Battlefield in the heart of a reluctant hero - Books - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Battlefield in the heart of a reluctant hero

The great Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi has created a character with a life beyond the page. By Harriet Paterson; Declares Pereira by Antonio Tabucchi Translated by Patrick Creagh Harvill, pounds 9.99

A string of good books stretches out behind Antonio Tabucchi, the leading Italian fiction author, but this time he appears to have outstripped all his previous work, Declares Pereira rode the best-seller list in Italy for month after month and has been made into a forthcoming film with European heavyweights Daniel Auteuil and Marcello Mastroianni. Tabucchi's work translates well in all senses - there is no need for any special knowledge of Italy, nor of Portugal, his adopted second country, to appreciate this fine and sensitive novel.

Like Requiem, Tabucchi's last book, Declares Pereira is set in Lisbon. But the year is 1938, during a sultry summer overshadowed by the activities of the Salazar regime and its Fascist police. A very reluctant hero is about to be created. "I'm old, I'm fat and I've got heart trouble," says Pereira, cultural editor of a second-rate evening paper, who has a fondness for omelettes and 19th-century French literature. He is virtually a Maupassant character, with his mediocre life, his dismal little office continually pervaded by the smell of frying, his small routines.

Although Pereira is uneasily aware of the "reek of death" in Portugal as in the rest of Europe, he shuns political involvement: "The whole world is a problem and it certainly won't be solved by you or me," he says defensively. The book describes the enormous upheaval in his hitherto undisturbed universe as he is taken to task for this negligence. "Are you living in another world?" a friend upbraids him, "for goodness' sake go and find out what's happening around you."

He doesn't have to go far. A political conscience walks into his life in the form of a young activist couple who flush him out of his ideological burrow. Both provoke obscure feelings of tenderness in him - the young man reminds him of himself as a boy, the girl is young and beautiful. Pereira helps them despite himself, for this is more than just an encounter between abstract principles. As Tabucchi once said: "I prefer a philosophy in which one perceives that the intellectual thought is linked to an emotional aspect, to the viscera, to the soul." He maintains the balance between these elements to perfection. This is a political book concerned with the dangers of fascism, highly relevant today despite the historical setting, but Tabucci has chosen to place the whole battlefield in Pereira's not very robust heart.

Dealing tactfully with a shy man, the author appears to skirt around Pereira's feelings: "On this subject he has no wish to make further statements." Yet this is deceptive, for a later phrase will suddenly reveal a glimpse of the sea-changes taking place within the bewildered journalist, whose life now seems meaningless in comparison with the belief and vitality of the young couple: "... he had been living as if he were dead ... perhaps his life was merely a remnant and a pretence." Now his chance has come to get involved, and to discover his own capacity for heroism.

Tabucchi engages with his protagonist as never before, making Pereira's awkward evolution an intensely human odyssey. Where the narrator of Requiem talks to ghosts, for example, Pereira confides his worries aloud to the photograph of his dead wife - so much more pathetic, and truer.

Tabucchi's writing has taken on a new departure. It is less abstract and cerebral, more directly concerned with character than in the past. Surrealism and dreamlike ambiguity have given way to firmer ground - to a thoroughly unified examination of the transformation of a man's heart. Tabucchi has created that rare thing, a literary character so real that he possesses a life independent of the book that temporarily framed him.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week