Antonio Tabucchi: Pereira Maintains

To come across Antonio Tabucchi’s Pereira in Pereira Maintains is to be visited by an old acquaintance. I’m travelling at the moment, without access to my Poems of T. S. Eliot Volume I: Collected and Uncollected Poems, but on returning home will disinter T. S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes, a piece of drama that, in many ways, shaped the rhythm of Eliot’s writing in The Hollow Men and The Wasteland. In this elegant piece, Tabucchi confirms Eliot’s inspiration: “But there was another reason, literary in origin, which led me to this name: a brief interlude by TS Eliot entitled “What About Pereira?” in which a fragmentary conversation between two friends evokes a mysterious Portuguese man named Pereira, about whom nothing can ever be known.”

In Fragment of a Prologue, part of the Agonistes, Eliot introduces an enigmatic Portuguese gentleman called Pereira, one of the visitors to prostitutes, Dusty and Doris. If I recall correctly, the two women question his trustworthiness, which opens up a fascinating aspect to how Pereira structures Pereira Maintains as a testimony, only revealing what Pereira chooses to reveal in cross-examination.

The energy and direction of Tabucchi’s novel lies in the transition between passivity and action. As such, there are deep resonances with the current political situation in the U.K. and elsewhere. How is one to respond to authoritarianism, from an ethical or political stance? In Pereira Maintains, Tabucchi chooses not to reveal the nature or outcome of the investigation leaving wide open space for a reader to interpret Pereira’s responses and outcome.

10 thoughts on “Antonio Tabucchi: Pereira Maintains

  1. It’s been a long time since I read this book, maybe ten years or so, the first Tabucchi I read, but it remains my favourite of his novels. The person who recommended it to me sent me an email at the same time as your blog post arrived in my inbox. I love these kinds of coincidences that may mean nothing but suggest a connectedness in being that is outside the machinations of conscious thinking of that fugitive entity we call the ‘I’. ‘I’ hope you’re enjoying your journey.

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      • Another novel that you’ll might well enjoy and in this particular vein is José Saramago’s A Year in the Death of Ricardo Reis. Perhaps you already know that Ricardo Reis is one of the heteronyms of Pessoa as poet. (Four of the main ones are in the poetry collection called A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe from Penguin). In Saramago’s novel, Reis is in Lisbon after the death of his creator Pessoa, and has to confront his reality/unreality/surreality. I really enjoyed it a lot.

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  2. I wasn’t aware of the Eliot reference either, though I’m a great fan of Tabucchi and of this book in particular. It’s certainly a relevant work given the authoritarian turn the world appears to be taking. I’d assumed that “Pereira” was also intended to make us think of “Pessoa,” given Tabucchi’s almost monomaniacal obsession with that writer, another producer of characters “about whom nothing can ever be known.”

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