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The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 31, 2002
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From 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When Pessoa died in 1935, a few years short of 50, he left behind a trunk of mostly unpublished writing in a variety of languages; his Lisbon publishers and variously translators are still sifting them.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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“A Modernist touchstone . . . no one has explored alternative selves with Pessoa’s mixture of determination and abandon . . . In a time which celebrates fame, success, stupidity, convenience and noise, here is the perfect antidote, a hymn of praise to obscurity, failure, intelligence, difficulty, and silence.” —The Daily Telegraph
“His prose masterpiece . . . Richard Zenith has done an heroic job in producing the best English-language version we are likely to see for a long time, if ever.” —The Guardian
“The Book of Disquiet was left in a trunk which might never have been opened. The gods must be thanked that it was. I love this strange work of fiction and I love the inventive, hard-drinking, modest man who wrote it in obscurity.” —Independent
“Fascinating, even gripping stuff . . . a strangely addictive pleasure.” —Sunday Times
“Must rank as the supreme assault on authorship in modern European literature . . . readers of Zenith’s edition will find it supersedes all others in its delicacy of style, rigorous scholarship and sympathy for Pessoa’s fractured sensibility . . . the self-revelation of a disoriented and half-disintegrated soul that is all the more compelling because the author himself is an invention . . . Long before postmodernism became an academic industry, Pessoa lived deconstruction.” —New Statesman
“Extraordinary . . . a haunting mosaic of dreams, autobiographical vignettes, shards of literary theory and criticism and maxims.” —The Observer
“Pessoa’s rapid prose, snatched in flight and restlessly suggestive, remains haunting, often startling, like the touch of a vibrating wire, elusive and persistent like the poetry . . . there is nobody like him.” —New York Review of Books
“This superb edition of The Book of Disquiet is . . . a masterpiece.” —The Daily Telegraph
"I plan to use this book every year in my course at Yale. Thanks for making it available." —K. David Jackson, Yale University
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Top Customer Reviews
Let me first say this book is astonishing in every way. Written in a prose/poetry/diary format, the images and landscapes invade your imagination and stay with you. With imagary such as: "To drag my feet homeward weighs like lead on my senses. The caress of extinction, the flower proffered by futility, my name never pronounced, my disquiet like a river contained between the banks, the privilege of abandoned duties, and - around the last bend in the ancestral park - that other century, like a rose garden." (page 391)
At times, it reads like a beautiful suicide note. But just when you think he's ready to do himself in, he says: "In certain particularly lucid moments of contemplation, like those of early afternoon when I observantly wander through the streets, each person brings me a novelty, each building teaches me something new, each placard has a message for me." (page 297)
I would say that Pessoa was the greatest writer to never publish. And the greatest of poet-philosophers to never exist. His place in history is long overdue. He should stand with the likes Baudelaire and Goethe and tower over most 20th century authors.
In summary, Pessoa has invented a new language for the forgotten, the alienated, the damned, the dispossessed, the "disquieted". The "Book of Disquiet" is the greatest masterpiece never finished. Read it with caution. You may find yourself in love with words again.
Please excuse me for quoting a blurb. It seems to me exactly right. John Lancaster wrote, “In a time which celebrates fame, success, stupidity, convenience and noise, here is the perfect antidote, a hymn of praise to obscurity, failure, intelligence, difficulty and silence.” If you, too, are spooked or nauseated by a world in which people go around trumpeting their own busyness and importance, reciting what appear to be advertisements for themselves, then this book may well feel like an antidote -- as well as a drastically more honest assessment of life, the way it actually feels, as opposed to how it is supposed to feel.
If I may give advice, I strongly recommend using this book as a “tincture”, just a few pages at a time. I do not believe Pessoa would be offended even if you set it in the bathroom to accompany intestinal disquiets. As Zenith points out in his introduction, reading at random is actually ideal. I read this book over six months and was glad of its company -- but I think, if I’d sat down and tried to read through it in a week, I might have found it insufferable. You could O.D. on ennui. Taken slowly in small doses however, it is brilliant bitter company.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Much of it is a bit incoherent.