Home > Literary Escapades, Personal Posts, Portuguese literature > Literary escapade: Lisbon and Pessoa

Literary escapade: Lisbon and Pessoa

After spending a few days in Lisbon, it’s hard to ignore Pessoa. Lisbon celebrates him everywhere and not just by putting him on T-Shirts for tourists. One of his  favourite cafés, Café Restaurante Martinho da Arcada…

has a plaque on it about Pessoa and the whole restaurant room is decorated with pictures of him.

Another of his favorite cafés, A Brasileira has his statue on their terrasse. You can sit near Pessoa and take a picture.

It reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s statue in Galway.

As a major poet of the 20th century, Pessoa’s body has been transferred to the prestigious Mosteiro dos Jerónimos for the 50th anniversary of his death.

His picture is on the shop window of bookstores

His books are well stocked in bookshops. They even have them in English and in French.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to visit his house, which is now a museum. I would have liked to see his library.

In the Alentejo region, there’s a museum about coffee and Pessoa has his own corner because he embodied the culture of cafés, just like his contemporary generation of writers in Budapest.


In the end, I like this painting of him by José De Almada Negreiros.


Now that I’ve seen him everywhere, I suppose I should read him. Yes, I must confess that I haven’t read him…yet. I have The Anarchist Banker on my kindle and I’ll come to it sooner or later. I know I should read The Book of Disquiet but it’s on the Daunting Books List, along with Ulysses, Dom QuixoteMoby Dick, Satantango and others. I’m not sure I’m deep enough to read Pessoa and fully understand The Book of Disquiet. I’m not good with poetry either which doesn’t help but the idea of an anarchist banker intrigues me, though, so I’ll start small with this one.

Have you read anything by him? If yes, what would you recommend? In case, you have reviewed one of his books, please leave a link to your review in the comment section.

PS: Sorry for the poor quality of the photos. I’m afraid that my skills as a photographer have not improved.



  1. August 9, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    I really encourage you to try his poetry!
    I wrote an article about his work on my blog, if you want to check it out: https://abagfullofstories.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/fernando-pessoa-many-personalities-in-one-author/


    • August 10, 2017 at 9:56 pm

      Thanks a lot for the link to your interesting post.
      I see you’re Portuguese.
      Keep in touch, there will be a few billets about Portuguese books in the next coming weeks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. August 9, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    I’m slowly, slowly reading my way through The Book of Disquiet. It’s full of witty observations and deep thoughts, but quite accessible. It’s just not something that you can read more than a few pages at a time (or so I find). It really is a diary, so no story arc.


    • August 10, 2017 at 9:35 pm

      Good news. I could do that, read a few pages here and there. I’d need a paper edition.


  3. August 9, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Oh this is a fabulous post, Emma. I need to visit Lisbon (I went to Porto last year and loved it) and I need to read Pessoa, too. I have a copy of The Book of Disquiet. Maybe I should take the plunge!


    • August 10, 2017 at 9:36 pm

      Thanks Kim. Lisbon is a wonderful city. I’d love to visit Porto too.

      I’ll see if you decide to read The Book of Disquiet, in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. August 10, 2017 at 1:17 am

    Well, this is a surprise… I went to my Goodreads account to add The Book of Disquiet to my wishlist, and discovered that GR has marked two books ‘by’ Pessoa as ‘read’. It turns out that he was a translator as well. He translated Hugo’s Les Misérables and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
    I loved that Mosteiro dos Jerónimos – but all the museums and galleries were wonderful. But I am ashamed to say that I contrived to spend three days in Lisbon without encountering Pessoa – obviously he was there but I didn’t know who he was… My own fault, things were just so hectic at work I left all the planning to The Spouse and didn’t do any background reading about Lisbon before we left Australia. The only author I would have been aware of at that time would have been Saramago.


    • August 10, 2017 at 9:42 pm

      Ah, there’s a logical explanation after all. For a moment, I thought that one of your heteronyms had read Pessoa. 🙂

      Translating Les Misérables is a huge job. I didn’t know he’d done it.

      I loved the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos too.
      I didn’t have much time to read about Lisbon either but I owe to Tom (Wuthering Expectations, now Les expectations de Hurlevent) to be aware of Pessoa. He wrote a lot about Portuguese literature.

      Plus, we have a series of tourist guides here in France named Le Routard and they always mention literary things. (cafés or restaurant linked to writers, writers’ houses to visit, writers in the list of “famous people” of the place and a list of book recommendations.) Quite useful.


