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BOMBLOG: Dilated Heart: Alison Entrekin and Clarice Lispector by Sarah Gerard
"Alison Entrekin: Clarice was a native speaker of Portuguese, but her writing style definitely isn’t run-of-the-mill. Her turns of phrase are often peculiar, her word choices unconventional, and her syntax can be rather odd at times. Not always, but a lot of the time. There are places in her books where she is entirely idiomatic and makes perfect sense and places where every reader understands something different, because her sentences are open-ended, with words that contain a range of nuances, allowing for several different readings.

SG: Different challenges arise translating a work from any one language into another. What are some of the challenges you face translating a work from Portuguese into English?

AE: The answer to this question varies with each book and author, but with Clarice the big challenge any translator faces is allowing her to be herself. This is easier said than done. With unconventional writers, there is always a little niggling voice in the back of your mind telling you that readers of the translation are going to attribute any difficulties they have to the translator, not to the original, and I think that this—consciously or unconsciously—leads some translators to over-interpret what the author actually said and serve up a more domesticated version of the writing. I think some past translations of Clarice have tried too hard to “tidy her up” and have her make perfect sense where she was deliberately open-ended. I tried not to do this. There is almost always a more natural way to say the things she says, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a faithful translation.



SG: How does your translation of Near to the Wild Heart differ from Giovanni Pontiero’s? Do you feel you approached it differently? Was his translation useful to you in making decisions about your own?

AE: I deliberately avoided reading Pontiero’s translation until after I was done with my own. And even then, I didn’t read it all. I looked at the first few chapters and then just peeked at what he had done in some particularly difficult places to see his take on things, but I think we are completely different translators and tackled things in very different ways. I don’t want to run the man down, as he isn’t here to defend himself, but I feel that he took a few too many liberties with his translation, filling in a lot of Clarice’s little ellipses and making her sound more conventional than she was.

SG: Pontiero’s translation ended famously with, “I shall arise as strong and comely as a young colt,” whereas you’ve translated this as, “I shall arise as strong and beautiful as a young horse.” Can you explain this subtle difference?

AE: In her original text Clarice used bela, which is “beautiful.” I don’t see any justification for using a synonym for “beautiful” in this case, as it is a direct match for bela. “Comely” is a less likely choice, with subtleties of its own that are not present in bela. Clarice could have used a synonym for bela, but didn’t. Likewise, she used cavalo novo in the original, which is literally “young horse.” She could have used poldro or potro, the Portuguese for “colt,” but didn’t. My translation is simpler and perhaps less elegant, but I feel it is closer to the original.



SG: Even more than most writers, themes stretch across and seem to morph through Lispector’s books. In translating her first novel, was it difficult not to let your familiarity with her later works inform your choices too much, or was it actually an advantage to have access to those later works?

AE: I’m not a specialist in Clarice Lispector, nor have I read all of her books. But I do believe that a work of literature has to be approached as is; that is, as I said before, you have to translate the book that is in front of you. Of course, the better you know a writer, the better equipped you will be to identify their quirks, favorite words, themes, etc. but it probably won’t change the way you translate them.

Ultimately, I think one’s knowledge of the language and culture is still more important than expertise in a particular author (though obviously knowing the author’s oeuvre is better than not knowing it). For example, Clarice often said that so-and-so “dilated” their eyes in Portuguese, meaning “opened them wide.” I came across it a few times in Near to the Wild Heart, and have seen it in other stories of hers, too. As far as I have been able to ascertain, it is a quirk of Clarice’s. It’s nice to know, but it didn’t change my approach to it. It is just as odd a word choice in Portuguese as it is in English—pupils dilate, but we don’t usually say that eyes dilate—which is why I rendered it literally in my translation. On the other hand, I discovered quite by accident—while talking to a woman of Clarice’s generation in a doctor’s waiting room—that her use of another word, which I had found quite peculiar on first reading, was actually the current usage back when she was writing, though it isn’t so usual today. Needless to say, I rushed home and changed my translation of that word to something more conventional.

SG: Is there anything that you feel didn’t translate well from the Portuguese into the English in Near to the Wild Heart, and if so, what were the obstacles?

AE: I don’t really remember anything specific that I was terribly distraught about, but I do feel that, despite my best efforts to preserve her idiosyncrasies, the translation suffered certain losses. To some extent, this is all in a translator’s day’s work, as no language is a mirror copy of another, but with Clarice it is exacerbated by the fact that she frequently used words that could be interpreted in a number of ways. That’s fine when you’re reading her—a discerning reader will register several of those nuances and move on. When you have to translate her, it’s a different story. Often there isn’t a corresponding word or phrase that offers all of the possibilities contained in the original. So you have to choose—which is a very subjective process in itself—and, in so doing, you automatically narrow her down, pin her to what you think is most important.
claricelispector  translation  sarahherard  alisonentrekin  2012  interviews  portuguese  portugués  brasil  literature  brazil 
november 2013 by robertogreco

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