A short, food-filled fictional walk in and around the city of Lisbon by a distinguished Italian author and translator of Portuguese that culminates in a dream-time meeting with an unnamed writer who one assumes the poet Fernando Pessoa. In a prefatory note, Tabucchi calls it a ``sonata''—about places and people deeply important to him and thus worthy of solemnity—but nonetheless, he explains, a piece of music better played on a barrel-organ than on a church organ. Beginning and ending in Lisbon and stretching to areas outside the city and into the realm of dreams and the dead, the narrator languidly picks up people and places he has known and enters into lazy discourse with them: a dead friend named Slowacki, the narrator's father in his youth, a barman at the Museum of Ancient Art, hotel keepers, cooks, a ``seller of stories.'' There's great attention to eating, drinking, and digestion: Meals and incidental food memories build the novelette into almost a new kind of dreamscape cookbook (indeed, the translator provides ``A Note on Recipes in This Book'' at the end). The narrator returns to Lisbon for an appointment with the Pessoa-like ``writer,'' who irritably defends himself against charges of Europeanism and Avant-Gardism. The discourse brushes lightly over some talk of the new, posh Lisbon, but the book really isn't about the city: It's some sort of internal parable of the artistic life. The voice is expansive and satisfied and almost seems good- naturedly to say, ``You wouldn't understand.'' Reading this is like having a buzzed after-dinner conversation with a mind too brilliant to get into nuts and bolts. And yet the streamlike writing, spliced by endless commas, contains a charm that shines through the monochrome.
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