04 December 2011

Whose disquiet is the most disquieting?

Searching online for a copy of The Book Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, I found there were several translations to choose from (by Margaret Jull Costa, Richard Zenith, Alfred Mac Adam, and Iain Watson). All four versions first appeared in 1991. My impression was that the Zenith (from Penguin) is the most "complete". The Jull Costa, which was reissued by Serpent's Tail, was a selection of the fragments. There are sites which compared excerpts from these translations side by side, but I'm not sure a well-worded choice excerpt will give a definitive edge to one version. One way to go around this is to buy more than one version, but that would be impractical.

I'm anticipating a group reading of this book, hosted by Tom (Wuthering Expectations), some time in the first quarter 2012. Borrowing from the library is not an option. I haven't seen a decent library since college. Used bookshops are also out of the question. I live in the province and the number of passable bookshops is ... nil. So I have to buy the books (online or in stores in Manila), or swap them, which is also like buying since I pay for the shipping.

Another factor that would influence my choice is the pricing. When comparing book prices, the two default sites I visit are:

The Book Depository - Based in UK, this seller is sent by heaven because the cost of shipping to many countries is FREE! Never mind that they sold their souls the company to Amazon. Never mind too that the publication date of US-published titles are delayed by a month or so, and that shipping to an island in the Philippines takes about a month. The prices often compare favorably against those of bookstores.

BookFinder.com - another heaven sent site. It's particularly useful when finding out of print titles.

I'm inclined toward getting the Zenith version. It could prove to be the most disquieting.

The most disquieting discovery I made however is this. Copies going for almost a thousand dollars.

(Date accessed 4 December 2011, 4:23 pm)


  1. I've got Alfred Mac Adam, chosen on grounds no more reasonable than what you describe here. I take the variety of translations as an opportunity for the readalong. Yes, that's it.

    Because you're right, they are not just different translations, but translations of different texts.

  2. Tom, it's like infinity raised to the power of infinity. The infinite versions that can be made from rearranging the original fragments of Disquiet. Then the translator's interpretation of each version, which can also be rearranged. Not to mention the reader's interpretation of the translation. There are an infinite number of opportunities here. :p

  3. I read the Jull Costa version by Serpent's Tail. Enjoyed it but can't imagine any version being anything other than a divination of intentions that may not have existed in the first place.

  4. Pessoa sure did open a Pandora's box by leaving a 'non-definitive version'. Perhaps that's the intention?