Julie Christine's Reviews > The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
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The four months it took me to read Fernando Pessoa's posthumously-published collection of thought fragments have been some of the most fraught and chrysalis-splitting days of my adult life. This book will forever be synonymous with transition and grief, exploration and longing. I could read only bits at a time, for Pessoa's struggle to understand the world and his place in it mirrored my own and my many gasps of recognition left me breathless.

Of course, this is not a book to be read in an orderly fashion, within a time frame, for a singular purpose. It is meant to be read as it was written, in fragments, unending, one you can pick up at any time, turn to any page, read forwards and back and inside-out. It is a kaleidoscope of dreams and reflections, a rumination on what it means to be a writer, the terrible weight of being human.

Of The Book of Disquiet writer Rabih Alameddine says, "A book tells you quite a bit about its author; a great book tells you quite a bit about you. When I first encountered Disquiet, I felt like laundry — the book dunked me in pristine water, then battered and wrung me and hung me out to dry in sunshine, rejuvenated. I was forced to examine the choices I'd made, the beliefs I'd held, the loves I'd forsaken and the gods I'd worshipped. Yes. This.

Pessoa penned his musings from Lisbon over the course of many years, from WWI to his death in 1935. We are seeing a dark time in the life of a nation, in the life of a solitary man with few friends and family, working at a clerical job which offered little but time to ponder. The melancholic tone woven throughout reflects not only Europe between the wars but a particular 21st century angst, as well. How does one live in the world without being swallowed by it? I found myself longing for the type of solitude Pessoa experienced, those many decades before our lives were invaded by television and the world was cinched tight by the Internet and social media. Detaching from the world is now so very difficult. I'm romanticizing Pessoa's loneliness, to be sure, but what bliss, this silence.

I kept a piece of paper tucked inside the book, marking the numbers and opening lines of Fragments that resonated with particular force. Thinking perhaps I'd list them here, in my review. By the end, however, the list had become unwieldy, the fragments too many. But here are a choice few . . .

* Fragment 28: A breath of music or of a dream, of something that would make me almost feel, something that would make me not think.

* Fragment 48: Solitude devastates me. Company oppresses me.

* Fragment 63: I feel like I'm always on the verge of waking up.

* Fragment 93: By thinking so much, I become echo and abyss.

* Fragment 112: We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone. It's our own concept—our own selves—that we love.

* Fragment 152: To write is to lose myself, yes, but everyone loses himself, because everything gets lost. I, however, lose myself without any joy—not like the river flowing into the sea for which it was secretly born, but like the puddle left on the beach by the high tide, its stranded water never returning to the ocean but merely sinking into the sand.

* Fragment 193: I am, in large measure, the selfsame prose I write. I unroll myself in sentences and paragraphs, I punctuate myself. In my arranging and rearranging of images I'm like a child using newspaper to dress up as a king, and in the way I create rhythm with a series of word I'm like a lunatic adorning my hair with dried flowers that are still alive in my dreams.

* Fragment 194: A terrible weariness fills the soul of my heart. I feel sad because of whom I never was, and I don't know with what kind of nostalgia I miss him. I fell, with every sunset, against my hopes and certainties.

* Fragment 231: One of the soul's great tragedies is to execute a work and then realize, once it's finished, that it's not any good.

* Fragment 258: To have touched the feet of Christ is no excuse for mistakes in punctuation. If a man writes well only when he's drunk, then I'll tell him: Get drunk. And if he says that it's bad for his liver, I'll answer: What's your liver? A dead thing that lives while you live, whereas the poems you write live without while.


The Book of Disquiet is a particular meditation that were it published today, would come accompanied by trigger warnings for the depressed and anxious. But even in its elegiac angst, there is beauty and comfort to be found. A treasured read I will return to again and again as I struggle to make sense of my life and my place in the world, as Pessoa did nearly a century ago.
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Reading Progress

