Favourite Books/Writers
Thread poster: Roomy Naqvy

Roomy Naqvy  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:02
English to Hindi
+ ...
May 19, 2001

Evert\'s post to the earlier topic necessitates a new topic. I am sure everyone would love to tell us about their favourite literary authors and books. I strongly suggest that it would be particularly nice if texts were discussed which foregrounded some kind of cultural dialogue/exchange. In that way, the topic would also remain relevant to the idea of translation, which is a kind of cultural exchange. The way texts transmit cultures has always been a preoccupation with me. I sincerely hope that this would prove to an enlightening experience.

Roomy F Naqvy


[ This Message was edited by: roomynaqvy on 2001-05-19 11:25 ]


Henry Dotterer
Local time: 03:32
May 26, 2001

Milan Kundera is an interesting figure. He writes in his mother tongue, Czech, but also in French (he now lives in Paris.) His books have been translated into many Western languages.

In reading the English translations of

his works, I was struck by the challenge the translators must have faced in transposing Kundera\'s careful nuances.

Kundera at times zeroes in on specific terms, discussing, for example, the difference between two character\'s understandings of a single word. Finding the \"perfect\" translation of a term is a challenge...but finding a term that can have the right *two* meanings must have really had the translators\' wheels turning...

Kundera, it seems, was frustrated by the translations. He said:

\"For me, because practically speaking I no longer have the Czech audience, translations are everything. I therefore decided, a few years ago, to put some order into the foreign editions of my books. This involved a certain amount of conflict and fatigue: reading, checking, correcting my novels, old and new, in the three or four foreign languages I can read, completely took over a whole period of my life.\"

He goes on:

\"The writer who determines to supervise the translations of his books finds himself chasing after hordes of words like a shepherd after a flock of wild sheep - a sorry figure to himself, a laughable one to others. I suspect that my friend Pierre Nora, editor of the magazine Le Debat, recognized the sadly comical quality of my shepherd existence. One day, with barely disguised compassion, he told me: \'\'Look, forget this torture, and instead write something for me. The translations have forced you to think about every one of your words. So write your own personal dictionary. A dictionary for your novels. Put down your key words, your problem words, the words you love.\'\'

See a (translated!) excerpt from his \'dictionary\' at:


I wonder how Kundera feels about the translation of his \'beloved words\' this time...maybe he didn\'t want them touched!


CET Intl
Local time: 02:32
English to Japanese
+ ...
Jun 1, 2001

Earl Nyholm, an teacher of the Ojibwe language once wrote, \"If we lose our language as a people, we are no longer Indians (Native Americans), we are descendants of Indians.\" I have thought about this quote for quite some time now as it has some significance to me. Earl Nyholm is an Ojibwe Indian as am I. Our language is dying. Sadly, this is true for all Native American langauges of North America. Their days are numbered.

So how does this apply to translation? Well, according to Earl Nyholm, language is not merely a mode of communication, but is the way we see the world. Language is not merely a single element of our culture, it IS our culture because it embodies the way we view and treat the world. Translation, then, becomes not merely a translation of ideas, but of culture. As Roomy mentioned in his posting, \"traslation is essentially a cultural communication.\"

So, it would follow that a translator of \"cultural\" ideas would need to have a good understanding of not just the grammar and syntax of a language, but a keen understanding of the culture that the language stems from. This is, I believe, is paramount in translation.

I concur with Roomy in that \"[t]ranslation is essentially a process of cultural communication.\" It would follow then, that translators have not just the burden of knowing grammar and syntax of the Source language, but the duty to know the culture of that Source language so as to accomplish the \"process of cultural communication.\"

Best Regards,

Brendan Fairbanks


CLS Lexi-tech
Local time: 03:32
Member (2004)
English to Italian
+ ...
Jun 3, 2001

Dear Brendan, yes it very sad that native languages should have fewer and fewer speakers. I wanted to be a speaker of Navajo, for example, but it was thought preposterous that an Italian should spend her scholarship in the States studying Navajo at Many Farms Community College in Arizona and so the scholarship committee dit not send me there, but instead to Washington D.C. \"What will you do with Navajo when you come back to Italy?\" I was unable to convince them that perhaps I wanted to see the world from another language point of view... I did manage to get a glimpse of Navajo and other native languages during my graduate studies in the States. During a seminar we got together with the Piscataway (small, \"extinct\" tribe near D.C.) and managed to put together a few texts in the presence of one or two speakers.

I translated into Italian James Welch\'s Winter in the Blood (Blackfoot, author of Winter in the Blood, The Indian Lawyer, The Death of Jim Loney, and many other novels) and poems) and Leslie Silko\'s Ceremony (Pueblo of Laguna). They were difficult but extremely rewarding (not financially, but from a human capital point of view).

All the best to you and to this forum.

Paola Ludovici MacQuarrie




Roomy Naqvy  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:02
English to Hindi
+ ...
Jun 4, 2001

Henry, Brendan and Paola,

Thanks for excellent inputs. This is the kind of start that I had expected. I had heard that Kundera was frustrated by his translations but they remained a kind of necessity for him but I did not know about it well. Henry’s comment lends an excellent insight. Brendan has certainly come up with a rare view. I would like to give him some parallels later. And thanks Paola for your experience. Yes, literary translation may not be financially rewarding but it would lead to a lot of human capital.