      • August 11, 2017 at 12:11 am

        It makes me realise that what we might call literary tourism is a rather specialised interest. Books like Lonely Planet and the DK guides only ever mention the obvious ones like Shakespeare or Hemingway and Zola or Tolstoy. Then when we get to Europe we discover all these amazing authors that we’ve never heard of…


        • August 11, 2017 at 8:49 am

          That’s the beauty of it, Lisa: Le Routard is the French equivalent of the Lonely Planet. It’s very mainstream but I love that they add these little literary bits.


    • August 13, 2017 at 1:24 am

      Phew Lisa. I spent three days in Lisbon without encountering him too! I’m glad I’m not the only one! Loved Lisbon though, and I’m sure it was there that we saw the world’s oldest bookshop.

      Love your post Emma.


      • August 13, 2017 at 9:20 am

        Apparently, I have to be thankful that our tourist guide mentioned him otherwise I would have missed all this too.

        After a little detour to Australian lit, I’ll be back with bookstores in Lisbon.

        Liked by 1 person

        • August 13, 2017 at 2:48 pm

          Ooh, I’m intrigued, Emma. What little detour is this to be (or, have I missed something in my month’s absence from blog visiting?)


          • August 13, 2017 at 3:11 pm

            No you haven’t missed anything, I just published a billet about Datsunland by Stephen Orr.


            • August 14, 2017 at 12:30 am

              Ah, I hadn’t seen that come through yet. I have it in my list of books to read too.


              • August 14, 2017 at 10:14 pm

                I’ll be curious to read your review.


              • August 15, 2017 at 12:57 am

                And I’ll read yours then, too, as I prefer to read other reviews after I read and prepare my own review.


              • August 15, 2017 at 5:39 pm

                Same here. I didn’t read Lisa’s review before finishing the book and writing my billet.

                Liked by 1 person

  5. August 10, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Great, cela donne autant envie de lire Pessoa que de visiter Lisbon.


    • August 10, 2017 at 9:43 pm

      C’est vraiment une très belle ville à visiter. Il y a énormément de choses à voir et l’ambiance de la ville est agréable.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. August 10, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Such an interesting post, thank you for sharing. I like that painting of Pessoa too. I’ve never read anything by him. A little like you, I’ve always thought of him as being a rather daunting writer to get to grips with, probably too intellectual for me to fully appreciate. Mind you, The Anarchist Banker sounds a little more approachable than The Book of Disquiet, so I’ll be interested to hear how you get on.


    • August 10, 2017 at 9:46 pm

      Thanks Jacqui.
      I have the same reservation as you about Pessoa. I’m afraid he’s too intellectual for me or too tortured for me to really love. (Like I know and acknowledge that Kafka is a genius but I don’t really get along with his work.)


  7. August 10, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Lisbon is a place I really want to revisit . We went a few years ago ….but in the company of 2 12 year olds who weren’t interested in literary landmarks or fada music ! It was really quite frustrating. Look forward to hearing your views on Pessoa when you read some !


    • August 10, 2017 at 9:49 pm

      My teenagers didn’t say anything about literary landmarks, they’re used to Mom’s weird bookish behavior. They are used to visiting bookstores, libraries and literary cafés, sit out of literature museums (Dublin, Vienna) etc.
      A fado concert was a deal-breaker, though.

      I hope you’ll have the chance to visit Lisbon again, it’s worth the trip. I thought it was a wonderful city.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. August 10, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Fabulous – how wonderful! I have The Book of Disquiet lurking but my first attempt didn’t go so well. I must try again!


    • August 10, 2017 at 9:50 pm

      Marina’s advice is probably good to follow: read The Book of Disquiet in little sips.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. August 10, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    We visited Lisbon last spring and loved it; I read Tabucchi and Pessoa at that time, and wrote about them here:


    I’m afraid I didn’t get on with the Book of Disquiet. This year to Porto, and again found it delightful – but preferred Lisbon.


  10. August 10, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    Thanks for the link to your review.
    You’re not the first one here to say they abandoned The Book of Disquiet.
    I think I’ll try Marina’s way.
    And perhaps it’s worth trying the poetry as well.


  11. Amarante
    August 11, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Dans les chroniques culturelles il y a un article admirable sur le livre de l’intranquillité


    • August 12, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      Merci! Je ne connaissais pas ce blog, ça m’a donné l’occasion de le découvrir.


