Canongate, £14.99, 195pp. £13.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Pereira Maintains, By Antonio Tabucchi, trans. Patrick Creagh

Antonio Tabucchi's novel of a quiet Lisbon man's political awakening amid the rise of fascism in Europe was first published in Italy in 1994 and became a bestseller, perhaps because of the humility of its protagonist. Patrick Creagh translated it into English under the title Pereira Declares, and it has now been published in the UK for the first time under its current title.

The power of this slim book is inversely proportional to its size and modest, unassuming tone. The setting is 1938 Lisbon. Portugal is ruled by the dictator Salazar, who sides with the fascism of Franco in Spain. The Portuguese government is clamping down on left-wing dissenters. The novel's unlikely hero is Dr Pereira, elderly cultural editor of a minor Lisbon paper. Initially indifferent to these political fissures, he wishes to lead a quiet life, his wistful existence in large part due to continued mourning for his late wife.

Pereira, a Catholic like most in his country, is grappling with his religion's concept of the resurrection of the body; his own body disgusts him, not only corporeal but corpulent. One day he reads musings on death by a young graduate and on impulse contacts the author, Rossi, and invites him to write obituaries on authors. The two meet and Pereira finds himself acceding to Rossi's requests for money, despite declaring his radical articles unpublishable.

Rossi and his girlfriend's anger with the fascist regime in Portugal and neighbouring Spain permeates Pereira's consciousness. He now finds the laisser-faire compliance of an acquaintance intolerable, and his growing political conscience is catalysed by encounters with a sympathetic doctor, a stranger and the local priest. The novel builds in suspense and culminates in an act, the repercussions of which are never divulged.

Tabucchi's spare prose is elegant. Its economy, and the growing sense of foreboding, seize the reader's attention and leave palpable threats hanging. The weather is an allegory for state oppression: hot, airless and suffocating, as in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. The title phrase, "Pereira maintains" or a cropped "he maintains", are echoed refrains throughout the book. While initially this seems a wearing contrivance, as the sense of danger heightens they add a malevolent edge by making the story read like a prosecution counsel's opening statement. The inclusion of minutiae of which Pereira was unaware, such as inadvertently forgetting to pay a bill, intensify this feeling: goose pimples rise as we realise the protagonist may unwittingly have been watched.

Creagh's translation is, for the most part, fluid and unobtrusive though there are rare clumsy touches. Pereira's lonely existence, unattractive physique and lack of self-esteem inspire empathy: he is an ordinary man who makes a difference. There are moving slivers of information which add to his elegiac air: "Pereira thought about the child they hadn't had. He had longed for one but he couldn't ask so much of that pale, suffering woman". This a small book about an act of largesse. The beauty of its pared-down prose and accomplished development of the pervading sense of threat render it a little treasure.

Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
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.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue