RIP Gregory Rabassa, translator of many Brazilian books

Gregory Rabassa passed away yesterday (June 13) at a hospice in Branford, Connecticut. He was 94. Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, and translator of many of the greatest Latin American authors, Rabassa translated into English Machado de Assis, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Osman Lins, Clarice Lispector and Jorge Amado.

See an interview with Gregory Rabassa conducted by Elizabeth Lowe in 2007 at the annual conference American Literary Translators Association about his translation process – and the impossibility of translation. And below, Gregory Rabassa reads his 1992 Poem ‘This Dream’ on his 92nd birthday party at the Russian Samovar on 52nd St. in NYC.

He was also the author of If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents


Raduan Nassar wins 2016 Camões Prize

Despite having not worked on his literary career for more than two decades, Raduan Nassar has just unanimously won the 2016 Camões Prize, the most important prize for literature in the Portuguese language. Interviewed right after the announcement, Nassar expressed surprise: “my work is a book and a half!”

According to the jury, however, “the extraordinary quality of his language” and the “poetic power of his prose” made him deserve the prize:

“Through fiction, the author reveals, in the universe of his work, the complexity of human relationships in ways that are hardly accessible to other methods of discourse. This revelation is often rough and uncomfortable, and it is not uncommon for him to address taboo issues. This possibility is made possible by the rigorous use of a language whose plasticity is imprinted in different discursive registers found in a body of work that emphasizes the density instead of length”

Nassar, also one of the 13 finalists in this year’s Man Booker International Prize, has two novels recently translated into English, both in 2016: Ancient Tillage (first published 1975 in Brazilian Portuguese as Lavoura Arcaica) translated by Karen Sotelino, and A Cup of Rage (first published 1978 in Brazilian Portuguese as Um copo de cólera), translated by Stefan Tobler. His third book, short story collection Menina a Caminho (1994) has not been translated yet.

The Camões Prize (currently €100,000) is awarded annually by the Portuguese Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (National Library Foundation) and the Brazilian Departamento Nacional do Livro (National Book Department). This award is considered the premier literary prize for an author in the Portuguese language for the entirety of their work. Ferreira Gullar, Dalton Trevisan, João Ubaldo Ribeiro, and Lygia Fagundes Telles are among past Brazilian winners of the Camões Prize.



I found a copy of Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H. at Review, a wonderful independent bookshop in Peckham. They also stocks Raduan Nassar and Lya Luft, but had run out of them – which made me delighted rather than disappointed – and now of Clarice too, as I bought the last copy on display.

131 Bellenden Rd,
Peckham, SE15 4QY
Wed: 10:00 – 18:00
Thurs: 12:00 – 19:00
Fri-Sat: 10:00 – 18:00
Sun: 11:00 – 17:00



Strolling through Bloomsbury yesterday, after attending great events at the Festival of Culture, I popped in Skoob, a second hand bookshop at The Brunswick, and was pleased to find some “Machados”. They had at least Helena, Epitaph of a Small Winner, and The Wager, which you can see in the top photo. I love finding Brazilian books in second hand shops and really need to hold myself back to resist the temptation of buying all of them! As I arrived with only 10 minutes to the closing time, I could not explore the wonderful collection further. I guess there will be other treasures of Brazilian literature, not only by Machado de Assis.

Skoob is a temple for secondhand books (according to Time Out), with a selection of 55,000 uncatalogued works  cover almost every subject imaginable to rummage through.

Skoob Books,
66, The Brunswick,
Marchmont St,
London WC1N 1AE
10.30am-8pm Mon-Sat; 10.30am-6pm Sun

Because of this post at A Short Spell, I discovered a new chronicle in English by Lima Barreto and a new translator, Francis K Johnson. Thank you!