  12. August 11, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    I haven’t read anything from this author, but I have looked at The Book of disquiet several times but passed it over.


    • August 12, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      I did the same, to be honest. I wonder if he was too tortured for me to really get him. I think I’ll give it a try, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. August 12, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    How pleasant to read about your trip to Lisbon.

    The Book of Disquiet is not a book which really needs to be finished. Read a little here, a little there, get the mood of it. That’ll do. It’s less of a novel than one of those wandering hybrids like the French Surrealists wrote.

    Until this year, there was no complete edition in English, so I have not read the whole thing, myself.

    For some reason, when the book appeared in German translation 25 or so years ago, there was a little craze for it, and it became a big best-seller. I’ve never found out why.

    The only Pessoa poem that I thought was really hard – full of complex references to Portuguese history, for example – was the long “Mensagem” or “Message.” Otherwise, his poems are accessible, much more so than The Book of Disquiet.


    • August 12, 2017 at 6:32 pm

      Thanks Tom, how is Paris?

      Everybody seems to agree that The Book of Disquiet is to be sipped not read.

      I’ll try the poetry.


      • August 12, 2017 at 10:49 pm

        Paris in August is quite pleasant, if right now a bit wet.


        • August 13, 2017 at 9:18 am

          I hope the weather gets better.
          At the Coffee museum we visited here, there’s a wall with a quote by Balzac about coffee but no picture of his beloved coffee pot, the one in the Balzac museum in Paris.


          • August 13, 2017 at 6:41 pm

            Ha! We went to the Maison de Balzac earlier today! I paid homage to the coffee pot. I owe a debt to Balzac’s coffee pot.


            • August 13, 2017 at 11:19 pm

              I thought it was really moving to visit this little house, as if he were still there in spirit.


  14. August 23, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    What a wonderful post. Thanks, Emma.

    We spent two summers with kids in Cascais, just north of Lisbon (really a distant suburb). There was a Pessoa exhibition on one year in the main square, that I got a fleeting look at. Alas we never spent much time in Lisbon itself, but definitely want to go back to see it properly. I would love to track down all the traces of Pessoa you have catalogued here.


    • August 23, 2017 at 1:11 pm

      Thanks Ian.
      I didn’t have the chance to go to Cascais, I heard it’s worth visiting. It’s more a seaside resort, like Nazaré, right?

      Lisbon is a great destination for a long weekend. It’s lovely with all the narrow streets and the seven hills like in Rome. Lots of walking up and down on paved streets, it’s good to have sturdy shoes.


  15. August 23, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    PS Agree about the comments on The Book of Disquiet – it’s not one to “read” in the sense of right through, but to dip into and wander around. I get it down occasionally, read a few pages at random, put it back.

    I have had a Penguin Classics edition for a few years, which I was under the impression was complete.But now reading Tom’s comment I am gripped by the pincers of both Translation Anxiety and Edition Anxiety. I see there is indeed a new version to be had! Complete! Chronological! Alas!


    • August 23, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation on The Book of Disquiet.

      Let me know who won your internal battle: the Completist who wants the new edition or the Rational who thinks of book storage.


      • August 23, 2017 at 4:15 pm

        In that particular battle, there is no winner – only losers.


      • August 23, 2017 at 8:18 pm

        As I interpret this interview with Margaret Jull Costa, the Portuguese edition has become “more complete” than it was when Zenith did his Penguin Classics translation, which was perhaps complete then but is no longer complete.

        It’s a textual nightmare, really.


        • August 25, 2017 at 9:50 am

          I found my way to that interview after reading your initial comment Tom. I’m interested in the new edition upon discovering it follows developments in the source, rather than being merely another version of Zenith’s (or indeed Jull Costa’s) earlier efforts.

          PS – Emma – The Completist won….


          • September 2, 2017 at 7:50 am

            I see that the Completist won, indeed 🙂


  16. August 30, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    It’s a lovely post, but unfortunately I’ve not read any Pessoa and now I feel rather guilty at the fact. I’ll have to pack some for when I eventually get to Lisbon…

    The Cafe looks rather nice.


    • September 2, 2017 at 8:16 am

      I’ll join you in the “Feel Guilty over Pessoa” Team. I’ll read the one I have first. I may read his book about Lisbon, it will remind me of the holidays.
      The café looks nice but the best literary cafés I’ve seen are in Budapest.
      Paris is really behind in celebrating its literary life.


  1. August 16, 2017 at 10:15 pm

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