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[Saturday Reads] Portuguese Pessoa’s Psychedelic Bookish Musings

... in Fernando Pessoa's "The Book Of Disquiet."


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.


Hands down, this definitive edition of Portuguese Pessoa’s psychedelic bookish musings is the perfect book to feature for our World in Books reading theme, and our #ReadIntl2020 theme.

The Book Of Disquiet: The Complete Edition (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Fernando Pessoa Edited by Jeronimo Pizarro Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa Original Title: Livro do Desassossego por Bernardo Soares
Published by New Directions (2017, first published 1982) Literary Awards: Κρατικό Βραβείο Λογοτεχνικής Μετάφρασης for Μετάφραση Έργου Ξένης Λογοτεχνίας στην Ελληνική Γλώσσα (2008)
ISBN: 081122693X (ISBN13: 9780811226936). Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me, book quote layouts via Typorama and another iPhone app.

Truth be told, this is a book that defies any kind of linear, structured, traditional type of review. I was tempted multiple times during the first quarter of the book to abandon it, mainly because the narrative has no discernibly-linear elements; its structure lies in the scribblings of random, fragmentary musings numbered arbitrarily with no real connection to each other; and while still arguably traditionally romantic and tragic, it often sounded like Pessoa was as high as a kite while he was writing sections of the book. See my initial thoughts here:

Yet, as I continued reading, there was an undeniable pull towards the delightfully strange, the seeming-celebration of the heights of tedium, the undeniable romance with language. The entire book (and it is quite thick) consists of the ruminations of an assistant bookkeeper named Bernardo Soares, Pessoa’s heteronym, or perhaps in psychological parlance, his alter-ego? Or even the alter-ego of his alter-ego. There is, after all, a multiplicity of heteronyms/identities/consciousnesses in Pessoa – a sensation of constantly-evolving state of becoming-and-being, but never fully formed, always half-finished. See quotes below:

I also felt quite strongly, as I was reading the book that Pessoa must have suffered greatly from depression while alive. This is me putting my clinician’s hat on – so much so that the reader in me sometimes felt suffocated while reading – there is deep, dark sadness here. See quotes below:

Despite this, there were also, quite consistently, beauty and pockets of light and sunshine, and a leaning towards the fantastical gilded with wordswordswords. There is the borderline-whiney dissatisfaction brought about by the knowledge that the words do not seem to be enough, yet like a drug, this hunger to write and to be immersed in the universe of words – needs to be fed, because it is ravenous:

This inevitable escape through the portals of one’s mind, also brought about a keen sense of communion with the mythical unknown reader – a benediction that is like an offering, accompanying the words filled with grace, longing, and a thirst for connection:

Speaking of women, there were moments while I was reading the book that I felt Soares-Pessoa must have loathed women at the same time that he idealized them – or maybe he simply misunderstood them? Perhaps more accurately, he did not know any woman well enough to really understand them.

This seeming paralysis of Pessoa or Soares (or any of his other heteronyms) is utterly complete that he even noted the futility and the pointlessness of traveling, because for him, to do so will not really bring anything that he already does not have within him. A part of me recognizes the truth in this. I always say that we always bring ourselves wherever we go, hence to start anew in a different place is not entirely true or accurate, because you remain who you are, regardless of where you are. See quotes below.

I concede that Pessoa may not be for everyone. He can be quite trippy as I mentioned in my earlier Facebook post. Yet, I cannot resist an ode to dreams and sunshine wherever I can find it.

#ReadIntl2020 Update: Portugal

#9 for Language (Portuguese)

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “[Saturday Reads] Portuguese Pessoa’s Psychedelic Bookish Musings

  1. Pingback: [My 2020 in Books] Favourite Books Read in 2020 – Gathering Books

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