It is widely acknowledged that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for the good to remain silent. Pereira is a good man. He shows little interest in politics; he lives his life in his own small way, without outside disturbance. But an almost chance encounter with a young man is going to force Pereira to rethink his position.
Pereira is a journalist, not a very successful one, it seems. He has spent most of his career occupying himself with those ‘also ran’ items of news which fulfill no other purpose than plugging the gaps in the paper’s pages.
Recently however, he has been handed responsibility for the paper’s cultural page; an opportunity which enables him to indulge his passion for French classics in a weekly column. All he has to do is steer clear of politics.
Pereira is happy to oblige. He’s not a political animal. He just wants to be left alone to get on with his life in peace and tranquility. But following his meeting with the young man peace and tranquility will not come. For the young man is a revolutionary, a hazardous occupation in the Portugal of the time where violence and dictatorship are the order of the day as the country keeps a weary on neighbouring Spain, which is in the throes of tearing itself apart by civil war.
In the main central section of the novel, Tabucchi provides us with a master class in character building as with a light touch he slowly but surely transforms his main character into one of the unlikeliest heros in fiction. Pereira wakes up to the reality of what is going on around him. And once this happens, things can never be the same again.
So why does Pereira get involved? For the young man, the solution is straightforward. Pereira is a good man, a good man who has finally recognised he has to speak out.
When the young man is killed by a vigilante squad, Pereira is forced into a decision which will see an otherwise slow-paced novel hurtle towards a breathtaking climax in which Pereira takes a stand and becomes a hero.
It’s this stand which makes the novel so relevant today. In a world where the population of country after country are beginning to stand up for their rights, good men all over are casting aside their fears and overturning evil. They are their country’s Pereiras; unsung heros of which the novelist was unaware when he wrote his book. Yet, it’s as much a celebration of their work as it is of Pereira’s.