It is only in the realm of literature that writers can best show a cultural contest. I would like to begin with A K Ramanujan (1929-1993), the poet to whom I referred earlier in a different post, translator par excellence. In one of his poems “Chicago Zen”, he makes it clear that the journey from the East/India into the West is never easy. While in the West, you wish to reach your country again. Pointlessly. The country does not let you go. It’s memories cling to you. But the country is far away. He says, “you know what you always knew: / the country cannot be reached / by jet.” And he goes on to say:

Nor by any

other means of transport,

migrating with a clean valid passport,

no, not even by transmigrating

without any passport at all,

but only by answering ordinary

black telephones, questions

walls and small children ask,

and answering calls of nature.

[The Collected Poems of A.K.Ramanujan, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1995, p. 187.]

Agha Shahid Ali (b. 1949) is another poet who translates his culture into poetry. Interestingly, both Ramanujan and Ali have also been translators. Ali has been a translator of the Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Ali translates his exile, his Kashmir, his Urdu/Muslim culture, his North Indian memories, his penchant for ghazals and his Marxist ideals brilliantly. He was asked, “What does Kashmir look like?” in a conversation. He replied, “Think of Colorado, ten times over. Think of a Switzerland. Have you seen Passage to India? The last twenty minutes are Kashmir.” [See his interview at the Univ of Mass. Magazine http://www.umass.edu/pubaffs/publications/mass_magazine/archives/1998/spring_98/spg98_books_ali.html]. In one of his poems from his book, A Nostalgist’s Map of America, he says while talking about the death of a friend from AIDS: “Someone wants me to live! / A language will die with me.” He is a very evocative poet who can translate his experience well. In a poem, “Postcard From Kashmir”, he misses Kashmir and says:

Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,

my home a neat four by six inches.

I always loved neatness. Now I hold

the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.


And my memory will be a little

out of focus, in it

a giant negative, black

and white, still undeveloped.

[The Beloved Witness: Selected Poems, Viking, New Delhi, 1992, p. 25.]

To learn more about Agha Shahid Ali, see the following links:

1. Short bio-sketch


2. \"Kashmir Without a Post Office\" http://elisha.colgate.edu/graham/gtext/kshmir.html

3. \"Calligraphy of Coils\" Interview where he talks about his poetry.


4. One of his poems \"I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror\"


5. \"Farewell\" http://www.cstone.net/~poems/farewali.htm

6. \"The Wolf\'s Postcript to \'Little Red Riding Hood\' \" http://www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?prmID=1891

7. Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence at Baruch College


8. \"Ghazal\" in The Boston Review at http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR24.2/ali.html

9. Two poems http://pages.nyu.edu/~sek209/Literature/ShahidAli.htm

10. University of Massachussetts Magazine http://www.umass.edu/pubaffs/publications/mass_magazine/archives/1998/spring_98/spg98_books_ali.html

It is not as if only Indian writers or Indian expatriates could translate their experiences. This is true of a number of literary figures. One of those prominent people would be Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He has been successful in translating his Macondo experience into fiction.

Best wishes and happy translating the wealth of experiences into literature and into the magic of words,

Roomy F Naqvy

[ This Message was edited by: on 2001-06-04 12:33 ]


Carla Zwanenberg  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:32
Member (2002)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Jun 4, 2001

My coffee breaks were very pleasant during the last few days, as I went to this forum and found a number of interesting postings about writers that I had not even heard of before. I followed the proposed links and added some titles to my list of ‘books to read’. I really like the company of a good book, thank you for your inspiring suggestions icon_smile.gif

Mostly I read Italian literature and if I may take up Roomy’s theme of writers translating their experiences, one of my favourite Italian writers, Natalia Ginzburg, comes to my mind.

Ginzburg was born in Palermo in 1916 and died in Rome in 1991. Her father, Giuseppe Levi, was a Jewish professor of anatomy. In 1919 he accepted a professorship at the University of Turin so Ginzburg lived her childhood and adolescence in this city. The home of the Levi family was a meeting place for many intellectuals who opposed against Mussolini, one of them being Natalia’s future husband, Leone Ginzburg, who would die at hands of the Fascists in 1944.

Her family and husband being active anti-fascists signed the life and work of Ginzburg. In her earliest writings she rejected any autobiographical style or elements, but then discovered that she succeeded best in expressing herself when writing her personal experiences in a fictionalised form. This resulted in beautiful novels like:

- Tutti i nostri ieri, 1952 (A light for fools / All our yesterdays)

- Le voci della sera, 1961 (Voices in the evening)

which paint a portrait of Italian (political) life before and during the Second World War.

Ginzburg’s usual no-frills, stoic writing style, completed with a fair dose of humour, is especially impressive if she writes about her own life in a way as if she was not even involved. I think that is why the autobiographical

- Lessico famigliare, 1963 (Family sayings / The things we used to say)

in which Ginzburg uses the family sayings as a step stone to describe her family’s life in a most difficult and dangerous period, is one of my favourites.

The work of Ginzburg comprises novels, plays, essays, translations and critics. In 1983 she was elected to Italian Parliament as independent left-wing deputy. If you want to read more about here, you can find some info here:

in Italian:



in English:



Best wishes and buona lettura,


[ This Message was edited by: on 2001-06-04 23:34 ]


Angela Arnone  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:32
Member (2004)
Italian to English
+ ...
Jun 5, 2001

How nice of Carla to remember the extraordinary Natalia Ginzburg, a powerful and self -effacing woman who lived through the Italian holocaust and turned her suffering into her strength.

Ginzburg is just one of many fascinating female Italian writers who often get overlooked as they refer to what may superficially seem a limited public and yet they are all worth investigating.

Some are not great. Some are barely readable and some are downright trash, but they represent aspects of Italian society that would often be neglected and which are fundamental to understand how and why Italy is the way it is today.

