“[…] but I feel I must tell you that originally, we were Lusitanians, and then came the Romans and the Celts, and then came the Arabs, so what sort of race are we Portuguese in a position to celebrate? The Portuguese Race, replied the editor-in-chief, and I am sorry to say Pereira, that I don’t like the tone of your objection, we are Portuguese, we discovered the world, we achieved the greatest feats of navigation the world over, and when we did this, in the 16th century, we were already Portuguese, that is what we are and that is what you are to celebrate, Pereira.”
In “Pereira Declares” by Antonio Tabucchi.
I read this in a Portuguese translation from the Italian more than ten years ago, if memory serves me right, I haven't come across anything quite like it and I still have a place in my heart for portly, perspiring Pereira with his omelets and his quiet, but subversive, decency. This time, this wonderful translation by Patrick Creagh just made my day.
In a narrative that does not want a puzzle, Tabucchi uses a very similar resource to the one used by Isaac Bashevis Singer: that of telling alien stories supposedly collected from conversations with real people, and not hiding it in the book's writing. “Pereira Declares” is a book that walks slowly, seeking to situate the scenario through which the characters walk, without extending the descriptions but worried to leave the reader with significant details about the characters, as, for example, the custom of Pereira to take Lemonades and the same path every day. Alongside this, there is a concern for more philosophical discussions, or at least the ones that foster deeper reflections. One can use as an example both the theory of the confederation of souls and the hegemonic hegemony proposed by Dr. Cardoso as well as Pereira's trajectory. There is also Tabucchi 's sensitivity to perceive and bring to light two issues that I consider to be praiseworthy remarks by “Pereira Declares”: the portrait of the dialectic relationship between the subject and the world, and the capacity to demonstrate the darkest tentacles of the status quo – in this case, Salazar’s Portuguese dictatorship. The relation between subject and world is drawn in the contours of the historical situation of Portugal and the existential situation of Pereira. There is much of the world in Pereira, and much of the dilemmas of Pereira in the world. The tension embodied in the dictatorial political moment is experienced by the character through the psychological state with which he turns things around. The dispute between the hegemonic selves in the confederation of the souls of Pereira is the dilemma that many live under dictatorships: to stay quite in the name of personal security or to risk everything in the name of something greater? The postures in dispute within Pereira are metaphors of this state of tension, which Tabucchi was able to capture with mastery. The persona of Pereira and his psychological characters express very well this question: he incorporated a routine discipline of fearful respect, a fear hidden even in the choice of French tales that he would like to translate. And Tabucchi made this a veiled critical observation, because just when Pereira leaves aside his mediocre habits, he becomes the target of Salazar agents. The testimony of Pereira was made literature by Tabucchi, but he’s also able to extrapolate the conception of literature as an aesthetic object, reinvigorating the power of narratives as devices of reflection as much as objects and aesthetic exercises.