A man goes to visit the grave of his friend in a cemetery in Lisbon. He starts to talk to his dead friend as people sometimes do at the grave of a friend. The friend answers and invites the man inside. The man accepts the invitation, goes in, and the two reminisce, the live man wanting to know secrets the dead man took to the grave with him.
Such an occasion is typical of Antonio Tabucchi as he leads his readers along a dream-like tour of Lisbon that is shot through with reality; a tribute to Portugal’s past, laying it hopefully to rest.
Along the way Tabucchi’s narrator introduces his readers to a succession of waiters, a faded prostitute, taxi-driver, hotel staff, all the characters a person is likely to meet along life’s journey that are half-remembered and illusory, inhabiting the shadows of an unreliable memory.
The final encounter is with Fernando Pessoa, a particular favourite of Tabucchi’s, whose identity is only given away by a factual reference to the great poet’s life as he appears as “the guest” in this book – his childhood spent in South African with his mother and step father.
The title gives a hint to the reader regarding how to read this extraordinary little book and what Tabucchi’s intention might have been in writing it: “Requiem – a hallucination”. It’s a homage to Portugal’s past but at the same time the question is posed about the reliability of memory. Many of the memories are of people and events in Portugal’s fascist era, one of Tabucchi’s preoccupations, and the general atmosphere is one of sadness, faded glory, missed opportunity and misplaced loyalties.
Requiem is a great introduction to Tabucchi’s writing, perhaps autobiographical since the narrator is an Italian enamoured with Portugal – a description that matches Tabucchi perfectly. Even more accessible, and with a more straightforward, realistic storyline is “Declares Pereira”, more recently re-translated as “Maintains Pereira”.