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THE BOOK OF DISQUIET by Fernando Pessoa


by Fernando Pessoa

Pub Date: June 17th, 1991
ISBN: 0-679-40234-9
Publisher: Pantheon

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.