Works by Brazilian authors in recent and upcoming English translations
In the past few years, important works of Brazilian literature have appeared in English translation for the first time or in a new translation. More notable works by Brazilian authors will also be published in English translations in the next few months and years. Here are some of these recent and upcoming translations.
Short story collections and novels by Machado de Assis (1839-1908) have been translated into English for decades. A new and necessary translation of his novel The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Flora Thomson-DeVeaux came out in 2020. The novel was first published in 1881, and the writing style may be hard to follow, but do give this book a chance. The protagonist's lack of self-awareness and sense of entitlement as a member of Rio's upper-middle-class are both infuriating and revelatory. Machado's social commentary is at once subtle and cutting. Thomson-DeVeaux has included extensive notes on the historical and cultural context of the work.
Clarice Lispector, I suspect, is better known outside Brazil than Machado is, possibly because she was a twentieth-century writer, and readers may relate more to her writing style and the themes she explored. Like Machado's, Clarice's work has been translated widely. Katrina Dodson translated all of her stories, published as Complete Stories in 2015. What a feat! Dodson writes on her website, "I spent two years translating a lifetime of stories by Clarice Lispector (1920-1977), one of Brazil's most beloved writers, in what felt like a continuous fever dream or 'a one-woman vaudeville act,' as I wrote in the Translator's Note. The result was the first complete volume of Clarice Lispector's stories available in any language." I recommend the short story The Buffalo in Dodson's translation as an excellent introduction to Clarice's writing and to Dodson's work as translator.
Caio Fernando de Abreu (1948-1996) was a journalist and literary writer whose work was influential in the 1970s and '80s. Bruna Dantas Lobato's translation of his short story collection Morangos Mofados (Moldy Strawberries) was published this year. Her translation of Abreu's Os Dragões Não Conhecem o Paraíso (No Dragons in Paradise) is slated for publication in 2024. In both collections, Abreu explores issues of sexuality, death, and loss in the turbulent times of the AIDS epidemic and military dictatorship in Brazil.
Emilio Fraia is a contemporary Brazilian writer who has won important awards in Brazil as well as international recognition, including making the list of Granta's Best Young Brazilian Writers. Sevastopol, a collection of three linked stories translated by Zoe Perry, was published in 2021. Here is a description from Zoe Perry's website: "Inspired by Tolstoy’s The Sevastopol Sketches, Emilio Fraia masterfully weaves together three subtly connected stories of yearning and loss, obsession and madness, failure and the desire to persist, in a restrained manner reminiscent of Anton Chekhov, Roberto Bolaño, and Rachel Cusk." Sevastopol is the selection for the November discussion of the Portuguese in Translation Book club. I have signed up for this online event and am looking forward to the discussion.
In 2023, Torto Arado (Crooked Plow) by Itamar Vieira Jr. will be published in Johnny Lorenz's translation. Winner of several prestigious awards in Brazil and abroad, Torto Arado is the story of two sisters growing up in rural Bahia, where the girls' family and other descendants of enslaved people still live in near-slavery conditions as sharecroppers. Although a time period isn't mentioned explicitly, the story seems to take place in the 1970s. Due to a grizzly accident, one of the sisters loses the ability to speak. In Itamar Vieira Jr.'s powerful, inventive writing, the "speech" of the two sisters becomes one while they are children. The sisters' very identities seem to blend into one and then gradually individualize and separate. This poignant story revealed to me a part of Brazilian history I didn't know. It is a tremendous work of literature, and I hope many English-language readers get to know it.
All the translators I mention here have websites. I encourage you to look them up and get to know more about them and their excellent work.