August is Women In Translation Month
Updated: Aug 8
In the literary world, August is Women In Translation Month. To celebrate it, I offer my recommendations of works by Brazilian women in English translation.
Of Cattle and Men (De Gados e Homens), a novella by Ana Paula Maia translated by Zöe Perry, was published this past April. At a slaughterhouse in a remote area of Brazil, workers notice cows are dying in strange circumstances. Edgar Wilson, a stun operator, does not think these are accidental deaths and tries to uncover the reasons behind them. Through her realistic depictions of the workers’ grueling days at the slaughterhouse, Maia exposes the violence inflicted on cattle and men alike as the price we pay for the meat we consume in great quantities but the workers themselves cannot afford. At barely one hundred pages long, this potent narrative is described by The Guardian as a “sharp shock of a book.” I have seen Perry’s translation of this book described as “understated,” which I take to mean, successful in preserving Maia’s stark, direct style. As a reader of Perry’s translations, I would say they are thoughtful, apt, and precise.
Although not recently published (2011), Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star (A Hora da Estrela) in Benjamin Moser’s translation should be highlighted this month. Lispector is considered one of Brazil’s most important fiction writers of the twentieth century and perhaps of all time. Lispector’s last book, The Hour of the Star begins with her characteristic existential introspection but progresses toward a narrative that, although also characteristically unconventional, does conform somewhat to the format one might expect of a novel, and I believe it will intrigue and engage many readers not yet familiar with her work. I appreciate Moser’s choice to stay close to Lispector’s syntax, punctuation, and diction, which in my opinion brings her unmistakable, brilliant voice fully to life in his translation.
Another novel a few years old (2017) and absolutely delightful is The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão (A Vida Invisível de Eurídice Gusmão) by Martha Batalha, translated by Erick M. B. Becker. It tells the very personal story of sisters Eurídice and Guida Gusmão and at the same time paints a vivid portrait of 1950s Rio de Janeiro as it describes a cast of fascinating characters whose lives intersect with the protagonists’. The two sisters have very distinct temperaments and ambitions and forge different paths for themselves, and yet their love for each other and the strong bond they share sustain them through years of separation. A single mother, Guida leads a life of poverty, prejudice, and struggle. Marriage affords Eurídice a comfortable life and a solid reputation (despite the gossip around her) but robs her of any possibility of personal fulfillment. Her husband squashes every project she thinks up to imbue her life with purpose and a sense of accomplishment, and The Side That Doesn’t Want Eurídice to Be Eurídice, as our narrator puts it, stops her from protesting or rebelling. Eurídice’s life remains invisible.
Batalha’s writing is smart, empathetic, and funny. Her language is vibrant, highly colloquial, teeming with expressions that any Brazilian would recognize, although words like “pimpão” (vain and well dressed, similar to dandy) and “cocuruto” (crown of the head, but more informal, like noggin) are more likely to be found in the speech of those who were young in the ’50s, like our protagonists (and my mother!). I very much enjoyed Becker’s choice of “tart,” an appropriately old-fashioned word for “sirigaita,” one of the insults the inveterate gossip in the story likes to hurl. Becker indeed does a very good job of recreating in English the vivid language, conversational tone, and fast narrative pace that make this story so gripping. This is an incredibly well-told story, one that I doubt you will be able to put down. (Can you tell it is a favorite of mine?)
This past May, Asymptote Journal published Clarice, a short story by Marília Arnaud in my translation. The lonely protagonist in this story, simply named Girl, is smitten with a chicken that Esmeralda, the family's wise and attentive cook, bought for the girl against her mother’s will. The relationship that ensues, though mostly one-sided and fed by the girl’s imagination, is a tender reminder of what animals can teach us about love and devotion. This story showcases Arnaud’s skill in inhabiting a child’s heart and mind, as she does so expertly in many other works. You can read the story here. You can also read excerpts of my translations of Arnaud’s novels in the “pitches” and “publications” sections of this site.
I hope you will enjoy the outstanding work of these very talented women in English translation and invite you to use the “contact” section of this site to leave a comment.