Antonio Tabucchi, 1943–2012

In a truly dark time for Italy, the death of one of its great writers is a particularly unusual cruelty. I have always wanted to be a writer, but Tabucchi was the figure whose works convinced me that it was necessary to be a writer on the left. His novel Pereira Declares (Sostiene Pereira), published in 1994, was an instant classic of political fiction, as slim and fiery as a pamphlet, but as careful and tragic as a work of art. Telling the story of a blithe and careless Portuguese newspaper editor, a gourmand with little interest in public affairs, who suddenly finds himself called to action by the rise of the fascist Antonio Salazar, it beautifully conveys the vagaries of deliberation and doubt that might prevent, but could also strengthen, the commitment of literary people to politics at a moment of crisis. Appearing just as Berlusconi came to power, Pereira Declares crystallized resistance to the neofascist tendencies of the new regime, which, like the Salazar dictatorship, threatened to control all organs of free expression. Reading it at the grimmest point in the Bush Administration, when writers all around shirked their responsibilities or capitulated in craven ways to the government, it was a tonic, and as clear an appeal to political conscience as I have ever encountered. Together with Pereira Declares, his beautiful novellas inspired by Fernando Pessoa (whom he translated into Italian), such as Indian Nocturne and Requiem, and his shorter interventions in the magazine MicroMega, angrily protesting every transgression of Berlusconi, make him a virtually peerless contemporary example of the writer in politics. —NS

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