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.

Books: little to say about these

Alternate title: it’s mini-review time!

The book: Lisbon – What the Tourist Should See by Fernando Pessoa

The edition: Italian translation by Luca Merlini, 65 pages, as published by Einaudi with an essay on modern-day Lisbon by Maria Teresa Bonafede and pictures by Gianmario Marras, total page count 115

My thoughts:  while it opened my eyes to a couple of things in Lisbon that I had never noticed before, this is nothing more than a dated guidebook. From such an author as Pessoa was, I expected something more, some poetic commentary or some inside knowledge or some social satire. Nothing of the kind.

*****

The book: Stabat Mater by Tiziano Scarpa

The edition: Italian (original) edition as published by Einaudi, paperback, 144 pages, with a note by the author

My thoughts: you may have heard me praise Scarpa’s love song to Venice in Venice is a Fish, but that was the one and only book I had ever read by him up to now; this one, also a winner of a prestigious Italian award, was supposed to be at least as good. But I’m afraid I cannot say so. It is supposed to be a homage to the musical tradition of Venice, and especially to Vivaldi, but all I could see was the pointless and sometimes horrific meanderings of a man’s mind trying to come to terms with the female body. I mean, this is supposed to be the story of a girl on the brink of womanhood, but all the details of her dealing with this change and her body either made me laugh for how improbable they were (think: a girl having a nightmare about water and waking up to find her legs covered in blood from her first period — I have lost count of the male authors believing this is how it happens!) or made me sick with disgust (think: comparing the belly of a woman giving birth and the bubbles exploding in boiling water — and this is just the least example).

*****

The book: The Sacred Night, by Tahar Ben Jelloun

The edition: French (original) edition, as published by Seuil, Points paperback, 189 pages

My thoughts: I read this for the Africa challenge, and because I hope to visit Morocco, and Ben Jelloun is said to be the author to start from. I’m afraid I have to say this one went right over my head, and I understood nothing of it. I guess it is intended to raise the subject of gender, and of identity, but it does so in a way that is completely different from anything I had read before. It’s a kind of magical realism, but full of symbols, and dreamlike details and events that may or may not be symbols, and I can’t say I know what most of them stand for. If you have read this and can help me understand, I’d really like to hear from you!

*****

The book: Fables 11 – War and Pieces, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Niko Henrichon and Andrew Pepoy

The edition: Vertigo edition, 191 pages

My thoughts: this is the closing book for a cycle of the series, with most threads coming to an end. I already mentioned that I did not like the way this particular story (i.e. the Adversary) was being developed, and this may be the one book I liked the least. It read like some war movie, and that’s not a compliment. The series is still great, and I love it to pieces, but I’d have chosen another angle and another story altogether. Now that that is closed, I’m curious to read where the authors will bring us next!

Book: Wayfarers

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The book: Wayfarers, by Knut Hamsun

The edition: English translation by James McFarlane, Condor Books paperback (British edition), 460 pages

The story: how Norwegian traditional society changed around the turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is), as seen through the eyes of Edevart, a young man in search of fortune (and love) and a perpetual wanderer. Also, Edevart’s own coming of age, from innocent child to a man “who knows the ways of the world”.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: I had never heard of Hamsun before I went to Norway and found his works on the “local fiction” shelves of a bookshop. I cannot really tell why I chose this one over other books, they all seemed to be dealing somehow with the same subject of modern life coming to the Norwegian countryside. It was good to read about the way of life that I had learned about in the local museums.

Unfortunately, I cannot say I liked it. Basically, this is the story of Edevart, but even more basically, this is no story at all, and this is the thing that bothers me most. Things happen, yes, people get rich and poor and rich again… but there is no story arch and no plot. I get this is often the case with Realism works, just photographing a reality, not focusing on the story. But to me, a good book needs a storyline, a reason why you choose to tell the story of that period, starting with a given fact and ending at a given point in time. A unity of some kind. This is completely lacking here. There is a kind of starting point, but there is no ending, and any other point in the story could have been chosen to be the finishing point. So what’s the point in telling this story at all?

Now, I know, the study of society, the photography of a moment in time that would mean a lot to the country’s development. OK. Fine. That’s not enough for me. (Apparently that’s enough for the Nobel prize commission, though. Of course there is something valuable in this book. It’s just not for me.)

Language & translation: I would be a fool to try and judge a translation in a language that is not my own, but there were a few points that made me wonder. For instance, the word dram. Why use a Scottish word? *puzzled* But then again, a translation always bears the mark of the translator, and I have to say that this one worked fine!

In the author’s own words: I liked finding this scene, because when I was in Norway, I was told that children in coastal towns would do this thing as a coming-of-age rite of passage:

One dinnertime, when work had stopped and they were all sitting, eating, there was a commotion on the drying grounds. People shouted and pointed! In heaven’s name — look! It was Ezra up aloft aboard the ship. He was already perilously high. He had let go the final rope and was holding on to the bare mast at the top. He clambered higher, shinning up with his hands and feet. The people ashore kept silent. One or two small girls threw themselves face down on the rocks. Then Ezra pretended to be turning the weathervane. He was climbing higher, the fool! Oh, what he needs is a good thrashing! He passes the weathervane, is above it, and now he’s high enough to reach up with one hand to the masthead and hold on there and take a rest. […] Ezra hauled himself up inch by inch, hanging like a monkey on that slender mast and making it bend. Then he stood there in the air, his body from the waist up above the top of the mast. Several people moaned. “Be quiet! Be quiet!” others hissed between clenched teeth. Ezra had reached his goal. Slowly he bent his body forward and balanced on his belly on the masthead. There he stayed.

Read this if: if you are into literary fiction and care nothing for plot.

Counts as: Travel with books – Norway