lunes, 13 de febrero de 2012

Pereira Declares

Pereira Declares [Sostiene Pereira] (New Directions, 1996)
by Antonio Tabucchi [translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh]
Italy, 1994

Pereira Declares begins with, ends with, and in reality even bludgeons you with its recurring use of the two words "Pereira declares," a stylistic tic presumably designed to emphasize the fact that Pereira's testimony isn't written by him but is mediated by another whose friend or foe status remains unclear.  Thankfully, the "Pereira declares" word truncheon is about the only thing I didn't appreciate about Tabucchi's otherwise graceful novella.  Pereira, I should point out, is a middle-aged ex-crime reporter turned culture page editor of a Catholic nightly trying to cloak himself in literature to protect himself from the political realities of 1938 Lisbon.  This is of course much more easily said than done, the proof of which is that the die is cast for a clash between the newspaperman's wish to remain apolitical and the encroaching fascism of Salazar era Portugal once Pereira enlists the aid of an idealistic young assistant to help prepare future obituaries for still living writers.  Having wasted two precious sentences on plot, I hope you'll forgive me if I return to more pressing matters.  To begin with, I really enjoyed Tabucchi's sweet, gentle humor here--like the way the widower Pereira's relationship with his dead wife's photo, which he speaks to and packs in his suitcase when traveling but "face upwards, because his wife had all her life had such a need for air and he felt sure her picture also needed plenty of room to breathe" (63), says so much about the character's loneliness without mocking his devotion to his spouse's memory.  I was also won over by the emotional pull and lyricism of moments like this one, where Pereira ecstatically reacts to dancing a waltz with the beautiful twenty-something Marta: "And during the dance he looked up at the sky above the coloured lights of the Praça da Alegria, and he felt infinitely small and at one with the universe.  In some nondescript square somewhere in the universe, he thought, there's a fat elderly man dancing with a young girl and meanwhile the stars are circling, the universe is in motion, and maybe someone is watching us from an everlasting observatory" (16-17).  Finally, in a work in which obituaries and optimism are constantly at one another's throats, it was refreshing to witness an example of the reader/writer struggling to remain true to himself/herself in trying circumstances: "He read over what he had written and found it nauseating, yes, nauseating was the word, Pereira declares.  So he chucked that page away and wrote: 'Fernando Pessoa died three years ago.  Very few people, almost no one, even knew he existed.  He lived in Portugal as a foreigner and a misfit, perhaps because he was everywhere a misfit.  He lived alone, in cheap boarding-houses and rented rooms.  He is remembered by his friends, his comrades, those who love poetry'" (21).  (New Directions)

Antonio Tabucchi

21 comentarios:

  1. I found myself reading your post and taking issue with "nondescript" square. Praca da Alegria has lots of character! Alas, my copy of Afirma Pereira in Portuguese is in storage so I can't check why I it didn't bother me when I read it years ago.

    It's been a while but I had the impression that the phrase "Pereira maintains" gave it a feeling of being a verbatim police report.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. I've also seen other people make that claim about "Pereira maintains" giving the narrative the feel of a police report, Claudia, and while I think that makes perfect sense at the same time I was still a little annoyed at the over use of the gimmick. It's only a small complaint on my part, though. Will have to look up pictures (or better yet, one day visit!) Praça de Alegria as I only know it from your and Tabucchi's descriptions unfortunately.

      Eliminar
  2. Hola, Richard,

    Relaciono este libro con otra novela breve del uruguayo Mario Delgado Aparaín, La balada de Johnny Sosa. El tema y su tratamiento son similares: el hombre que se reconcentra en su intimidad (en el caso de Sosa, es la música, el blues) como una manera de aislarse e incluso negar la realidad que lo circunda... hasta que decide hacer algo al respecto, aunque sea algo pequeño.

    Si no leiste a Aparaín, te lo recomiendo.

    Abrazo,
    M.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. ¡Hola Martín! y gracias por la recomendación de La balada de Johnny Sosa. Anotada. Estoy al punto de comenzar mis lecturas conosureñas en este año, y por cierto espero poder describir unos autores nuevos recomendables (y más, también me encanta el blues). ¡Saludos!

      Eliminar
    2. Uyy, "descubrir" en vez de "describir", Martín.

      Eliminar
  3. I loved this novel when I read it, a few years ago. I believe the phrase 'Pereira Declares' is meant to emphasize his attempt at objectivity and also a detachment from a world he can't feel attached to because he lacks the freedom to do so; it's like a defense mechanism.

    It's a graceful novel, with a powerful ending. It's laudable how an Italian captured so well the Salazar years; I in fact appreciate the close relationship Tabucchi has to Portugal, mainly because of his love for Pessoa. He's even written a novel in Portuguese, an incredible feat.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Thanks, Miguel, I really like that objectivity, detachment, and defense mechanism explanation of the phrase in addition to what Claudia mentioned earlier. That makes me a little more forgiving of Tabucchi's use of it, for sure! I've read so many wonderful things about Tabucchi's other novels that I'm going to have a hard time deciding on the "right" book by him to read next, I'm afraid. Any suggestions?

