The Book of Disquiet

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Fernando Pessoa was many writers in one. He attributed his prolific writings to a wide range of alternate selves, each of which had a distinct biography, ideology. and horoscope. When he died in 935, Pessoa left behind a trunk filled with unfinished and unpublished writings, among which were the remarkable pages that make up his posthumous masterpiece, The Book of Disquiet, an astonishing work that, in George Steiner's words, "gives to Lisbon the haunting spell of Joyce's Dublin...

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Fernando Pessoa was many writers in one. He attributed his prolific writings to a wide range of alternate selves, each of which had a distinct biography, ideology. and horoscope. When he died in 935, Pessoa left behind a trunk filled with unfinished and unpublished writings, among which were the remarkable pages that make up his posthumous masterpiece, The Book of Disquiet, an astonishing work that, in George Steiner's words, "gives to Lisbon the haunting spell of Joyce's Dublin or Kafka's Prague."

Published for the first time some fifty years after his death, this unique collection of short, aphoristic paragraphs comprises the "autobiography" of Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa's alternate selves. Part intimate diary, part prose poetry, part descriptive narrative, captivatingly translated by Richard Zenith, The Book of Disquiet is one of the greatest works of the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This superb edition of The Book of Disquiet is . . . a masterpiece.”  —John Lanchester, The Daily Telegraph“Pessoa’s rapid prose, snatched in flight and restlessly suggestive, remains haunting, often startling. . . . There is nobody like him.” —W. S. Merwin, The New York Review of Books“Extraordinary . . . a haunting mosaic of dreams, autobiographical vignettes, shards of literary theory and criticism and maxims.” —George Steiner, The Observer

"I plan to use this book every year in my course at Yale.  Thanks for making it available." —K. David Jackson, Yale University

Publishers Weekly
When Pessoa died in 1935, a few years short of 50, he left behind a trunk of mostly unpublished writing in a variety of languages; his Lisbon publishers and variously translators are still sifting them. This perpetually unclassifiable and unfinished book of self-reflective fragments was first published in Portuguese in 1982, and it is arguably Pessoa's masterpiece. Four previous English translations, all published in 1991, were compromised either by abridgement, poor translation or error-laden source texts. While he's now a Pessoa veteran-having edited and translated Fernando Pessoa & Co.: Selected Poems, the 1999 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation winner-Zenith's first pass at this book was one of the four misses. He bases this new translation on his own Portuguese edition of 1998, and has done an admirable job in bringing out the force and clarity in Pessoa's serpentine and sometimes opaque meditations. Pessoa often wrote as various personae (as Pessoa & Co. carefully demonstrated); Disquiet is no exception, being putatively the work of "Bernardo Soares, assistant bookkeeper in the city of Lisbon." Thus it is impossible to ascribe the book's anti-humanist logophilia directly to the author: "I weep over nothing that life brings or takes away, but there are pages of prose that have made me cry." That is just one of many permutations of similar sentiments, but the genius of Pessoa and his personae is that readers are left weighing each and every such sentence for sincerity and truth value. (Dec. 3) Forecast: The release of this book as part of the newly redesigned Penguin Classics series should further assure Pessoa's place in the modernist pantheon. Pessoa and Co. was well reviewed, but the fact that Disquiet's previous appearances in English were relatively recent may limit review attention. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A better title might be The Books of Disquiet . Each entry in this fictional diary of one Bernardo Soares represents an attempt to create a distinct biography, for Soares lives according to the maxim: ``Give to each emotion a personality, to each state of mind a soul.'' Through every rumination he records Soares longs to father someone because he is ``nobody, absolutely nobody.'' His monotonous work as a bookkeeper in a Lisbon office and his solitary, celibate existence have contributed to the dissolution of his identity. Yet this grants him the ultimate imaginative freedom: ``Because I am nothing, I can imagine myself to be anything.'' One effect of this freedom is a sense of exhaustion before the sheer number of possibilities for being. Another is a sense--at once paternal and disturbingly erotic--of intimacy with the whole human race. Of sleep Soares muses: ``When someone sleeps they become a child. . . . I experience an immense, boundless tenderness for all of infantile humanity.'' More elegantly translated here than in the recent Pantheon edition, this novel presents paradoxes of identity that are more than just an occasion for meditation for Pessoa (1888-1935), one of Portugal's greatest writers and among this century's most enigmatic. They parallel Pessoa's own lived experience. He created several distinct personalities--called ``heteronyms''--through which he wrote in an astonishing variety of styles and even in different languages. Soares represents a ``semiheteronym,'' perhaps closest of all to the ``real'' Pessoa. Whoever Pessoa was, he managed to address through Soares's abstruse, at times excruciatingly precious musings the essential condition of human identity as represented in Western literature. Soares's separation from a common order might be the stuff of tragedy but for the fact that ``my self-imposed rupture with any contact with things, led me precisely to what I was trying to flee.'' For all his quixotic tilting at windmills, Soares admits: ``Whenever I see the figure of a young girl in the street . . . I wonder, however idly, how it would be if she were mine.'' Yet Sancho Panza's suit never hangs on Soares's skinny bones, and this is his dilemma. He is stalled between the poles of tragedy and comedy: ``I can be neither nothing nor everything: I'm just the bridge between what I do not have and what I do not want.'' And herein lies the reason for the multifarious forms of his--and our--disquiet. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Recognized as Portugal's greatest poet since Camoens, Pessoa 1888-1935 wrote poetry under various heteronyms to whom he attributed biographies different from his own. Likewise, this rich and rewarding notebook kept by the solitary, celibate, and semi-alcoholic Pessoa during the last two decades of his life, is written under yet another heteronym Bernardo Soares, a Lisbon bookkeeper with a position that is like a siesta and a salary that allows him to go on living. Soares knows no pleasure like that of books, yet he reads little. Like Camus, he is irritated by the happiness of men who don't know they are wretched, and his main objective is to perceive tedium in such a way that it ceases to hurt. There are no gossipy details in this heteronymous memoir, only the cerebral workings of a first-rate thinker on the dilemma of life. Full of fresh metaphors and unique perceptions, The Book of Disquiet can be casually scanned and read profitably even at random.-- Jack Shreve, Allegany Community Coll., Cumberland, Md.
The first English translation (by Alfred Mac Adam) of selections from the major prose work of Pessoa (1888-1935), the most important Portuguese man of letters of the 20th century, and often identified, along with Rilke and Yeats, as one of the greatest European poets of the century. Composed (under the heteronym of Bernardo Soares) of reveries and everyday impressions from the last two decades of Pessoa's life, The book of disquiet partakes of the genres of the intimate diary, prose poetry, and the descriptive narrative. Of inestimable importance. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
The private meditations of one of modern Portugal's most celebrated poets and critics, set down pseudonymously in the form of a journal spanning some 20 years. Pessoa (1888-1935) is not well known outside of Portugal. A bookkeeper and journalist, he lived quietly in Lisbon and published much of his poetry under assumed names. (The putative author of The Book of Disquiet is "Bernardo Soares, Assistant Bookkeeper in the City of Lisbon.") Although he was raised in South Africa and educated in English, Pessoa held that "my country is the Portuguese language"; this work shows the truth of that claim. It records with palpable clarity the inner life of an immensely gifted and unbelievably self-contained writer who moves through the daily world of offices and trams and restaurants with no apparent aim besides the description and re-creation of his thoughts. We are given a picture of extraordinary tedium and solitude, but the "fatigue" that the narrator complains of so frequently does not prevent him from breathing life into the most commonplace events and discerning the true wonder of familiar things. The cut of a woman's dress, for example, glimpsed in passing aboard a streetcar, becomes a reminder of human society: of the factory that produced it, the hands that sewed it, the inventories that recorded it, and the threads that wove it. A thunderstorm watched through an office window carries all the force and terror of an apocalypse. Throughout, the focus is constantly sharpened by the author's narrative restraint, which commands attention, and by his depth of vision, which rewards it. Profound and moving: a work of immense, quiet power.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141183046
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/31/2002
  • Series: Classics Series
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 94,925
  • Product dimensions: 5.05 (w) x 7.72 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Fernando Pessoa, one of the founders of modernism, was born in Lisbon in 1888. He grew up in Durban, South Africa, where his stepfather was Portuguese consul. He returned to Lisbon in 1905 and worked as a clerk in an import-export company until his death in 1935. Most of Pessoa’s writing was not published during his lifetime; The Book of Disquiet first came out in Portugal in 1982. Since its first publication, it has been hailed as a classic.
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Table of Contents