Catch - if you can - Anna Banti\'s \"Artemisia\", a 20th century misfit\'s tale of an 18th century misfit; Dacia Maraini \"La lunga vita di Marianna Ucria\" (translated as The Silent Princess); Elsa Morante \"La storia\"; Silvana La Spina \"L\'amante del paradiso\"; Susanna Agnelli\'s \"Vestivamo alla marinara\".

I won\'t say who to avoid!

My favourite is perhaps Maraini\'s Marianna Ucria as it gave me a shocking insight into Sicilian society of which I had no inkling and served as a very efficacious backup to Tomasi\'s \"The Leopard\"...but that\'s another story!



Monika Coulson  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:32
Member (2001)
English to Albanian
+ ...
Jun 7, 2001

As a native of Albania I would like to mention in this forum one of the famous Albanian writers, Ismail Kadare. I am sure many have heard of him...

Ismail Kadare

Born and raised in the museum-city of Gjirokastra, in southern Albania, he studied at the Faculty of History and Philology of the University of Tirana, Albania.

Famous writer in Albania, he grew to become well known in the world as well. He is published in up to forty languages all over the world and is considered one of the best writers of our times and a literature classic of the 20th century.

Called the \"NOBEL-ISABLE,\" he is published by Fayard, one of the most famous publishing houses of the world\'s cultural capital, Paris. Fayard publishes his literary works in French and in Albanian.

His last novel, The Concert, is classified as the best novel of the year 1991 by the French literary magazine Lire, in Paris.

In the last few years he has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize.

The following is a list of his works published all over the world.


1.Gjenerali i ushtrisë së vdekur

The General of the Dead Army

Le General de l\'armee morte

El General del ejercito muerto

Il generale dell\'armata morta

Der General der toten Armee

This book is also published in Romanian, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Polish Czech, Hungarian, Russian, Greek, Croatian and Serbian.

Description: An Italian general in the company of a priest on a mission to Albania to exhume and repatriate the remains of his fallen soldiers during World War II.


The Castle

Les Tambours de la Plui

Los Tambores de la Lluvia

Tamburi Della Pioggia

Die Festung

Description: The siege of one medieval Albanian fortress by Turks in the 15th century. The defeat of Turks by Skenderbeg.

3.Kronikë në gur

Chronicle in stone

Chronique de la ville de pierre

Chronic in Stein

Description: events in the Albanian city Gjirokastër during the World War II.

4.Nëntori i një kryeqyteti

November einer Hautstadt

Description: the liberation of Tirana, capital of Albania, from German forces at the end of World War II.


The Wedding

Description: a wedding with problems in the 1973-75 purge.

6.Dimri i madh

The Great Winter

Le grand hiver

Der grosse Winter

Description: traumatic rupture of relations between Albania and USSR in 1960.

7.Ura me tri harqe

The Bridge

Le pont aux trois arches

A ponte dos três arcos

Description: the most awesome motifs of Balkan legendry.

8.Kush e solli Doruntinën


Qui a ramene Doruntine

Doruntinas Heimkher

Description: Albania\'s legendary middle age.

9.Sjellësi i fatkeqësisë (Caravan of Veils)

Die Schleierkarawane

Description: Turks bring Muslim Veils to Albania in the 14th & 15th century.

10.Viti i mbrapshtë (The Dark Year)

L\'annee noire

Description: the turbulent and ominous year 1914 for Albania.

11.Krushqit janë të ngrirë (The Wedding Procession Turned into Ice)

Le cortege de la noce s\'est fige dans la glace

Description: a moving description of the Kosova tragedy as experienced by a Prishtinë surgeon.

12.Prilli i thyer

Broken April

Avril brise

Der zerrissene April

Description: vendetta in the highlands of northern Albania.

13.Koncert në fund të dimrit

Le Concert

Konzert am Ende des Winters

The Concert

Description: a monumental review of Albania\'s dramatic break with post-Maoist China in 1978, with overt criticism of the depersonalization of the individual under socialism.

14.Nënpunësi i pallatit të ëndërrave

Le palais des reves

The Palace of Dreams

O palácio dos sonhos

Description: a strange, invented Palace of Dreams in service of totalitarianism.

15.Piramida (The Pyramid)

La Pyramid

A pirâmide

Description: the totalitarian mechanism of myth creation

16.Nata me hënë (The Moon Night)

Clair de lune

Description: Saint Virginity in socialism.

17.Hija (The Shadow)


Description: the shadow of totalitarianism over intellectuals.

18.Një dosje për Homerin (The \"H\" File)

Dossier H

Description: The academic & life adventures of two Irish-Americans who come to Albania to study the living epical songs.


1.Poezi të Zgjedhura (Selected poetry)

Poemes 1958-1988

Poesies (in french)

Poemi e poesie scelte (in Italian)

A che pensono queste montagne


1.Eskili, ky Humbës i madh (Aeschylos, the great loser)

Eschyle ou l\'eternel perdant

Description: literary study on Aeschylus.

2.Ardhja e Migjenit në letërsine shqipe (The Arrival of Migjeni in Albanian Literature)

L\'interruption de Migjeni dans la litterature albanaise

Chroniques d\'une ville du nord et autres proses

Migjeni, Works

Migjeni: Free verses

Migjeni: Freie Verse

Der Selbstmord des Sperlings und andere Prosaskizzen

Description: literary study on the great Albanian poet of 1930s, Migjeni.

3.Pranvera shqiptare (The Albanian Spring)

Printemps albanais

Description: souvenirs from the movement for democracy in Albania.

