For many thousands of readers Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is almost a way of life. Ironic, haunting and melancholy, this completely unclassifiable work is the masterpiece of one of the twentieth century’s most enigmatic writers.
Richard Zenith’s Pessoa at last allows us to understand this extraordinary figure. Some eighty-five years after his premature death in Lisbon, where he left over 25,000 manuscript sheets in a wooden trunk, Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) can now be celebrated as one of the great modern poets. Setting the story of his life against the nationalistic currents of European history, Zenith charts the heights of Pessoa’s explosive imagination and literary genius.
Much of Pessoa’s charm and strangeness came from his writing under a variety of names that he used not only to conceal his identity but also to write in wildly varied styles with different imagined personalities. Zenith traces the back stories of virtually all of these invented others, called ‘heteronyms’, demonstrating how they were projections, spin-offs or metamorphoses of Pessoa himself.
Zenith’s monumental work confirms the power of Pessoa’s words to speak prophetically to the disconnectedness of modern life. It is also a wonderful book about Lisbon, the city which Pessoa reinvented and through which his different selves wandered.
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