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PARIS – Antonio Tabucchi, the son of a horse trader who became one of Italy’s leading contemporary writers, has died aged 68 in Lisbon after a long illness, his French translator Bernard Comment said Sunday, March 25.
Tabucchi, whose many works include Indian Nocturne and Tristano Dies and who has been translated into 40 languages, was also a professor who specialised in Portuguese literature.
Best known in Italy for his relentless criticism of ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, he invented an obese Catholic journalist who joined the struggle against fascism in Portugal under Salazar in his 1994 novel Pereira Declares.
The work became a touchstone not only for freedom of information activists throughout the world but also for Italians opposed to billionaire Berlusconi’s entry into politics the same year.
The author, several of whose novels have been adapted for the cinema, favoured simple writing revolving around ordinary people whose lives are transformed by travel, chance meetings or internal doubts.
“I’ve always been drawn to tormented people full of contradictions,” he once told the UNESCO Courier magazine.
“The more doubts they have the better. People with lots of doubts sometimes find life more oppressive and exhausting than others, but they’re more energetic. I don’t go for people who lead full and satisfying lives,” he said.
Born September 24, 1943, in Pisa the year before Allied bombs fell on the city, Tabucchi was the only son of a horse trader.
He studied literature and philosophy in Tuscany before travelling through Europe in the footsteps of his favourite authors.
While in Paris he picked up a collection of poems by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa including The Tobacco Shop. That kicked off his lifelong love affair with Portugal, where he met his wife.
While maintaining a home in Portugal, Tabucchi returned to Italy where he taught Portuguese language and literature in Bologna and translated Pessoa’s works.
Tabucchi’s first novel, Piazza d’Italia (1975), was however a return to his roots, exploring Italy’s history through three generations of Tuscan anarchists stretching from Garibaldi’s time to World War II.
Several other works followed, including The Edge of the Horizon — in which a morgue employee desperately tries to identify a cadaver no-one is interested in — before Tabucchi scored his first critical success outside Italy with Indian Nocturne in 1984.
The short novel, which won France’s Medicis Prize for foreign works, relates a man’s search for a lost friend in India that turns into a voyage of personal discovery.
Pereira Declares, Tabucchi’s second novel in Portuguese following Requiem, established the writer’s literary anchor in his home away from home.
“In a novel, my feelings and sense of outrage can find a broader means of expression which would be more symbolic and applicable to many European countries,” said Tabucchi, a founding member of the International Parliament of Writers.
His last faculty position before retiring was as professor of Portuguese language and literature at the University of Siena in Italy.
Tabucchi also contributed articles to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera and Spain’s El Pais.
He never missed an occasion to criticise Berlusconi, whether in commentary or in fiction.
In Tristano Dies (2004), Tabucchi slammed the right-wing leader through the story of a dying old man who entrusts his life to a friend.
“Democracy isn’t a state of perfection,” Tabucchi said. “It has to be improved, and that means constant vigilance.” – Agence France-Presse