Interview: Jennifer Alexander

How did you come to translate Caio Fernando Abreu’s short story “Garopaba Mon Amour”?

I actually picked up the book at random in a second-hand bookshop in Porto Alegre. The story caught my eye because I had just been in Garopaba—I had also camped there near the beach, and I was struck by both that familiarity and the style of the writing. However, then entered the contrast as the darker side of the story comes in, and that relaxed, peaceful, artistic place is invaded and shattered very violently. Working there with community organizations at the time, I was becoming aware of the complexities in Brazil around attitudes to homosexuality and also surrounding the fairly recent past of military dictatorship. The author’s’ life and experiences interested me, as did the bravery of his writing.

The language of Abreu’s story is highly experimental, with a number of possible meanings. How did you attempt to preserve both that ambiguity and the core meaning of the story?

I liked the ambiguity. It is key to the story, and I aimed to preserve it, making language choices which left meanings as open to interpretation as possible without my narrowing anything down in translation. I found the story confusing initially and wanted readers in English to feel that too.

In the course of translating, did you discover anything surprising about the author or the piece?

I did further reading of and about the author and was impressed by the breadth and intensity of his writing career, and life—by how multifaceted and transgressive his writing was, among other things.

What led you to becoming a translator, especially of Brazilian literature?

I was always a keen reader, writer and language learner. I loved Brazilian Portuguese from the moment I arrived there—becoming a translator was really inevitable!

What advice do you have for aspiring translators?

Join translators’ networks and associations, get some training and experience, and just go for it. Read widely in both languages, and translate in areas you enjoy. Partner up or attend translation workshops and courses wherever you can. I have learned a huge amount from collaborative working and speaking to more experienced translators.

What theories or principles guide your translation process? How would you describe your process?

I am guided much more by instinct than theory. I try to experience the text simply as a reader first, then return to it to do a straightforward full first draft, highlighting doubts and queries as I go. I will then redraft and redraft. Ideally, I would leave it in a drawer for months before editing again with distance and a new perspective.

Do you have any other translation projects on the horizon? How are they coming along?

I have no literary projects in progress right now, but I have an eye out for the next one. I have wondered how the children’s fiction of Monteiro Lobato could be translated for English speakers, so that is sitting on my desk along with a series of crônicas by a Brazilian journalist, which I worked on last year, by way of experimenting with a different form.