Sunday, 7 April 2013

'Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories' by Word Awareness (ed.) (Review)

While I've mostly been occupied with the IFFP longlist recently, I have had a few other works waiting to be read and reviewed.  One of these is a book I was asked to review a while back, something a little different.  So, how's your Portuguese?

Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories is a collection which comes from the web-site of the same nameWord Awareness (run by translator Rafa Lombardino) invited writers from Brazil to submit short pieces of fiction which would be translated into English and published on the web-site.  It's a project which hopes to give young Brazilian writers more exposure to an international audience - and perhaps more success too :)

The collection contains twenty-two stories, the majority of which are fairly short (some coming in at a little over a page) with only a few stretching to more than five pages.  Almost all of the stories are translated by Lombardino, but for those of you who do know a little Portuguese, there's an added bonus.  Just as at the site, you can also read the stories in the original version...

But what is it actually like?  Well, as you can imagine in an anthology of this sort, there is a variety of moods and styles.  While the majority would fall under the umbrella of literary fiction, there are a few stories which you could label as genre fiction.  Kariny Aciole's 'Return to Shantra' is a fantasy tale, with a hint of erotica thrown in for good measure, while Elisabeth Maranhão's 'Glass and Porcelain in the Garden', a story about a woman uncovering her husband's affair, could (possibly!) be considered chick lit.

There are also some rather short, poetic pieces, stories which need to be reread several times to get the idea behind the words.  Ludmila Barbosa is described in her blurb as a poet, so it is no surprise that her 'Notes on Dreaming' reads a little like a poem.  I also enjoyed Lorena Leandro's short work 'Relationship', in which a woman's unconditional love is shown to have a rather unusual object...

A few of the stories have an aspect of Brazilian culture as their focus, and some of these were perhaps among the more successful stories in the collection.  Roberto Denser's 'The Chick Who Read Clarice Lispector Too Much' is a clever story set at a bus stop, in which the dangers of being a book snob are on display for all to see.  'Eternally Lying in a Splendid Cradle' by Simone Campos, the longest story in the collection, is an intriguing look at Brazilian culture seen through the eyes of a foreigner.  As for Gui Nascimento's 'I Love São Paulo', well that's just a few pages of two friends talking drug-influenced nonsense about the great city ;)

For me though, the best stories here are also fairly simple and universal ones.  José Geraldo Gouvêa's 'The Girl Who Liked Listening to Stories' is a tale which will resonate with anyone who remembers discovering the beauty of words.  My favourite story in the collection though is the very last one, by Paulo Carvalho.  A man thinks back to the day he discovered love, a story of riding bikes down hills and finding new feelings for a girl.  The title? 'Simple'...

The book is available on Amazon (in both paperback and Kindle format), but the stories are also available for browsing on the CBSS web-site.  Two new stories are published each month (on the 1st and 15th), and there's a wide range of stories to explore.  Anyone interested in what's coming out of Brazil (which may well become the next big thing in translated fiction) should definitely check it out :)

One last thing I'd like to comment on is the translation, as it's rare that I have both the original and the translation in front of me at the same time.  While my Portuguese is fairly poor (just a year of wasting time while at university...), having studied most Romance languages, I can get a feel for the original from the translation.  There was a distinct difference in style between the two versions, one which came across in many of the stories I compared.

One story I'd like to focus on is Wilson Gorj's ' The Black Mulberry' ('Amora negra'), and I'll just give you one paragraph from each version:
"Deliciosa, porém pequenas.  Havia, sim, uma bem grande, mas esta amora pendia na ponte de um dos galhos estendidos sobre a agua." (pp.121/2)

"They were delicious, but too small.  There was a very big juicy mulberry hanging from one of the branches right above the water." (p.23)
With a bit of luck, you'll be able to see the differences in style between the two versions.  The English gets across the content of the original, but I'm not sure that the rhythm and style of the Portuguese is captured, and that means that the story comes across as a little prosaic in English, where the Portuguese (to my untutored ears) seems more melodic.  If it had been translated like this, would the meaning have been lost?
'Delicious, but small.  There was, it's true, a very big one, but this mulberry hung from the end of one of the branches extending over the water."
The word 'delicious' was mentioned in the previous sentence, so I don't feel the need to add the pronoun 'they'.  I also think that there is no need to alter the Portuguese sentence structure in the second sentence...

You can tell that I'm a frustrated translator, but I think that perhaps content wins out over style occasionally in this collection, especially in the simplification of sentences.  English is less tolerant of long, rambling, comma-filled sentences than the Romance languages (except, of course, when I'm on a roll in my blog posts!), but I enjoy reading this style of writing.  I hope Rafa takes this as a comment on, and not a criticism of her translation style :)