4.Ftesë në studio dhe Pesha e kryqit

Invitation a l\'atelier de l\'ecrivain suivi de Le Poids de la Croix Paris

Description: sort of an autobiography of the writer.

Description: Essay about the legends of the power in the world.

6.Visage des Balkans (Visages of Balkans), Ecrits de lumiere

Description: Representation of Marubi Photos about Albania from 1858 to 1930.


1.Vepra letrare, (Literary works) 12 vol.

2.Oevres, vol 1 and 2

3.Vepra, vëll. 1 and 2


1.Eric Faye: ISMAIL KADARE, Promethe porte-feu

2.Ismail Kadare, Entretiens avec Eris Faye

3.Anne-Marie Mitchel: Ismail Kadare, le rhapsode albanais

4.Fabienne TERPAN: Ismail Kadare

5.Ismail Kadare, Gardien de memoire, par Maurice Druon, Paris, a venir



Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:32
+ ...
Jun 9, 2001

Hi All,

while we are spreading the word about lesser known writers, I\'d like to recommend Pere Calders. I know some of his work is in translation... but I am not sure if it still in print. In the original Catalan he is widely available.

Here is what one web page said about him... and it is difficult to fault this summary of the man\'s work:

\"...humor, fantasia, tendresa o absurd. Tots aquests ingredients, sàviament combinats amb una destresa narrativa singular, han donat lloc a un món imaginari -més pròxim al món real del que podria semblar a primer cop d\'ull- que ens convida a la reflexió sobre els nombrosos contrasentits en què està embolcallada la condició humana.

Amb la seva mirada afable i irònica, sempre subtil, Calders ens ajuda a entreveure les finíssimes capes que sovint uneixen -més que no pas separen- l\'absurd i l\'ordre convencional, el misteri i la quotidianitat, la raó i l\'atzar, les grans certeses i els grans dubtes\"

(...Humour, fantasy, sensitivity or the absurd. All of these ingredients are cleverly combined in a skilful and singular narrative style that has produced an imaginary world - closer to the real one than might appear at first sight - that invites us to reflect on the numerous contradictions which are central to the human condition.

With his subtle, good natured, yet ironic way of seeing things, Calders aids us in seeing the thin layers that unite - rather than separate - the worlds of the absurd and the conventional, the mysterious and the everyday, reason and chance, the great certainties and the great doubts.)

He was basically a short story writer and those of you who are fans of the more surreal examples of the form will love them. Those of you with an imperfect knowledge of Catalan will also be able to read these short stories and improve your exposure to the language.

I\'d recommend for starters his \"Cròniques de la veritat oculta\" (Chronicles of Hidden Truth).

Pity they never give Nobels posthumously... Calders should have been awarded one.

Happy reading,



Local time: 11:32
English to Turkish
+ ...
Jun 14, 2001


Translation is very important for writers of less known languages of the world. Well, Like Turkish. Although, with its dialects, it has quite a number of speakers, it is difiult for us to understand a text written in another dialect. Especially if it is a literary text.

For example there is Yashar Kemal, you must have heard of him. He is known to be one of the greatest writers in Turkish language. I believe he is not. But he had one great chance. His wife, Thilda Kemal. She was a Turkish jew and was a very good translator. She worked with him and translated all his novels into French and English. Kemal\'s work would be impossible for anyone else to translate. Because the language he uses is the pure Turkish of the nomads of the Tauros., in southern Anatolia. Even for the Turkish Press, he has a special Glossary. I remember being amazed by the words he used. I think language becomes more mechanic and distant as we get \"civilised\". Well, maybe we lose that pure and sincere view of the world as our language is altered by a so called \"civilisation\".

But to translate LÝterary texts from Turkish into English is quite difficult. Because of its structure, you cannot reflect many of the nuances. in another language. It is a poetic Language. Especially poetic texts are nearly impossible to translate. Hope one day you wil have a chance to read Turkish literature and see hat I mean.

Another thing. It is a pity for me to hear names from you that I had not ever heard before. It is a pity that we do not have access to a novel before it is translated into our language. I will try to find those names from the online stores. But unfortunately, it is not possible to select a book online, unless you know the name. YOu have to touch it, open the pages and readafew lines. Unfortunately, people who have been immigrating to turkey for nearly a century now, did not bring their languages along. I have many albanian friends but they don\'t know the language. I am half Pomak. (A tribe in tha Balkans. They may be slavic. They are muslim or Christian. Christians nearly all have been assimilated in the Bulgarian territory) No one in my family can speak the language. Can it be because they wanted to forget everything that they have left behind? The horrors and how they escaped. Can it be because they wanted a complete change in their identity by forgetting a language and learning a new one?

In turkish there is a saying: \"A language means a person\" Meaning every language is a different personality added to oneself.

I think I am carried away a bit.




