Sasha Frere-Jones at Bookforum:
WHAT’S COMMONLY KNOWN ABOUT THE PORTUGUESE WRITER FERNANDO PESSOA is that he died young-ish at the age of forty-seven in 1935, drank heavily, and assigned authorship of his work to over a hundred “heteronyms,” pen names that carry more biographical heft than the average alias. Pessoa died having published only one book of poetry in Portuguese (Mensagem) and two self-published chapbooks of English-language poetry. The lion’s share of his work was found in a trunk containing about 25,000 pages of writings. Without much of a public record of his life as he lived it, celebrating Pessoa and researching Pessoa have always been roughly the same thing. Few have done as much of that work as Richard Zenith, an American who has translated a chunk of the Pessoa oeuvre and put in more than ten years writing an extremely definitive biography of a shape-shifting weirdo his country adores. When I was in Lisbon in 2018, a cab driver, unprompted, recited one of his poems to me on our way to the Casa Fernando Pessoa, a museum and historical site. More officially, Pessoa’s face was on the 100 escudo note before the euro fully replaced it in 2002. His mutating nationalism might be what made him a candidate for Portuguese pride, though his politics were hardly consistent.