(A translation by Francis K Johnson of Os enterros de Inhaúma, which was published in Feiras e mafuás in 1922)

Perhaps it’s just me, but the Inhaúma municipal cemetery doesn’t give me any of the feeling of peace, resignation and melancholy, the ineffable poetry of the Beyond, that I find in other cemeteries. I think it’s ugly, impersonal, with a touch of inland revenue about it. But even though the cemetery itself doesn’t interest me, I always pay attention whenever I see a funeral procession on its way there, no matter whether rich or poor, on foot or in motor vehicles.

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Ten works of fiction to better understand Brazil, a list by Francesca Angiolillo:

“Not only might the following Brazilian books help give Americans a better understanding of Brazil as it undergoes a major institutional crisis, they might actually help Brazilian readers understand that the current crisis is neither incidental nor localized, but represents the emersion of old problems into the current moment.”

Out now: Miss Dollar and other unpublished stories by Machado de Assis

Miss Dollar: Stories by Machado de Assis is a new collection of short stories by Brazilian novelist, poet, playwright and short story writer Machado de Assis, just out now. The bilingual paperback (548 pages) has just been released by New London Librarium and it is not quite available yet (only on the American version, for the time being). Most of the stories are from Machado’s earlier, formative period, and had never been published in English before (as Machado’s works are in public domain, it is possible to find some of them done by independent translators). Miss Dollar, which gives name to the collection, was written in 1870 and published in Contos Fluminenses. It is one of the latest “romantic” pieces of writing by Machado.

Miss Dollar_Machado de Assis

By Machado de Assis, Ana Lessa-Schmidt has worked on Ex Cathedra: Stories by Machado de Assis, together with 13 other specialist translators. She has also translated Religions in Rio, by João do Rio, and is now translating Vertiginous Life (Vida Vertiginosa) by the same author (expected in September 2016). She is also working on a new translation of Love—Intransitive Verb (Amar—Verbo Intransitivo), by Mario de Andrade (which has been launched in English as Fräulein, in a 1933 Macaulay Company edition, translated by Margaret Richardson Hollingsworth.)

New London Librarium, a small literary press in Hanover, Connecticut, has been releasing a bilingual series of translations of Brazilian authors, as well as books on Brazilian history, issues, and culture. The series is being funded in part by four grants from Brazil’s National Library  specifically for support of the translation to English of works by Brazilian authors. Some of the other books by New London Librarium are:

  • Law of the Jungle: Environmental Anarchy and the Tenharim People of Amazonia by Glenn Alan Cheney, translated into Portuguese by Daniela Vidigal
  • Quilombo dos Palmares: Brazil’s Lost Nation of Fugitive Slaves  by Cheney
  • Journey on the Estrada Real: Encounters in the Mountains of Brazil by Cheney
  • Promised Land: A Nun’s Struggle against Landlessness, Lawlessness, Slavery, Injustice, Corruption, and Environmental Devastation in Amazonia by Cheney


Idra Novey: Ways to Disappear

David Raimon, host of the literary radio show Between The Covers, talks to Ways to Disappear’s author Idra Novey, a writer, poet and translator of Spanish and Portuguese literature. From Brazil, she has translated Manoel de Barros, Paulo Henriques Britto and Clarice Lispector (novel The Pas­sion Accord­ing to G.H). The last two authors are mentioned by Idra, whose motivation to learn Portuguese was reading Clarice’s original writings. They talk about translation (localisation, foreignisation, domestication), the role of women in translation and literature, Latin American authors, political disappearances, her life in Brazil and, of course, visibility, invisibility and ways to disappear.

A piece of language curiosity: they talk about the difficulties in conveying the meaning of the Portuguese world “embora” into English. Idra says “the book initially began with my fascination as a translator with the Portuguese phrase “vou embora.” It basically means “I’m out of here” and you can say it without adding any information about where you’re going or when you’ll be back. We don’t have a daily phrase in English that’s as vague and accepted as going “embora” in Brazil. Beatriz, the writer who disappears into a tree in the novel goes completely, arboreally “embora.”