Evert DELOOF-SYS  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:32
English to Dutch
+ ...
Jul 29, 2001

Another major writer of great interest to this topic (relevant to the idea of translation) is Joao Guimaraes Rosa (Cordisburgo, Brazil, 1908-1967);

I\'m posting an article -in French, but hey, what the heck- that gives you an idea about the problems any translator faces when dealing with Rosa\'s splendid work:


(Reportage paru dans Télérama n°2372)

CINQ HEURES DE L\'APRES MIDI ET LE SILENCE ENTRE PAR SURPRISE DANS LA CONVERSATION. L\'homme se tait, s\'absente, et son regard se perd dans cette houle de montagnes bleues qui moutonne jusqu\'à l\'horizon: \"Nous autres, gens du Sertão, sommes du type spéculatif: le simple fait de méditer nous donne du plaisir\". Il règne sur la campagne un calme presqu\'inquiétant, ponctué seulement du pépiement des oiseaux sur une végétation rase de buissons et de petits arbres tordus. Le chaud du jour retombe mais la poussière est encore brûlante qu\'un cavalier soulève en trottant sur la route de terre battue qui passe devant la \"venda\". C\'est un petit bar-épicerie où nous nous rafraîchissons en conversant avec le maître des lieux, un noir pensif prenommé Adão. En quelques phrases brèves et pudiques, il vient de me dévoiler un peu de son intimité: \" Quand le mal de vivre se fait trop pressant, je remplis mes fontes de bouteilles de cachaça (L\'alcool de canne à sucre brésilien), j\'enfourche mon cheval et je pars, je vais au hasard des chemins, à la saveur du vent et je bois... je vais où mon animal me mène, de jour, de nuit, qu\'importe, je dors en selle, je me laisse porter... et puis un beau matin je me retrouve en plein Sertão, soulagé, comme lavé, prêt à revenir, à reprendre ma place derrière ce comptoir\".

Nous sommes ici au coeur du Minas Gerais , un des plus grands états de la fédération brésilienne, situé au nord de l\'état de Rio de Janeiro. Bien loin des plages de la \"cidade maravilhosa\", loin du Brésil de la carte postale à la végétation généreuse et à la sensualité débridée. Nous voici à la frontière des terres âpres du Sertão, près de Diamantina, région austère et belle où les portuguais s\'installèrent très tôt parcequ\'elle était riche en or et en pierres précieuses. Cette province, marquée par les luttes sanglantes pour le contrôle des filons est aussi la patrie de l\'un des plus grands écrivains de ce siècle, un géant de la littérature mondiale qui reste encore insuffisamment connu: João Guimaraes Rosa. Et dans l\'histoire que vient de me conter Adão, j\'entends comme l\'écho d\'un récit de Guimaraes Rosa:\"Un jour sans dire quoi à quiconque, j\'enfourchai mon cheval et m\'en allai sans but, une escapade...\"

Minas Gerais: les \"Mines Générales\".Autant le \"carioca\" (L\'habitant de Rio) est généralement expansif et de contact facile, autant le \"mineiro\" est-il réputé introverti, taciturne, voire méfiant- même si, au bout du compte, il se révèle tout aussi accueillant que son compatriote du littoral. Le mineiro fait corps avec la substance minérale de ces parages. Il y a chez lui quelquechose du roc bien posé en terre, du bloc tranquille et tétu d\'une sourde obstination.

Ici tout est plus lent. A commencer par le parler des gens. Ce parler qui se déroule en phrases tranquilles, avec de larges pauses, un discours plein d\'images et d\'inventions verbales étonnantes- manière d\'exprimer le suc des choses: \"A beaucoup de choses importantes il manque un nom\". C\'est cette langue du petit peuple du Minas Gerais dont João Guimaraes Rosa s\'est emparé comme d\'une matière brute, d\'une argile qu\'il pétrit et recompose pour créer une oeuvre absolument unique dans l\'histoire de la littérature.

João Guimaraes Rosa est né en 1908 à Cordisburgo, une petite localité située au Sud de l\'endroit où nous nous trouvons, entre Diamantina et Belo Horizonte (La capitale de l\'état). Médecin de campagne puis diplomate il a même été premier secrétaire de l\'ambassade du Brésil à Paris au début des années cinquante. Parallèlement il a développé sa carrière littéraire en publiant, à partir de 1946, une demie douzaine d\'ouvrages qui l\'ont très vite consacré comme l\'une des voix les plus originales et les plus profondes de la littérature sud-américaine. En 1963 il est élu à l\'Académie brésilienne des lettres mais il retardera constamment, jusqu\'en 1967, le moment de prendre possession de son fauteuil et il mourra trois jours après avoir prononcé son discours de réception ainsi que, semble- t- il, il en avait eu la prémonition. \"On ne meurt pas- disait-il dans ce discours- on devient enchanté\"

Tous ses récits ont pour cadre le Minas Gerais et ses habitants de l\'intérieur: petits paysans, grands \"fazendeiros\" et leurs hommes de main, mais aussi mystiques hallucinés, petites filles médium, chevaux qui chuchotent et pierres qui crient...

João Guimaraes Rosa est donc un raconteur d\'histoires, d\'histoires dont l\'intrigue est parfois très mince, qu\'importe, car ce qui l\'intéresse ce n\'est pas tant le récit en soi, l\'anecdote, mais ll\'outre-récit, l\'autre chose: \"Le terrain devenait de plus en plus inhospitalier. Et les arbres rapetissaient, se ratatinaient, leurs robes balayaient le sol... Les vautours s\'espaçaient dans la vastitude... Cela pesait d\'un poids raréfié, de monde vieilli, désaffecté...Le soleil ne laissait voir dans aucune direction. Je vis la lumière: un cauchemar... C\'était une terre folle, et un lac de sable\".

Guimaraes Rosa tourne autour de ses trames avec une espèce de lenteur jubilatoire.Et ces détours sont savamment orchestrés. Car rien n\'est laissé au hasard dans cette oeuvre à la construction extrêmement rigoureuse et qui fourmille de références mythologiques et ésotériques. Francis Uteza, professeur à l\'Université de Montpellier, qui étudie l\'écrivain depuis une quinzaine d\'années a déchiffré et mis en évidence* les symboles cachés qui habitent son texte, symboles empruntés aussi bien au Tarot qu\'au Taoïsme et à la mythologie grecque, à l\'Alchimie d\'Occident qu\'aux récits de St Jean. \"Guimaraes Rosa était un initié, dit Uteza, Franc-Maçon sans aucun doute, mais peut-être avait-il aussi partie liée avec d\'autres sociétés plus secrètes\".

