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||Antonio Tabucchi (1943-2012)|
Italian writer, a master of the short story and novella, professor of Portuguese language and literature. As a scholar and translator Antonio Tabucchi was especially known for his work on the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Although Tabucchi did not belong to a particular literary "school" or current, his stories constantly play in line with postmodern narration techniques with the contradiction between author and reader.
"He blew his nose again and went on: Besides, the one hundred escudo notes are cool, they've got a picture of Fernando Pessoa on them, and now let me ask you a question, do you like Pessoa? Very much, I replied, I could even tell you a good story about him, but it's not worth it"... (from Requiem: A Hallucination, 1992)
Antonio Tabucchi was born in Pisa, in Tuscany, the son of Antonio Tabucchi, a horse trader, and Tina Pardella. He grew up in his maternal grandparents' home in Vecchiano, a village not far from Pisa, which was bombed the Allies during WW II. Tabucchi was educated at the University of Pisa and graduated in 1969 with the thesis Surrealism in Portugal. He then furthered his education at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. As a novelist Tabucchi made his debut in 1975 with Piazza d'Italia, which was an attempt to look at, as the author himself said, "history that hasn't been written, history as written by the losing side, in this case the Tuscan anarchists. My books are about losers, about people who've lost their way and are engaged in a search." ('Tabucchi, Antonio' by F.C. [Forrest Cole] in World Authors 2000-2005, ed. by Jennifer Curry et al., 2007, p. 718) Although the work had some elements in common with Gabriel García Márquez's magical realist novel Cien años de soledad, beginning with the flexible time concept, Tabucchi dismissed similarities as superficial.
Tabucchi's first collection of short stories, Il gioco del rovescio (1981, Letter from Casablanca), won the Pozzale-Luigi Russo Prize. From 1978 to 1987 Tabucchi worked as a lecturer in literature at the University of Genoa. In 1991 he became Professor of Portuguese at the University of Sienna. His time Tabucchi divided between Lisbon, and Italy. He was also a staff member of the Italian Institute of Culture in Lisbon until 1991. Tabucchi's columns appeared in Corriere della Sera, the leading Italian newspaper, and El País, the most influential Spanish newspaper.
After reading 'Tabacaria,' a poem by Fernando Pessoa
(1888-1935) on a trip to France, Tabucchi became fascinated by the
Portuguese poet, sharing this interest with writers such as the Nobel
laureate José Saramago (1922-2010) and the
South-African poet Roy Campbell (1901-1957). Pessoa, who masqueraded
behind literary alter egos, was relatively unknownduring his life time,
and died in obscurity. Tabucchi edited in Italian Pessoa's poems and
published critical studies on him, some of which have been collected in
Un baule pieno di gente (1990) and Gli ultimi tre giorni di
Fernando Pessoa (1994), in which Tabucchi examined the last three
days in the life of Pessoa. In Sogni di sogni,
a collection of short stories of dreams of famous writers and artists,
one of the dreamers is Pessoa, who meets his heteronym Alberto Caeiro
in South-Africa on March 7, 1914. You must listen to my voice, Caeiro
tells his visitor. (Next day, the 8th of March, 1914, Pessoa began to
Pessoa has been described as "Tabucchi's spiritual father, a presence which looms over all the Italian author's fiction." (The
Phoenix Speaks: The Reclamation of Socio-Political Engagement in the
Works of Leonardo Sciascia and Antonio Tabucchi, 1975-2005 by Elizabeth Wren-Owens, 2005, p. 242) Another source of influence was Pirandello. In the one-act play Il signor Pirandello è desiderato al telefono
(1988, Telephone Call for Mr. Pirandello), set in a Portuguese
psychiatric hospital, Pessoa or actor playing the writer wants to
Describing his writing process in an interview Tabucchi said
that "It's between waking and sleeping, in that precise moment when
thoughts begin to wander and to become dreams, that I hear voices. Bit
by bit, by dint these visist, these voices become faces, silhouettes,
then speaking characters whom I let guide me, by instinct." (Pessoa in an International Web: Influence and Innovation by David G. Frier, 2012, p. 179)
The question of identity has been a central theme in Tabucchi's fiction. In Il filo dell'orizzonte (1986), written in the form of the detective novel, the protagonist is a former medical student, Spino. His name refers to the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), who argued that if reality is both thought and thing, anything whatever can be appropriately interpreted in two ways. Spino tries to solve the mystery around the death of Carlo Noboldi, whose identity is elusive. Thus, the body of Noboldi is a thing, but it also unlocks the philosophical dimensions of life and death. In Notturno indiano (1984) the narrator travels to India to search his friend, Xavier, who starts to resemble the narrator's alter ego. Eveltually Xavier becomes the narrator.
