By Sofia Jesus
My eyes still ache as I write these words to you. They were caught in the road by a falling sun on their way back from Lisbon.
As the city’s unique light — the memory of which follows me always across the world — coloured buildings and people of happiness alike this afternoon, I thought of recommending you — especially you, non-Portuguese readers — a book that would tell you of Lisbon as uniquely and beautifully. And who but Pessoa would do it better?
Disquiet Lisbon, a little book published in English by Tell a Story, is a collection of texts from Portuguese acclaimed writer Fernando Pessoa’s [1888-1935] Livro do Desassossego (The Book of Disquiet, in English). Jerónimo Pizarro selected and edited the texts, which have been translated by award-winning Margaret Jull Costa.
As Mr Pizarro says in the book’s preliminary note, The Book of Disquiet is “a portrait of Lisbon and of its portraitist,” and “is now considered Fernando Pessoa’s masterpiece and one of the world’s greatest twentieth-century works of literature”. But the book was actually never completed by the author, who simply accumulated “hundreds of fragments in his trunks”.
The excerpts included in Disquiet Lisbon take the reader on a journey through personal thoughts — by a Pessoa’s alter-ego — in a diary-like experience. Yes, the city is there — sometimes visible in the spaces described; other times only subtly guessable in the feelings the narrator shares — but the journey is much more an inner one.
“The life I drag around with me until night falls is not dissimilar to that of the streets themselves. By day they are full of meaningless bustle and by night full of an equally meaningless lack of bustle. By day I am nothing, by night I am myself,” Pessoa writes in 1929, mentioning the streets around Alfândega area. “Men and objects share a common abstract destiny: to be of equally insignificant value in the algebra of life’s mystery.”
As a Portuguese native and a fan of Pessoa, I admit I was a little bit reluctant to read my favourite poet in another language. But I was relieved to find how his essence and the moving beauty of his poetic prose were masterly captured by Ms Costa.
Paraphrasing the editor Jerónimo Pizarro, I too do hope Disquiet Lisbon would be to you a double invitation: to reading more of Pessoa’s work; and to stroll around “that little domestic corner of the Universe” where he was born.
Selected and Edited by Jerónimo Pizarro
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Publisher: Tell a Story