Antonio Tabucchi, elegiac Italian writer, dies at 68

Antonio Tabucchi, a prominent Italian novelist whose work, with his almost palpable sympathy for the oppressed, has become a benchmark brandished by opponents of the right-wing government of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, died on March 25 in Lisbon. He was 68 years old.

The cause was cancer, its French translator, Bernard Comment, told Agence France-Presse. Mr. Tabucchi (pronounced ta-BOO-kee), who was also a specialist in Portuguese literature, divided his time between Lisbon and Tuscany.

Translated into many languages, including English, Mr. Tabucchi’s work has garnered widespread critical acclaim, an international audience and several screen adaptations. His best-known works include the novel “Pereira Declares: A Testimony”, the short story “Indian Nocturne” and numerous short stories.

“He is the most important prose writer in Italy since the death of Italo Calvino in 1985, ”said Charles Klopp, professor of Italian at Ohio State University who wrote about Tabucchi, in a telephone interview. “He is interested – and this makes him unique in the Italian literature scene, and perhaps European literature as well – in betrayal, remorse and forgiveness. That is, what was once called “sin”. ”

Ruminative, elegiac and biting, M. Tabucchi’s prose evokes a state between waking and dreaming. Its features include a discontinuous chronology, in which fragments of the narrative sparkle like shards of memory; the mutable identities of people and places; and the eminently reasonable presence of ghosts. (In the Tabucchi universe, the dead rise, speak, and go out to dinner.) His narrative approach may recall Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, to whom he has often been compared.

Throughout his work, Mr. Tabucchi has been interested in the collision of anonymous, often oppressed, individual lives with the large-scale machinations of fate. This propensity has made his work at least allegorically political, and – with its constant concern for civil rights, anti-fascism, and freedom of information – often overtly.

In his first novel, “Piazza d’Italia” (1975), he tells the story of the fortune of a family of distraught Tuscan anarchists. The multigenerational narrative spans the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, when its protagonists found themselves on the losing side in the fight against fascism.

In “Pereira Declares”, published in English in 1995 and considered the most famous novel by Mr. Tabucchi, the main character, an aging and modest Portuguese newspaper editor, is brought to face the dictatorship of Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar .

To Mr Tabucchi’s surprise – but by no means to his displeasure, as he has indicated in interviews – this novel has been defended by the enemies of Mr Berlusconi, the communications billionaire who served three terms as as Italian Prime Minister.

A film adaptation, titled “According to Pereira” in English, was released in 1995. Directed by Roberto Faenza, it stars Marcello Mastroianni as Pereira.

Coming from the Portuguese literary tradition, with which he was delighted in his youth, Mr. Tabucchi seems to have fully assimilated the concept of “saudade”. The word embraces longing, longing, and a longing for what is lost, evanescent, and perhaps unattainable. The idea of ​​saudade has long been considered to permeate the national character of Portugal.

Although Mr. Tabucchi has resisted an orderly classification of genres, he has been called a postmodernist, and Saudade easily fits this tradition. Much of his fiction is organized, like a detective novel, around a quest. The quest often turns out to be as much about the identity of the seeker as it is about the thing sought.

In “Indian Nocturne”, the short story which made Mr. Tabucchi’s international reputation – it appeared in English in 1989 – the protagonist travels to India in search of a missing friend. As he wanders, his own identity begins to merge with that of his friend. (A French film adaptation, “Nocturne Indien”, directed by Alain Corneau, was released in 1989.)

And if, in this book as in the others, there is no clear resolution at the end of the quest, then, according to Mr. Tabucchi, that was precisely the point. He wrote, he would often say, so that readers could actively engage with his text – question it, wrestle with it, chew through a range of possible outcomes – rather than passively browsing through it.

“His argument is that there are no mulligans in life,” said Prof Klopp. “And that the creative thinker can rethink a painful episode and change it in his mind, or in his mind, but cannot change it in reality.”

For some critics, Mr. Tabucchi’s work was obscure, insufficiently narrative, and overloaded with impending omens. For others, it was little genius.

Antonio Tabucchi was born in Pisa on September 24, 1943, in the midst of the Nazi occupation and Allied bombing of the city; his father, he said, was a horse trader.

In his youth, he traveled through Europe in the footsteps of his literary idols, becoming fascinated by the work of the Portuguese mystical poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). Mr. Tabucchi learned Portuguese to read Pessoa in the original and eventually taught Portuguese literature, first at the University of Genoa and later at the University of Siena.

Mr. Tabucchi’s survivors are his wife, María José de Lancaster, and his two children. His other books published in English include the novels “It’s Getting Later All the Time”, “The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro” and “Requiem: A Hallucination”, and the short stories “Letter From Casablanca” and “Little Misunderstandings of None. importance.

Recipient of several European literary prizes, Mr. Tabucchi was one of the founders of the International Parliament of Writers. Started in 1993 after the assassination of the Algerian writer Tahar Djaout by Islamic fundamentalists, the group strives to protect writers and their work.

In an interview in 1999, Mr. Tabucchi was asked to describe the role of the intellectual. It was, he replied, to sow doubt.

“Doubts are like stains on a shirt,” he said. “I like stained shirts, because when I am given a shirt that is too clean, completely white, I immediately start to have doubts. It is the job of intellectuals and writers to question perfection. Perfection breeds doctrines, dictators and totalitarian ideas.


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