Requiem; un'allucinazione (1992) was originally written
Portuguese and later translated into Italian. It was Tabucchi's homage
to Lisbon and the Portuguese language, and captured the melancholy mood
called saudade, an
inexplicable longing, a sense of the simultaneous beauty and
inescapable sadness of life. In Sostiene Pereira. Una testimonianza
(1994), set in Lisbon in 1938, a widowed and overweight cultural editor
takes stand against Salazar's regime. The narrator relates Pereira's
testimony of an era, when freedom of expression was under attack. The
book became a bestseller, and in Italy the figure of Peraira was
adopted by the left-wing opposition in their parliamentary election
campaign. The target was the media magnate, soon-to-be Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi, whose right-wing coalition won the 1994
La testa perduta di Damasceno Monteiro (1997, The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro) partly drew on a report by the Council of Europe on police violence. Tabucchi's protagonist is a young journalist, who investigates an actual unsolved case, in which a man had been tortured, murdered and decapitated in an office of the Republican National Guard. The case brought Amnesty International into Lisbon. In the story the guilty party, and the corrupt system, goes unpunished, but soon after the publication of the book, a RPG police officer confessed the real-life murder. Tabucchi was criticized by the Portuguese press for his portrayal of police brutality.
Tabucchi was one of the founders of the International
Writers, which among other activities maintains a network of refuge
cities for writers and their families. Opposing
Umberto Eco's view, that the intellectual must stand aloof from
practical revolutionary activity, Tabucchi did not shy a way from
political issues and expressing his anti-fascist sentiments.
Both Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989) and Tabucchi examined in their books the case of Adriano Sofri, a journalist and writer, who was found guilty of orchestrating the murder of the police commissioner Luigi Calabresi. Sciascia's A futura memoria (1989), based on his newspaper articles, casted doubt on the evidence and Sofri's capacity to order the killing, whereas Tabucci analysed the trial from various perspectives in La gastrite di Platone (1998), including from the responsibility of intellectuals.
Si Sta facendo Sempre Più Tardi (2001, It's Getting Later All the Time) renewed the traditional epistolary novel. The book consist of 17 letters composed by unidentified men, but the 18th letter, written by an oracular woman, responds to them all. Although Tabucchi's stories have surrealistic elements, they do not belong to the realm of fantasy, from which his countryman Italo Calvino drew a good deal of his ideas. Often Tabucchi deals with painful periods of European history, the Spanish Civil War, Fascism, the Red Brigades era. His writing is clear, but much is left unsaid, and the mood is often melancholic and dreamlike. "Literature for me isn’t a workaday job," Tabucchi said in his famous quote, "but something which involves desires, dreams and fantasy."
Tabucchi's awards include Inedito Prize in 1975, Pozzale Luigi Russo Prize in 1981, the French "Medicis Etranger" in 1987, Viareggio and Campiello Prizes in 1994, and the Nossack Prize from the Leibniz Academy in 1999. In 1989 Tabucchi was conferred the title of "Comendador da Ordem do Infante Dom Enrique," by the President of the Portuguese Republic, Mario Soares. In 1996 he was made "Officier des Arts et Lettres" in France. Tabucchi was married to María José Lancastre, a native of Lisbon; they had two children. With her Tabucchi also translated much of Pessoa’s work into Italian.
After Roberto Saviano, the writer of Gomorrah, revealed that Naples-area mafia wants to kill him because of the book and he has to flee the country, Tabucchi said that the mafia have "Italy over a barrel, . . . this is proof of that." Renato Schifani, the president of the Italian senate, decided in 2009 to take Tabucchi to court for an acticle he wrote for L'Unita. Tabucchi had referred to his former connections to people condemned for mafia. A petition, 'Nous soutenons Antonio Tabucchi,' published in Le Monde, was signed by such well-known writers as Martin Amis, Stefano Benni, Yves Bonnefoy, Patrick Chamoiseau, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Claudio Magris, Orhan Pamuk, Philip Roth, and José Saramago. Tabucchi died of cancer on 25 March, 2012, in Lisbon.
For further reading: The New Italian Novel, ed. by Z. Baránski and L. Pertile (1993); 'Antonio Tabucchi: Postmodern Catholic Writer' by Charles D. Klopp, in World Literature Today, March 22 (1997); 'Rethinking Modernity in Antonio Tabucchi's Narrative Work' by Assumpta Camps, in Italian Culture, December 22 (2002); L'uomo Inquieto: Identita E Alterita Nell'opera Di Antonio Tabucchi by Pia Lausten (2005); The Novel as Investigation: Leonardo Sciascia, Dacia Maraini, and Antonio Tabucchi by Jo-Ann Cannon (2006); 'Tabucchi, Antonio' by F.C. [Forrest Cole] in World Authors 2000-2005, ed. by Jennifer Curry et al. (2007); Postmodern Ethics: The Re-appropriation of Committed Writing in the Works of Antonio Tabucchi and Leonardo Sciascia 1975-2005 by Elizabeth Wren-Owens (2007); 'Key Author: Antonio Tabucchi: Declares Pereira (Sostiene Pereira)' by Elisabetta Tarantino, in Books, edited by Lucy Daniel (2007); In, on and through Translation: Tabucchi's Travelling Texts by Liz Wren-Owens (2018); Antonio Tabucchi and the Visual Arts: Images, Visions and Insights by Michela Meschini (2018)