      Eliminar
  4. The repetition is also a trick of Thomas Bernhard's. On p. 29, picked at random, of the UofC Press edition of Old Masters: "Reger says", "as Reger very often says", "what Reger calls", "as Reger says time and again", "Reger often says." I am only a quarter of the way down the page.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Good point, and the funny thing is I remember discussing the Bernhardian repetition thing with Rise a while back--I didn't notice it so much in Wittgenstein's Nephew, but I found it very intrusive in The Loser. What's your take on Bernhard's reasons for the repetition?

      Eliminar
    2. What is Bernhard doing, that's a good question. His narrator is always neurotically insisting that the strong opinions he is relating are not his own, but those of this other fellow. Is he distancing himself, or perhaps showing that he is a disciple?

      Another answer is rhythmic, to give the "speech" the right pattern, a refrain.

      Bernhard does not do this all the time, no.

      Eliminar
    3. The speech pattern answer makes sense, Tom, which automatically makes the earlier part of your answer more intriguing as a puzzle! What is Bernhard up to, narratorial distancing or something else? Guess this gives me another reason to return to Bernhard soon--not exactly a chore-- so thanks for sharing your ideas and the push.

      Eliminar
  5. He is one of my favourite writers but I haven't read this yet.
    In any case, the title is badly translated. "Sostiene" isn't declares. I saw that there is another English book with the title "Pereira Maintains" that's sounds better. There is a difference of tone in "declare" and "maintain".

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. I think there must be a decent story behind this particular choice of the title, Caroline, because I believe I've seen three or four variations of that one translation alone (not to mention how "A Testimony" is often offered as a subtitle to the work--as it is in the ND book but not on the cover!). I agree that "Pereira maintains" seems to make more sense as the expression of choice, but I enjoyed reading this translation of Tabucchi overall. I thought it flowed very nicely, at least. P.S. I'm experimenting with the threaded comments again; I hope people can view them in IE without the blank screns and the pages crashing this time around!

      Eliminar
  6. Preciosa novela!
    Richard, la película dicen que está buena también, no la vi, pero ahora sí que lo haré.
    Saludos

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. "Preciosa", de acuerdo, Ever, y por consiguiente tendré que buscar esa pelí. Pienso que tú fuiste el primer blogger que me introdujo a las obras de Tabucchi hace un par de años, y por eso te agradezco. Un abrazo.

      Eliminar
  7. As ever I adore and admire your review. I own a copy of this (in the 'Pereira Maintains' version) and keep forgetting that I am very curious to read it. Thankfully your review has reminded me again, and I must seek it out and put it in clear view somewhere! I love the way you find such beautiful textual moments to comment upon. You have an excellent eye for them.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Thanks so much for your kindness, Litlove, but I have to protest that it's not all that difficult to find 2-3 key moments worth commenting on in a text like this! Anyway, hope you get to Pereira soon--I was impressed by how the tale was kind of sobering and yet Tabucchi's handling of it all was so light and graceful. Would be interested in finding out if you felt the same about it. Cheers!

      Eliminar
  8. Richard - I was really wowed by Pereira Declares (as I have been by most of Tabucchi's work), but felt as you did a slight irritation with the repetition of those words - most likely due to a sense that it wasn't quite right as a translation. Caroline's comment that "sostiene" is difficult to translate is certainly borne out by Creagh's having now issued his translation under THREE different titles: "Pereira Declares," "Declares Pereira," (??) and most recently, "Pereira Maintains." That last one comes closest to approximating the "police report" aspect, I think, but my take is that something more complex is going on here. The novel is a testimony - rather, a testament - where we're left with an ambiguous ending and a charge to evaluate Pereira's actions morally and politically. Is it a police report? A court proceeding? An interrogator's log? An abstract judgment of Pereira's actions? Yes, perhaps, and perhaps more. FYI, there's a fascinating essay by Lawrence Venuti on Creagh's translation, which he strongly criticizes for its failure to capture the resonances the novel had for Italians when it first appeared - since it was transparently aimed at the fascistic aspects of Silvio Berlusconi's rise to power.

    Oh, and for a follow-up work, I'd suggest Indian Nocturne - quite a different side of Tabucchi.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Three different titles? That's just wack! The Mexican novelist and essayist Sergio Pitol has written some wonderful things about Pereira Declares and other Tabucchi works, and in one of them he came to the same conclusions as you about the uncertain nature of the testimony. All of those things help explain the "Pereira declares" mantra's importance, but it still grated on me a little in its repetitiveness. Anyway, thanks for the tip on the Venuti essay (I'd seen something about the Berlusconi subtext somewhere but didn't follow up on it to learn more) and for the recommendation on Indian Nocturne--should try and read them both before I forget since they both sound so worth it!

      Eliminar
  9. Nice review, Richard! That dance scene was one of my favourite scenes too. I also loved the conversation between Pereira and the priest. Sorry to know that the constant usage of 'Pereira declares' annoyed you too. It was interesting to read in the comments about the difference between 'declares' and 'maintains'. Thanks for this wonderful review!

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, Vishy, but I'm glad you enjoyed both the novel and my little long ago post about it! Anyway, I hope you and I both have time for another Tabucchi this year so we can encounter more future favorite scenes (I agree that the scene with the priest here was another gem). Cheers!

      Eliminar