Antonio Tabucchi

Antonio Tabucchi was born in Pisa in 1943 and grew up in Vecchiano, northern Italy. He studied Literature in Pisa and Paris and completed his studies with a dissertation on Portuguese surrealism. He was Professor for Portuguese Language and Literature, first in Genoa, then in Sienna. In 1970 he married Maria José de Lancastre. He collaborated with his Portuguese wife on an Italian edition of the collected works of Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). Tabucchi maintains that his discovery of this Portuguese writer at the age of 19 inspired him to start writing himself. Since 1975 he has published novels, short stories, plays, essays and translations from Portuguese.

In 1983 Tabucchi travelled to Latin America and India, commissioned by the Fondazione Gulbenkian (Lisbon) and the University of Genoa, to conduct archive research on “European-founded Libraries in Non-European Countries”. From 1985 to 1987 he was director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Lisbon. He has received numerous awards, including the Premio Campiello in 1994, the Austrian Staatspreis für Europäische Literatur in 1997 and the Premio Salento 2003.

His debut novel, ‘Piazza d’Italia’, was published in 1975. It traces the history of an anarchist family in Tuscany over three generations. “Politics is just as much a part of life as love, death and emotions”. This attitude is evident in the whole of Tabucchi’s prose, yet his political statements are never dogmatic. This can also be said of his most successful novel to date, ‘Sostiene Pereira’ (Engl: Pereira Declares: A Testimony), which was filmed in 1995 starring Marcello Mastroianni. In view of the date of publication, January 1994, the Italian media interpreted the fictional story of a Portuguese culture journalist who in 1938 breaks his allegiance to the fascist Salazar dictatorship and rebels against it, as a clear statement on the imminent election.

Memory and investigation are the main motifs in Tabucchi’s work. In their search for identity the protagonists engage in dialogue with dream figures and doppelgangers, sometimes conversing with literary figures or even with their creators. This is the case in ‘Requiem’ (1991), an act of homage to Lisbon and a profession of love for the Portuguese language, which the author employs to describe his “hallucination”, a fictional encounter with his role model Pessoa and his idol’s characters.

Tabucchi’s novels often combine investigative aspects with elements from detective stories. He employed this technique for his book, ‘La testa perduta di Damasceno Monteiro’ (Engl: The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro), published in 1997, which in many ways forms the antithesis to the 1994 bestseller. Like Pereira, who found the chink in the armour of dictatorship at which to launch his protest in 1938, the young journalist Firmino discovers the dictatorial power structure of a money mafia behind Portugal’s democratic system. After his ‘Autobiografie altrui’ (Engl: Autobiography of Others) the collection of essays „L’Oca al passo“ (2006) was published, containing political thoughts on (anti)terrorism, neofascism, racism, revisionism and totalitarian tendencies in Italy. Antonio Tabucchi has died March 25th 2012 at the age of 68 in Lisbon.

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