Dr. Pereira is
overweight, of fragile health, and he sees old age fast approaching.
His wife has already passed away some years before and he fills the childless, loveless compass of his
diminished life working in near isolation on the Culture Page of a
fledgling Lisbon newspaper.
Pereira enjoys the
passing company of a few acquaintances, but only a few; a waiter, a
priest and a ghost or two from his university days, but mostly he
talks to a photograph of his late wife that sits on a table by his front door to greet him each time he returns to the house.
The newspaper Pereira
works for is small and without great influence; the page he edits concerns itself with literature
from the past and its personalities, and Pereira’s main
contribution to it is the translation of ineffectual short stories
In short, Pereira is a
man with no clout and little significance, especially without his
wife, and he knows it. What value does he have in society, will anyone notice if he dies?
The action of the piece
takes place in Lisbon, the city that sparkles in the glare of the
summer sun when the thick sea fog is blown away by the fresh Atlantic
salt breeze. However Pereira lives in the 1930s, and while Lisbon
sparkles in the bright sunshine, the dark clouds of Fascism have
already gathered over much of Europe and have begun to throw their
grim, menacing shadow over Pereira’s beloved Portugal.
An encounter with a young
revolutionary couple - both beautiful of course, the children Pereira and his wife never had - is what brings Dr. Pereira to the point of
committed action. The couple (hopelessly in love with each other, but
even more committed to the cause) elicit his sympathy and draw him
unwittingly into involvement in clandestine, political activism. His
constant protest against involvement is “But I’m only the editor
of a small Culture Page.”
Events move along.
Pereira is galvanised into taking action when the couple begin to pay the price for their involvement, action that is rich with danger and
imagination. He strikes a daring blow for freedom at great risk to
himself, and the indolent, ineffective academic is transformed into a
It’s a short account,
so readable and such an important little book that it’s a real pity
Irish bookshops don’t seem to carry it or any other of Tabbuchi’s
writing. Thank goodness for Amazon.