Mais Rosa est connu avant tout pour ses audaces en matière d\'invention verbale. Il disait que chaque écrivain doit se forger sa propre langue. Cette activité de \"fabrication\" était d\'ailleurs indissociable de sa démarche spirituelle: \"l\'écrivain doit être un alchimiste... c\'est seulement en rénovant la langue que l\'on pourra rénover le monde\". Cet amoureux des mots parlait couramment une demie douzaine de langues et en lisait une quinzaine d\'autres. Au parler régional du Minas Gerais il a donc mêlé des expressions empruntées au portuguais archaïque et à d\'autres langues qu\'il a transposé. Et quand tout cela ne suffisait pas il a lui-même créé des vocables pour parvenir à une puissance d\'évocation rarement atteinte en littérature . Par exemple tel paysan est décrit comme renfermuet et sursoucilleux, il est question des suavissements d\'une femme, une puce est tarabusteuse, un homme fiévreux est pris de friglassons et son coeur breloque, d\'une jeune mariée qui devient maîtresse de maison Guimaraes Rosa dit qu\'elle s\'est encasserolée etc.. \" La langue et moi sommes un couple d\'amants qui, ensemble, procréons passionnément\".

Etrange commerce que celui qu\'entretient un auteur avec l\'âme d\'un peuple, avec un terroir. (Pensons, chez nous, à Giono et à la Haute-Provence). Guimaraes Rosa est ici partout présent dans le paysage. Avec lui nous apprenons à le regarder autrement à \"l\'aimer à nouveau\". Ainsi par exemple, au sortir d\'Urucuia, sur la route de terre rouge quand surgit face à nous une \"boiada\" (Un troupeau de boeufs transhumant ): \"Un grondement, poussière, le surgibrouf: de face, en désinvolture de tournant, le troupeau global, cet encornemêlis en l\'air. En avant cavalant le guide de pointe sonne de la trompe de corne; à ses côtés les autres guides- puis les conducteurs de flanc avant et arrière- grands et bien en vue, assis comme qui dirait glissant sur un fleuve en crue (...).\"A diverses reprises Guimaraes Rosa a accompagné des caravanes de boeufs transhumant dans le Sertão. Un mois et demi a cheval, en compagnie des \"Vaqueiros\", à dériver dans ces paysages immenses. Le vieux guide Manuelzão a aujourd\'hui 90 ans. C\'est le héros d\'un des contes les plus fameux de l\'écrivain: \"La fête à Manuelzão\". Grande barbe blanche, regard pétillant et verbe savoureux, il se souvient: \"João Rosa était un merveilleux compagnon de chevauchée. Amical et pas fier. Il ne voulait pas qu\'on l\'appelle \"Docteur\". Il avait toujours à portée de la main un carnet et un crayon qu\'il portait attachés autour du cou et il notait tout: le nom des plantes, des fruits, des oiseaux- il nous assiégeait de questions- il notait aussi des bribes de conversations, des expressions et les \"casos\", les anecdotes que nous racontions pour nous desennuyer. J\'ai trouvé des traces de ces récits dans tous ses livres\".

Davantage encore que les environs de Diamantina cette région d\'Urucuia (Située 400 Km plus au nord) est sans doute celle qui a le plus inspiré Guimaraes Rosa, c\'est son \"eco-système\" de prédilection. Car c\'est ici que commence le Sertão sévère, le Grand Sertão, cette vaste région chaude de l\'intérieur du Brésil, cet arrière pays peu peuplé chätié par une sécheresse endémique, ce presque-désert couvert d\'une pauvre végétation courbée, recroquevillée sous la poigne d\'un soleil implacable. Sur ces terres que se partagent quelques \"colonels\" (Grands fazendeiros) aux possessions immenses, règne une société féodale.

C\'est cette région qui sert de cadre au chef d\'oeuvre de Guimaraes Rosa: \"Grande Sertão: Veredas\" (traduit en français sous le titre \"Diadorim\"), le seul véritable roman qu\'il ait jamais écrit (Le reste de son oeuvre étant composé de courts contes et de longues nouvelles), un des livres majeurs de la littérature de langue portuguaise, un \"livre-culte\" envoûtant, \"Une des oeuvres formellement les plus abouties du siècle\" selon Vargas Llosa, \" L\'un des plus grands livres qu\'on ait jamais écrit\" affirme Jorge Amado. Récit d\'aventures épiques, chevauchées et guerres sans merci que se livrent les \"jagunços\", les hommes de main des grands propriétaires- entre eux et avec l\'armée régulière. Mais aussi roman de l\'amitié amoureuse de Riobaldo le jagunço et de Diadorim le troublant garçon aux yeux verts. Livre du Sertão, de sa beauté âpre et de sa légende. Sous la plume de Guimaraes Rosa le Sertão devient un univers mythique, le territoire d\'une geste chevaleresque avec son code d\'honneur implacable.Terre d\'éternité et de solitude, lieu pur, lieu vrai, champ d\'épreuves initiatiques où l\'homme a rendez-vous avec Dieu, avec diable ou avec leurs manifestations les plus terribles. Car \"Grande Sertão\" est aussi l\'histoire d\'une quête métaphysique: plus encore que son ennemi intime c\'est une réponse que Riobaldo traque, une explication au problème du Mal. Le diable existe-t-il ? ou, plus précisément: pour accomplir son destin, faut-il nécessairement pactiser avec le démon ? \"Le Boiteux, le Fume-Bouche, le Pied-de-Bouc, le Roussi (...) le démon n\'a pas besoin d\'exister pour être, à peine on sait qu\'il n\'existe pas - c\'est là qu\'il prends tout en mains\".

