"River of January" Highlights Literary Voices From Rio

During the 54th annual conference organized November 6-9, 2013 by the American Translators Association (ATA) in San Antonio, I attended a session titled A Feat of Olympic Proportions: Translating Rio's Literary Voices into English, presented by Jayme Costa Pinto, an English-to-Portuguese translator whose literary projects include works by American authors John Updike and Seth Morgan.

Jayme introduced the "River of January" bilingual collection, which features the original Portuguese contents and the respective English translations of stories about Rio de Janeiro and its people, as written by prominent local authors. The project is sponsored by Light, an electric company in Brazil, as well as the Secretary of the Culture in Rio. All books in the series are translated by Mark Carlyon, who added extensive notes about his translation process to each volume.

The collection is divided into two periods, 1808-1908 and 1908-2008, and four of the six titles that make up the first part of the project are already available: Manuel Antônio de Almeida's "Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant," Machado de Assis' "The Old House," Lima Barreto's "The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma," and João do Rio's "The Enchanting Soul of the Streets."

Jayme focused on "The Old House," whose copy he brought to spark the curiosity of the audience. He then highlighted the attention paid to the creative book design―a true collector's edition―and presented selected paragraphs for and animated discussion, while contrasting Machado de Assis' writing and Mark Carlyon's version.

The speaker pointed out that those excerpts from Machado de Assis' book were "especially challenging sections to translate" because they are "so close to the ears (and hearts) of Brazilian readers, and so unequivocally linked to the cultural heritage of an author with a keen eye for sociological observations."

As it happens in all of Jayme's presentations at the ATA Annual Conference, the audience had the opportunity to debate word choices, brainstorm different translation solutions, and reflect upon the role of translators in literary projects.


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RAFA LOMBARDINO is a translator and journalist from Brazil who lives in California. She has been working as a translator since 1997 and, in 2011, started to join forces with self-published authors to translate their work into Portuguese and English. In addition to acting as content curator at eWordNews, she also runs Word Awareness, a small network of professional translators, and coordinates two projects to promote Brazilian literature worldwide: Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories (CBSS) and Cuentos Brasileños de la Actualidad (CBA).