When a Translator Inhabits the Mind of an Author

When you read a book, you get to know the characters and places imagined by an author and enjoy the story that is being told. When you translate a book, you get to recreate the story in another language, so that the target audience can have the same reading experience.

Translators spend a lot of time on a book, getting inside the author's head and retracing the same steps to make sure the final result will be as faithful as possible. But, what happens when the material you're translating is autobiographical, an epistolary novel that is very personal in nature, or an exchange of letters? Then you really feel like you're inhabiting the mind of an author.

I've just gone through it recently when working with Traviesa, a website dedicated to contemporary fiction that defines itself as a "literary amusement park." It was a pleasure to take part in the Portuguese-to-English translation of letters exchanged by Brazilian authors Emilio Fraia and Antônio Xerxenesky.

They talked about everything: traveling, arts, movies, culture, reading, writing, work-life balance, and even translation―Xerxenesky is translating Enrique Vila-Mata's Kassel no invita a la lógica to Portuguese.

While translating what they wrote to each other, I felt as if I had gone through the same places in Mexico that Emilio talked about, or visited the château where Xerxenesky and his girlfriend drank some of the best wines of their lives in France.

This intimate look into a conversation between friends made me want to read the books they recommended to each other, visit a museum in Brazil that has some mesmerizing, synesthetic installations―as per their fantastic descriptions―and check out the movie they both loved to hate.

It's been weeks since I translated their correspondence, and I still catch myself reliving their memories as if they were mine because I tried so hard to walk in their shoes to bring their experiences to English readers. I hope I did a good job and you get to enjoy reading it as much as I did.


EDITOR'S NOTE: You can also check out the Portuguese-to-Spanish translation of the authors' correspondence, courtesy of Julia Tomasini.


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).