Si son oeuvre est chargée de mystères il est une énigme plus grande encore : c\'est la personnalité même de Guimaraes Rosa. Ce que l\'on sait surtout c\'est qu\'il fuyait le contact avec la presse et les médias de l\'époque, détestait les interviews (\"Expression horrible et jeu de dupes où l\'un pose à l\'autre des questions dont il connaît déja les réponses\" ) et protégeait farouchement sa vie privée. Persuadé que l\'écrivain doit s\'effacer devant son oeuvre, il aimait à répéter: \" Ma biographie n\'a aucune espèce d\'intérêt. J\'ai eu une vie complètement normale\" . \"Dans cette distance qu\'il entretenait avec la presse et le public il y avait certainement quelquechose d\'aristocratique ,commente Francis Uteza, Guimaraes Rosa pensait que l\'accès à son oeuvre devait se mériter. Mais d\'un autre côté il ne se considérait pas comme dépositaire du sens définitif de son texte et recevait avec intérêt toutes les interprétations qu\'on voulait bien en donner\". Il affirmait par exemple avoir mieux compris ses propres écrits après en avoir lu la traduction allemande qu\'il appréciait particulièrement.

Au milieu du sec du Sertão il y a des oasis. Ce sont les \"veredas\", petites dépressions de terre argileuse ou affleure l\'eau qui s\'écoule en ruisseau ou en petites rivières formant ça et là des marais. Auprès de cette humidité croit une végétation au vert intense, généreux, luisant qui fait contraste avec le vert austère de la partie sèche. C\'est là que se réfugient les oiseaux et quantité de petits animaux. Mais surtout, suivant exactement le chemin des eaux, pousse le \"buriti\", un élégant palmier caractéristique de ces régions. \"De loin on aperçoit les buritis et d\'emblée on sait: là il y a de l\'eau\". Le buriti est la marque de la véréda, il l\'accompagne en alignement impeccable, en défilé majestueux, en véritable procession. De même que le Sertão, la véréda est un lieu mythique, une entité, une présence constante dans les livres de Guimaraes Rosa. \"Le fla-flo du vent accroché dans les buritis, pris en écharpe dans la clairevoie des plus hautes palmes...le buriti veut que tout soit bleu et il ne se sépare pas de son eau\". L\'écrivain se compare lui-même à un buriti, \"axe du monde\", point de contact entre les énergies d\'en bas et les forces d\'en haut, intermédiaire entre terre et ciel, tel le poète qui ne fait que tenter de traduire un chant divin écrit de toute éternité.

Ce matin, non loin d\'Arinos, dernière petite ville avant les solitudes du \"Grand Sertão\", nous allons, avec Julio, marcher au long des vérédas. Julio est courtier en terres: il achète et revends des terrains et des fazendas. Mais surtout c\'est un amoureux du Sertão, il entretient avec ce pays une relation charnelle, passionnelle et c\'est pour cela qu\'à l\'instar de \"quelques autres désaxés dans son genre\"- pour reprendre ses propres mots- il est venu se perdre dans ce bout du monde. Certains de ces exilés volontaires se sont installés ici \"touchés par la grâce\" après avoir lu Guimaraes Rosa.

Julio me présente \"sa\" véréda, celle qui est située sur ses propres terres. Nous suivons la file des buritis, les buissons regorgent de pépiements, de roucoulements, un chevreuil bondit devant nous, des petits singes jouent dans les hautes branches. Le \"sertanejo\"- l\'homme du Sertão- revient toujours vers les vérédas pour faire boire les bêtes, pour reprendre souffle sous l\'ombrage et aussi pour s\'orienter dans ces espaces immense où on a tôt fait de se perdre.

Je lève la tête: la fondaison d\'un buriti se détache avec une netteté prodigieuse dans la lumière intense de cette matinée, cette lumière si particulière du Minas Gerais qui \"sature\" toutes les couleurs, qui fait parler le paysage. Et je respire \"une fois de plus l\'air sec et âpre de ces campagnes, cet air que l\'âme n\'oublie jamais totalement et auquel sans cesse le coeur de l\'homme des Gerais aspire secrètement.\"

Frédéric Pagès


S\'engager dans un livre de Guimaraes Rosa c\'est non seulement accompagner les péripéties parfois palpitantes de ses récits ou s\'étonner devant l\'étrangeté de certains paysages et personnages évoqués mais c\'est aussi participer à une aventure singulière: celle de la langue, une langue incroyablement plastique et chatoyante. Il existe peu de textes qui, une fois apprivoisés, procurent une telle jubilation de lecture. La manière dont l\'écrivain sculpte son style, la gourmandise avec laquelle il forge des vocables, la façon dont il entre de biais dans ses récits, la profondeur de sens à laquelle il parvient en quelques phrases, tout cela fait de lui un auteur proprement magique et dont on doit savourer les textes à petites gorgées.