Introduction   vii
Notes on the Text and Translation   xxvii
Acknowledgements   xxxii

The Book Of Disquiet

Preface by Fernando Pessoa   3
A Factless Autobiography   9
A Disquiet Anthology   393

Appendix I: Texts Citing the Name of Vicente Guedes   465
Appendix II: Two Letters   467
Appendix III: Reflections on The Book of Disquiet from Pessoa's Writings   471
Notes   477
Table of Heteronyms    505

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Magnum Opus from an Underrated Writer

    Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese writer, has been below the radar for some time now. At times his name resurfaces in literary reviews but it seems he is doomed to obscurity as he was when he was living.

    Admittedly, Pessoa is not for everyone. However if you find yourself wondering about the minutiae of life and feeling at times a certain disconnect with the world then he may be the writer for you.

    Pessoa writes from the point of view of Bernardo Soares, a bookkeeper disassociated from his coworkers and living mostly in his mind. The book is written in numbered vignettes, with more than 300 musings on life and its daily occurrences. This book is best read as a sort of reference, a loner's bible at times comic and tragic, where you can flip to any page and read an inspirational or sympathetic quote.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2004

    Portuguese prose with universal relevance

    This is a beautifully honest work from Lisbon's favorite son. Each turn of the page unearths a new revelation on life, love, and possession... His gift for ponderance of both the mundane and the holy is haunting. Sensually written, painstaking translated, worth every effort.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2001

    An Acute Study in Human Nature

    Fernando Pessoa, in The Book of Disquiet, offers a startling look at the life of one Bernardo Soares, a heteronym very close to Pessoa's own personality. In each diary entry that comprises this rare novel, the reader is brought to a keen sense of awareness through Soares' seemingly simple daily observations, which marks The Book of Disquiet as a deeply satisfying reading experience. Though Pessoa's language, or simply the language of the translation, is sometimes dense, it is language used in the best sense of the word. Every passage is poetry, and because of this it need not even be read in order. For the introduction alone, the book is worth the purchase. One can't say enough about this unique and beautiful novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2013


    A wonderful book, highly recomended.

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  • Posted May 25, 2013

    No literature library is complete without it.

    I put off purchasing the book for a while because, when I first heard of it, the spring semester was in full swing. If I had bought it then, I would've constantly been tempted to read it when I knew I should've been reading stuff for my classes. Now that I've had time to dive into it, I can truthfully state that I've never read anything quite like it. It's strange at times; it's bizarre at times; it's morbid at times; it's blunt and cold at times;, but thought-provoking is always its consistent description. If you're into modernist literature, then you'll regard this book in high esteem--and, no, that is not a sales pitch.

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    Posted December 11, 2012

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    Posted February 18, 2009

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