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Requiem: A Hallucination by Antonio Tabucci

Reviewed by Gail Vida Hamburg
Author of The Edge of the World (Mirare Press)

Requiem: A Hallucination is an offertory to its Italian author’s trinity of obsessions: poet, Fernando Pessoa; Portugal, and the Portuguese language. Better known for his translation of Pessoa’s work into Italian, Antonio Tabucci weaves here, a novella about a hallucination conjured from a reader’s reverie.

The nameless narrator is stretched out on a deck chair in a friend’s garden, reading Pessoa’s, The Book of Disquiet, when he slips into a nether world, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. In the dreamscape -- a hot July day in Lisbon from noon to midnight -- the narrator encounters a host of vivid characters real, dead, and fictional. They include a lottery ticket seller from The Book of Disquiet, a seller of stories, and finally the great Pessoa, himself. The oppressive heat, the narrator’s limited financial resources, and his liberal spending of it, provoke concern; as one follows the narrator to his mysterious appointment at midnight.

This is a sparely written yet richly atmospheric work that persuades us to submit to the power of illusion and delusion. The extraordinary heat in Lisbon that forces the perspiring narrator to make a purchase of shirts, makes us wonder if this isn’t a hallucination inspired by a high fever. Is the narrator stretched out on a deck chair because he is sick or dying? Is the requiem, for the dying narrator himself? Compelling until the reckoning -- the standing appointment at midnight -- Requiem’s subtext is about the hero’s journey, a quest for the Holy Grail. It is also about the passing of the torch: by Pessoa to the narrator, and the narrator’s claiming of the writer’s legacy. More than a travelogue, Requiem: A Hallucination is an elegy to all that no longer remains of Portugal.

   

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