Translating Two Brazilian Writers

Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren

In both my translations and my own writing, I find myself drawn to the question of place, fascinated by the interplay between interior and exterior landscapes. Adriana Lisboa’s 2004 flash fiction collection Caligrafias (Calligraphies) and Flávio de Araújo’s 2008 poetry collection Zangareio — from which “Geografia/Geography” and “Enquanto as crianças dormem/As the Children Sleep,” respectively, are taken — are very different texts that nonetheless intersect around this notion of mapping. The main challenge in translating them has been recreating the sonority of the Brazilian Portuguese in English, as well as maintaining the subtle mystery present in the originals while evoking very specific cultures and landscapes that are likely unfamiliar to English-speaking readers.

Among Lisboa’s varied body of work, Calligraphies stands out as her only short story collection — a crucial bridge between her recent poetry collection, Parte da Paisagem (2014, Iluminaras), and her six previous novels. It brings together selected flash fiction from 1994-2004. As such, each piece stands alone, though they are linked by subtle repetitions in the text, the impressionistic lyricism of the prose, and the speaker’s mix of journalistic and cerebral observations. The 38 stories, most less than a page, are set all over Brazil (São Paulo, Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, Teresópolis, Chapada Diamantina), but also venture out into Portugal, the US, and even Kenya, mirroring the writer’s own travels. With emotional intensity and sparse brushstrokes, Lisboa creates evocative scenes that begin in the quotidian and move towards the sublime.

Zangareio, Araújo's powerful debut poetry collection, explores the world of the caiçaras — a traditional fishing community with Portuguese, indigenous, and African roots that inhabits the southeastern coast of Brazil. Born in Paraty in 1975, Araújo comes from a family of caiçara fishermen. Zangareio captures the daily and seasonal rhythms of his ancestral home in Praia do Sono, and explores how modernity, globalization, and development have impacted its way of life. Relationships between people, and the natural world, are at the center of his work.

These translations were completed with the support of a 2014-15 Fulbright Fellowship in creative writing, which allowed me to spend nine months based out of Rio de Janeiro, with side trips all over the country, as I researched and translated contemporary Brazilian poetry.

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