March 13, 2016 – Started Reading
March 13, 2016 – Shelved
March 19, 2016 –
page 71
13.05% ""Fragment 28: A breath of music or of a dream, of something that would make me almost feel, something that would make me not think.""
March 23, 2016 –
page 166
30.51% ""Fragment 48: Solitude devastates me. Company oppresses me.""
March 25, 2016 –
page 192
35.29% ""I feel like I'm always on the verge of waking up." #63"
April 2, 2016 –
page 217
39.89% ""By thinking so much, I become echo and abyss." #93"
April 11, 2016 –
page 289
53.13% "Fragment 112: "We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone. It's our own concept—our own selves—that we love.""
May 11, 2016 –
page 255
46.88% "Fragment 152: "To write is to lose myself, yes, but everyone loses himself, because everything gets lost. I, however, lose myself without any joy—not like the river flowing into the sea for which it was secretly born, but like the puddle left on the beach by the high tide, its stranded water never returning to the ocean but merely sinking into the sand. ""
May 23, 2016 –
page 286
52.57% "Fragment 193: "I am, in large measure, the selfsame prose I write. I unroll myself in sentences and paragraphs, I punctuate myself. In my arranging and rearranging of images I'm like a child using newspaper to dress up as a king, and in the way I create rhythm with a series of word I'm like a lunatic adorning my hair with dried flowers that are still alive in my dreams. ""
May 25, 2016 –
page 300
55.15% "Fragment 194: "A terrible weariness fills the soul of my heart. I feel sad because of whom I never was, and I don't know with what kind of nostalgia I miss him. I fell, with every sunset, against my hopes and certainties.""
June 24, 2016 –
page 316
58.09% "Fragment 231: "One of the soul's great tragedies is to execute a work and then realize, once it's finished, that it's not any good."\n \n Ah, the Imposter Syndrom: bane of writers everywhere"
July 1, 2016 –
page 365
67.1% "Fragment 258: To have touched the feet of Christ is no excuse for mistakes in punctuation. If a man writes well only when he's drunk, then I'll tell him: Get drunk. And if he says that it's bad for his liver, I'll answer: What's your liver? A dead thing that lives while you live, whereas the poems you write live without while."
July 3, 2016 – Shelved as: read-2016
July 3, 2016 – Shelved as: writing-companions
July 3, 2016 – Shelved as: social-political-commentary
July 3, 2016 – Shelved as: bio-autobio-memoir
July 3, 2016 – Shelved as: shorts
July 3, 2016 – Shelved as: best-of-2016
July 3, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-29 of 29 (29 new)

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Dallas May I ask, which translation you are reading (there seem to be 4 commonly available, with significant differences)? Thank you.


Julie Christine Dallas wrote: "May I ask, which translation you are reading (there seem to be 4 commonly available, with significant differences)? Thank you."

Hi Dallas! I'm reading the Penguin Classics Edition, translation by Richard Zenith. From what I've read in journals/literary resources, this is the most recommended English translation. A Portuguese-speaking friend recommends the Penguin-Zenith, as well.


Dallas Thanks.


message 4: by Tom (new)

Tom Hi Julie, nice review. I picked it up a couple of years ago, and then put it down. I felt it was a little too angst-ridden for me. Something I would have relished in my college days but at 60 I found myself saying, "Get over it, buddy." Maybe I should give him another chance.


message 5: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Montulli beautiful review julie. I would never have thought to read this. adding to my list. thank you.


Cheryl Sizzling review, Julie. Pessoa's fragmented thoughts in this collection upends a reader's core. Like you, at times it felt as if I was reading into mirrored thoughts of disquiet and angst, but also of consciousness and clarity, and I read this piece during a time when the book itself was a revival. Then I went to Lisbon and spent some time reading Pessoa's poetry - healing words. I would also suggest, for some time later when you take a breather, either of these two: A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems or The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa.


Cheryl Julie wrote: "Dallas wrote: "May I ask, which translation you are reading (there seem to be 4 commonly available, with significant differences)? Thank you."

Hi Dallas! I'm reading the Penguin Classics Edition, ..."


Yes- definitely Zenith. Always. He's the leading Pessoa scholar who spent his life in Portugal, reading and translating. His translations are superior.


Dallas Did you figure out the enigmatic cover photo? I stared at it a long time, finding it rather sinister, until I realized that it was just two young men playing soccer (if you look carefully you can see the ball behind the outstretched right hand of the one in the suit, who was attempting to defend the goal.)


message 9: by Oscar (new) - added it

Oscar Calva Exactly what I think of the book. I have been reading this the last couple pf years, one piece a time, it's not a book to finish but to be always reading.


message 10: by Dianne (new)

Dianne I love your review (as always). "what bliss, this silence....."


message 11: by Dey (new) - added it

Dey Martin goosebumps.


message 12: by Pablo (new) - added it

Pablo Fragment 193!


Julie Christine Tom wrote: "Hi Julie, nice review. I picked it up a couple of years ago, and then put it down. I felt it was a little too angst-ridden for me. Something I would have relished in my college days but at 60 I fou..."