On its own, “embora” can be a conjunction (translated as “although”, “while”, “though”, “however”, “albeit”, “yet”, “nevertheless”), an adverb (“even though”, “away”), and it can also means “congratulations”, as a contraction of “em boa hora” (a very old fashionable usage though). In the context of their talk, it needs the verb “ir”, which means “to go”, so we have “ir embora” which can be conveyed as “go away”, “walk away”, “break up”. Here in UK, I think people say “I’m off”. Yep, none of them quite as vague, complete and emotional as it sounds in Portuguese.

Listening time: 50 minutes.

Ways to Disappear is a novel about the disappearance of Beatriz Pagoda, a famous Brazilian novelist and cult-classic Brazilian writer (inspired on Clarice Lispector!) who was last seen climbing into an almond tree, puffing on a cigar and holding a suitcase, and her American translator Emma, who flies immediately to Brazil to join Beatriz’s two grown children in solving the mystery of the author’s disappearance. The novel is set in Rio de Janeiro.

Check Idra Novey’s website.


“Belloto has assembled here a winning cast of writers whose own procurers, colonels, cops, traffickers, socialites, slum-dwellers, embezzlers, tourists, detectives, journalists, politicians, assassins, outlaws, and coup-plotters jump off every page and into your bed. This anthology is delicious and deliciously discomforting.”

By M. Bartley Seigel in Words Without Borders.

Rio Noir

Rio Noir (Akashic Noir) – Brand-new stories by: Tony Bellotto, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, MV Bill, Luiz Eduardo Soares, Guilherme Fiuza, Arthur Dapieve, Victoria Saramago, Arnaldo Bloch, Adriana Lisboa, Alexandre Fraga dos Santos, Marcelo Ferroni, Flávio Carneiro, Raphael Montes, and Luis Fernando Verissimo. All stories translated from Portuguese by Clifford Landers.

“If this country were grown-up enough to have a literary Good Sex award, this explosively erotic story from the Brazilian modernist would be a strong contender”

The Guardian – Nicholas Lezard’s review of A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar, translated by Stefan Tobler

Clarice Lispector: On death and strawberries

“And now – now all I can do is light a cigarette and go home.
My God, I only remembered that we die. But – but me too?!
Don’t forget that for now it is strawberries season.

The Hour of the Star, in Benjamin Moser’s translation

Photo by Jiahui Huang on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Photo by Jiahui Huang on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Translated fiction sells better in the UK than English fiction

Research from Nielsen commissioned by the Man Booker International prize has shown that foreign authors are driving a boom in UK sales of translated literary fiction.

Brazilian Portuguese was among the 10 most popular translated books in 2001, together with French, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin. The top translated book in that year was the bestselling The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho translated by Alan R. Clarke (114,430 copies sold) at the top, followed by Veronika Decides to Die, also by Paulo Coelho and translated by Margaret Jull Costa, which came in 6th with 23,941 copies sold.

Brazilian Portuguese has come 10th in the 2015 list of top languages (featuring French, Italian, Japanese, Swedish and German), and sadly not for a new book, but for the same version of Coelho’s The Alchemist translated by Alan R. Clarke, with 22,978 copies sold last year.

Best Translated Book Award goes to Brazil and Mexico

A collection of Portuguese-language poetry from Brazil and a Spanish-language novel from Mexico have won prizes for the Best Translated Book Award, the BTBA.

From Brazil, Angélica Freitas’s “Rilke Shake,” translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan, won the Best Translated Book Award for poetry. According to BTBA judge Tess Lewis,  “[Kaplan] has done the grant and Freitas’ poems justice, capturing the many shifts in tone in and between the lines, from playful to wry to sardonic to pathetic, even sentimental, to deadpan and back to playful, sometimes within a single poem. For all of Freitas’ lyric clowning, it’s clear she takes poetry too seriously not to dismantle it and use it to her own purposes.”

The fiction prize has been given to Yuri Herrera’s “Signs Preceding the End of the World,” translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. It beat the Brazilian bestselling Clarice Lispector (Complete Stories), which had been shortlisted.

Rilke Shake_Angelica Freitas

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