Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
It would be hard to explain this novel: the best is for you to read it and experience it.
There is a lot going on in Pereira Maintains. It is the story of Pereira, a fat middle-aged journalist who writes for a small newspaper in Lisbon, in 1938. His wife being dead, he focuses exclusively on literature and work. Fascinated by a young man’s essay on death, he hires him to write advanced obituaries. What he doesn’t know yet is that Monteiro Rossi is about to change his life. However, all the articles written by this man are “unpublishable” and too politically oriented: indeed, Pereira only cares about culture. At least that is what he thinks at first.
This novel deals, first implicitly, with fascism and the Salazar’s regime in Portugal before World War 2. We are introduced to images of violence, to the news and to the growing political unrests through different characters in the novel because, once again, only culture matters for Pereira. The reality of the political situation is kept from the readers thanks to the original style: the narrator is actually an unnamed person telling what “Pereira maintains”. It is also a way for Tabucchi to show Pereira’s willing ignorance and its dangers.
Later on, Pereira becomes fascinated by Rossi: as he promises to help them, he slowly develops a political awareness. That’s when the novel gets really good.
Literature is used as a form of resistance (mainly through the publication of translations) and Pereira is haunted by the need to “make penitence” for nothing at all.
The ending of the novel is surprising and open — I will not spoil it for you! I don’t think my review can do justice to this amazing novel unfortunately. You need to experience it and experience Pereira’s developing consciousness with him, page after page.
While reading this novel, I kept thinking about Orwell’s 1984 but it also resembles Camus’s Outsider and The Trial by Kafka. Firstly, because we do not know where is writing or when, but it is likely to be a confession or testimony and, secondly, because repentance and the idea of being judged for a crime that we haven’t committed (like in The Trial) are recurring motifs.
I feel like this is the most “European” novel we have read for European Literature because it deals with events that have changed Europe dramatically in the second half of the twentieth century. Although this is a historical fiction, set in 1938 in fascist Portugal and mentions the Spanish political landscape and the rise of nazism, we should bear in mind that it was also written at a certain time, at a certain place and in a certain context (Italy, 1994).