C\'est ce qui le rend également difficile à traduire. A rester trop près du texte on risque l\'obscurité, à l\'inverse en tentant à tout prix de se mettre à la portée du lecteur non-bréslien on va trahir l\'auteur. C\'est ce dernier parti-pris qu\'a choisi, non sans motifs, Jean-Jacques Villard qui fut le premier traducteur de João Guimaraes Rosa en français. Si cette méthode s\'est avérée plausible pour les trois premiers volumes publiés aux éditions du Seuil (\"Buriti\", \"Les nuits du Sertão\" et \"Hautes plaines\") elle n\'a pas convaincu pour \"Grande Sertão: veredas\" (Parue chez Albin Michel sous le titre: \"Diadorim\") .L\'éditeur a donc choisi, fait rare, de faire retraduire le roman quelques années plus tard. Malgré certaines lacunes, cette nouvelle version, de Maryvonne Lapouge, est méritoire à plus d\'un titre : Il y a de grandes réussites, des pages splendides, des passages qui s\'approchent de très près du texte original, de son rythme, de sa musique propre. \"Diadorim\", dans cette nouvelle version, reste le livre le plus indiqué pour le lecteur français qui veut pénétrer dans l\'univers de Guimaraes Rosa. (Il vient de paraître en poche chez 10/1icon_cool.gif
De même, quoique contestable dans ses solutions de traduction, les \"Premières histoires\" parues chez Anne-Marie Métaillié est un ouvrage intéressant pour qui veut s\'initier à l\'écrivain.

Le travail de traduction le plus fouillé est peut-être celui que vient de réaliser Jacques Thiériot (avec la complicité de Francis Uteza) pour \"Toutaméia-troisièmes histoires\" aux éditions du Seuil. C\'est avec les transcriptions de Thiériot que l\'on saisit le mieux le travail \"d\'inventeur de langage \"de Guimaraes Rosa. Mais il s\'agit aussi de l\'un des recueils les plus hermétiques de l\'écrivain. Le dépaysement est total.

And for those who prefer English, here\'s another article shedding some light on Rosa\'s literary world:

Some Ghostly Tales From South America

A Lackadaisical Overview of Magic Realists\' Short Story Art

Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Joao Guimaraes Rosa (1908-1967) was a Brazilian diplomat & physician whose short stories of rural Brazil are sophisticated, elegant & macabre. The term Magic Realism is frequently used to distinguish South American from North American fantasy. But Rosa\'s influences included Poe for weirdness & Hawthorne for descriptiveness, so that any distinction between the weird tales of the two continents is mostly artificial.

Primeiras Estorias (Rio de Janeira: Livraria Jose Olympio Editora, 1962) was translated by Barbara Shelby as The Third Bank of the River & Other Stories (NY: Knopf, 196icon_cool.gif. It is a superior collection for anyone who loves a ghostly tale. The title story has been anthologized a couple of times so has a degree of fame among English language readers. Like the majority of Rosa\'s stories, \"Third Bank\" is set in the backlands of the state of Minas Gerais, somewhat comparable to a North American setting in, say, Appalachia. \"Third Bank\" is an excellent choice for a title story because it captures the double meanings & mysticism for which Rosa is duly famed to Portuguese language readers. In a general sense, a third bank is a place unachievable by the living. On a literal level, the story regards a young man\'s father who sets out in a canoe only to discover he cannot reach the second bank, nor return to the first bank. He remains a ghostly presence in his canoe on the river year after year, unchanging, near but unreachable. By the end, the narrator is reduced to stark terror when his father finally acknowledges him, this being an omen of his own impending death.

The eerie ambiguities of the title story is typical of many in the collection. \"The Mirror\" sets out to explain \"the transcendent nature\" embodied by the mystery of one\'s own reflection. It poses simple conundrums, like why do we always seem to see ourselves as the same in a mirror, whereas a roll of film shot all in one hour will reveal us to look very different one frame to the next. The intimation is that what we see in a mirror is a disguise that protects us from viewing our true & terrifying selves.

A more sentimental approach to the weird tale is provided by \"The Girl from Beyond.\" It regards a strange village child whom nothing perturbs, whose capacity for working miracles increases during her short life, until she foresees even her own death with the same imperturbability. Another miraculous figure is \"A Young Man, Gleaming, White\" who is either a madman who survived an inexplicable cataclysm in the 1870s, or an angel who fell from another world (or out of heaven) instigating the cataclysm when he struck the earth.

An earlier collection, Sagarana (Rio de Janeira: Livraria Jose Olympio Editora, 1946) was translated as Sagarana: A Cycle of Stories (NY: Knopf, 1966). It seems not to be the equal of Third Bank, but this may be the fault of Harriet de Onas, whose translations of sundry authors from Spanish & Portuguese invariably read imperfectly. The tale \"Woodland Witchery\" regards a feud with a sorcerer. The supernatural element is strong, but the real strength of the story, as with the others, is in describing Brazilian village life & mores. The mysticism is weaker & there are fewer interesting ambiguities than in Third Bank. None of the Sagarana stories have the degree of emotion, whether of terror or sentiment, & seem really to be about people trying to get along with one another despite villagers\' foibles & infighting.

Happily the better of the two collections is a little easier to find, though both can be fairly expensive whenever they pop up among booksellers.

Enjoy your weekend,

Evert Deloof-Sys


Roomy Naqvy  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:02
English to Hindi
+ ...
About Joao Guimaraes Rosa Oct 25, 2001

Thanks Evert. I thought that was another excellent input. I have heard of the writer but not read yet. I think as we develop this Forum, it might be nice to indicate pronunciation of the writers mentioned. Perhaps, a small \'glossary\' can be created somewhere.

Recently, I have finished reading the great Cuban Alejo Carpentier\'s The Kingdom of this world and am going through The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos.

I certainly plan to order books by the great Brazilian Jorge Amado in the short run and read him.

Best wishes

Roomy Naqvy


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