Tom, there were certainly passages I skimmed over, that were all sorts of eye-rolling angstiness; lots of commentary on the weather in Lisbon. What resonated so deeply were Pessoa's thoughts on art, prose, solitude, how we create and why, things that matter to me now, as I try to make a living through my art. I hope you give it another look.


Julie Christine Ashley wrote: "beautiful review julie. I would never have thought to read this. adding to my list. thank you."

Thank you for the beautiful comment, Ashley.


Julie Christine Cheryl wrote: "Sizzling review, Julie. Pessoa's fragmented thoughts in this collection upends a reader's core. Like you, at times it felt as if I was reading into mirrored thoughts of disquiet and angst, but also..."

Cheryl, your gorgeous review is what initially put this book on my shelf. And then a Portuguese-speaking friend put it into my hands this spring. I will want to talk with you at some point about Lisbon. I've not been to Portugal, but hiking the Portugal-Spain coastal route of the Camino is on my must-do list and I've love to spend some time in Lisbon.

The recommendations are so welcome and I've added these to my shelves now- thank you!


Julie Christine Dallas wrote: "Did you figure out the enigmatic cover photo? I stared at it a long time, finding it rather sinister, until I realized that it was just two young men playing soccer (if you look carefully you can s..."
Oh, good call, Dallas! The image appears to be something else entirely, capturing the agony of a man believing himself to be alone and at battle with the world. And here it is, a game between friends. I love the layers of meaning there!


Julie Christine Oscar wrote: "Exactly what I think of the book. I have been reading this the last couple pf years, one piece a time, it's not a book to finish but to be always reading."

Oh, exactly. I need to break out the post-it notes and mark those passages that spoke to me; in rereading them, I begin to notice others and lose myself in the surrounding fragments.


Julie Christine Dianne wrote: "I love your review (as always). "what bliss, this silence.....""

Thank you, Dianne!


Julie Christine Dey wrote: "goosebumps."

You will love this, Dey.


Julie Christine Pablo wrote: "Fragment 193!"

RIGHT?!


message 21: by Natalia (new)

Natalia Iwanyckyj Thank you for this review and sharing the fragments. I immediately copied them and shared them with a few friends. Not sure that I want to read a whole book of these fragments, but those you shared speak to me deeply.


Julie Christine Natalia wrote: "Thank you for this review and sharing the fragments. I immediately copied them and shared them with a few friends. Not sure that I want to read a whole book of these fragments, but those you shared..."

How lovely, Natalia- so glad you found a connection with these! xoxo


Cheryl Julie wrote: "I will want to talk with you at some point about Lisbon. I've not been to Portugal, but hiking the Portugal-Spain coastal route of the Camino is on my must-do list.."

Wow! What an ambitious journey. Go for it! And sure thing, message me anytime with questions :)


message 24: by Tom (new)

Tom Julie wrote: "Tom wrote: "Hi Julie, nice review. I picked it up a couple of years ago, and then put it down. I felt it was a little too angst-ridden for me. Something I would have relished in my college days but..."

Julie wrote: "Tom wrote: "Hi Julie, nice review. I picked it up a couple of years ago, and then put it down. I felt it was a little too angst-ridden for me. Something I would have relished in my college days but..."

You've inspired me to do so. I thought his writing was beautiful.


message 25: by Debbie "DJ" (new) - added it

Debbie "DJ" Fantastic review Julie! I loved reading this one, but only got half way through. Your comment about not reading in an orderly fashion, all at once, was what I was doing. You've totally inspired me to go back to it, and read however I choose. Thank you :)


Julie Christine Debbie "DJ" wrote: "Fantastic review Julie! I loved reading this one, but only got half way through. Your comment about not reading in an orderly fashion, all at once, was what I was doing. You've totally inspired me ..."
So glad to read this, Debbie! I don't think there is a right way to read this-just let it unfold in your own time. Hugs to you!


Julie Christine Tom wrote: "Julie wrote: "Tom wrote: "Hi Julie, nice review. I picked it up a couple of years ago, and then put it down. I felt it was a little too angst-ridden for me. Something I would have relished in my co..."
How wonderful!


message 28: by Baraa (new) - added it

Baraa Julie,

I have been checking a lot of reviews and columns (as I do always before selecting any book) to get the heart of this work. Unfortunately, they failed to give me such a sensational/honest review that marks the soul of the book in a warm and beautiful way as well!

I just got my copy today. Thank you!


Julie Christine Baraa wrote: "Julie,

I have been checking a lot of reviews and columns (as I do always before selecting any book) to get the heart of this work. Unfortunately, they failed to give me such a sensational/honest r..."

Thank you for the beautiful comment, Baraa!


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