show you a picture of our honeymoon to the Azores…

Except, I may be wrong. On rereading Pereira Maintains earlier this year, with all my newly-gained knowledge of all not enough things Portuguese, I liked it not nearly as much.

Pereira Maintains
Italian edition
as published by La Biblioteca di Repubblica, 190 pages
with a note by the author

Don’t get me wrong, I still did like it. As before, I liked the story of a middle-aged man suddenly revolutionizing (and risking) his life because he was fascinated by the love between a young couple. And more than before I loved the clean, no-frills style: it touched me as a well-balanced marriage between the principles stated by Calvino and the realism searched by Saramago.

But it felt too shallow. Now that I know a little about the Salazar dictatorship, I wish the book was stronger in denouncing it. Of course, this was written well after the facts (Tabucchi wrote that the whole idea of the novel came to him after he attended the funeral of a journalist who had to flee Lisbon because of the regime, and who had returned to Lisbon later, only to end his life completely ignored). And yet, it feels like Pereira Maintains dances over the historical situation without really dealing with it.

“According to Pereira”,
a movie by Roberto Faenza,
with Marcello Mastroianni (Pereira), Joaquim de Almeida (Manuel), Daniel Auteuil (Dr. Cardoso), Stefano Dionisi (Monteiro Rossi) and Nicoletta Braschi (Marta)

After re-reading the novel, I also re-watched the movie, and it was beautiful. I’m not an expert in cinema and I cannot really comment, but I always like a good Mastroianni interpretation! And I did feel that the movie filled up whatever was lacking in the book: I felt the social commentary much stronger here, and I was less annoyed by Pereira’s endless chewing over his soul.

I know, I know, I just showed my ignorance. Pereira’s reflections on his soul was one of the pillars of the book. And a key element in Tabucchi’s work. I know. (It’s just not for me.) And if I didn’t know, it was made clear when I read another novel by Tabucchi recently, Requiem.

Requiem: A Hallucination
Portuguese (original) edition
as published by Dom Quixote, 154 pages
with a note by the author translated by Pedro Tamen

As I was saying before, I don’t know nearly enough to appreciate this book for all its literary references. (Beware, because this is a novel for very cultivated people to appreciate!) But I was interested in its peculiarity: the language. This is the one book Tabucchi didn’t write in Italian but in Portuguese.

I have always been fascinated by people deciding to use a language other than their own. (Did you know that Mozart and his sister wrote to each other in Italian? There is a technical word in linguistics for this phenomenon, but I can’t recall it right now and I don’t have my linguistics texts with me — if anyone knows, I’d like to hear from you!) And I was completely, utterly taken in by Tabucchi explaining how he dreamt a dream in Portuguese, how he began to jot down notes about it in Portuguese, and how this book, stemming from that dream, could only be written in Portuguese. Because Portuguese was the language of his heart. Because he was redefining the concept of maternal language.

I feel like I am liking Tabucchi’s work for all the wrong reasons, but that’s fine with me 🙂

I wrote this post (although a bit late)
for the Antonio Tabucchi Week,
hosted by Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.

Please check her blog for more Tabucchi content from other participants.

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8 comments on “Antonio Tabucchi week: two books and a movie

  1. Pingback: Antonio Tabucchi Week « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  2. Thanks a lot Scribacchina for joining.
    I haven’t read Pereira Maintains and the reviews I’ve seen were all glowing but as a matter of fact nobody knows all that much about Portugal or Salazar and so maybe, they as well, love his books for the wrong reasons. I loved everything he’s ever written.
    I wonder how you call that phenomenon when someonen chooses to write in another language. When you change during talking it’s called code switch. Many bilinguals do that. I don’t, I’m allergic to it.
    If you find the expression I’d be curious. I don’t recall ever having seen it.

  3. I think you’re loving Tabucchi for a lot of right reasons ;-). And I agree with you and Caroline, I don’t know a very great deal about the Salazar dictatorship, and I loved the book but I can see how, if you do know a lot about it, you might feel disappointed with the “shallow” treatment it gets in Pereira Maintains. On the other hand, having read “Pereira Maintains” makes me want to find out more about this period of Portuguese political history, so maybe it’s a good “bait” to get people to start educating themselves on the subject.
    I’ve also wondered, though, whether the fact that the dictatorship Pereira begins to fight is Salazar’s in particular actually matters a lot to the development of the narrative. This taps into the soul-searching you didn’t enjoy in Pereira Maintains, but I actually feel like the novel is more about the journey of an individual facing oppression. So really, it could be set against almost any dictatorship as it’s just providing the “background” before which this personal development unfolds. What I’m trying to say is, I personally didn’t miss a more in-depth treatment of Salazar in Pereira Maintains, but I can see how other readers could do so.

  4. One of the reviews you linked pointed out that Pereira Maintains is not a political novel. I guess that’s true, and maybe that’s the reason why it’s more enjoyable if you don’t know too much about Salazar. It’s like using the Shoah, or 9/11, only as a backdrop to a story, without commenting: there’s nothing wrong in doing so, but some readers will feel the story is not enough.
    (PS. I’ve searched the internet far and wide for that term before posting, but could not find it. It makes me question my memory. But I do recall learning a term for what Mozart was doing with his letters to his sister. Makes me mad.)

  5. You are perfectly right, of course. Pereira, as someone put it, is every man growing to face and to rebel against oppression.
    On the other hand, Tabucchi lived in Portugal (and for Portugal, in many ways) for many years, Portugal was part of him (as well showed by Requiem), so it’s not “interchangeable”.
    I love how different people can see so many different levels in a good book: and Tabucchi’s novels definitely are good books!

  6. I enjoyed reading your review, Scribacchina! Sorry, I don’t know the word you’re looking for either, but I’m also fascinated by the concept of language. For example I wonder if “maintains” and “sostiene” have the same meaning, or if there’s a slight difference. And in the US the book was called “Pereira Declares”, which is different again. Since the phrase is used so much throughout the book, it seems to be important. Was interesting to learn about Requiem – might read that soon…

  7. Pingback: Antonio Tabucchi Week – Wrap Up « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  8. FWIW, I think “maintains” is more similar to the original than “declares”. Of course both versions work well, it’s just that I’d choose the first. Then again, English is not my mother tongue, so…

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