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IN BRIEF

Fiction

September 29, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

PEREIRA DECLARES by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh (New Directions: $19.95, 144 pp.). It's 1938. Night is falling over Europe. The Spanish Civil War rages. Hitler, Mussolini and, in Portugal, Salazar consolidate their dictatorships. "Are you living in another world?" a priest asks Pereira, editor of the culture page at a second-rate Lisbon newspaper. "Go and find out what's happening around you."

Pereira resists. He is a widower who talks compulsively to a photo of his wife, a fat man who loves lemonade and omelettes aux fines herbes, a confirmed nonpolitical whose journalism consists of translations of 19th century French fiction. The last thing he wants is for his newly hired obituary writer, Monteiro Rossi, to reveal himself as a left-wing agitator and to solicit Pereira's help.

"Pereira Declares," first published in Italy in 1994, has been made into a film starring Marcello Mastroianni. As the title suggests, it's the story of how this seemingly negligible man comes to take a courageous stand. Pereira's "declaration," however, has another meaning. Author Antonio Tabucchi writes this brief novel not from Pereira's point of view, exactly, but from that of someone setting down his testimony in an affidavit. This distancing device--who is Pereira "declaring" himself to? God? History? The Salazarist police?--gives the story a sly humor and saves it from sentimentality.

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