The sun and smiles came out for the 3rd day and final day of the Flipside Festival. Identity was the theme that permeated the day yesterday and dislocation and exile is the undercurrent to the first session today. Adriana Lisboa and James Scudamore both shared aspects of their novels that delve into this rich source of inspiration. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Adriana Lisboa has many awards, including the José Saramago Prize for her novel, “Symphony in White”. Her new novel “Crow Blue” is one of the many Portuguese/Brazilian books that Bloomsbury has published in translation. This book was launched today at Flipside.
This event was chaired by Daniel Hahn , the Director of the Centre for Literary Translation. He started the session by asking Adriana Lisboa about what it means to be Brazilian. She now lives in the USA and reflected on how few books are read in translation there. She also questioned the popular cultural view of Brazil of carnival and football. Daniel then turned to James Scudamore, who talked about the novel as an exploration of the inner life and Scudamore said “we are not in the business of writing tour guides”. I write a novel because I am reacting to my surroundings, its a test. It is not a determined attempt to define those surroundings.
Daniel asked Adriana about whether there is a pressure to represent Brazil. She said “she challenges that”. I wrote because a Brazilian guerrilla character presented itself and it makes a link to Brazil, but I write about Japan, so do I represent Japan? no.
She said, that since living in other places, her viewpoint about Brazil has changed. “I have a different perspective. I now wonder if I am now seen as the writer who no longer lives in Brazil but writes about Brazil. I think its good to see it from the distance”.
James Scudamore said he had stuff that he needed to address and he could NOT write about Brazil. He then read from the opening of his book Heliopolis, set in contemporary São Paulo which was long listed for the Man Booker Prize. The reading he chose is an amusing account about helicopters, gated communities, and a man who wants, his lover Melissa’s husband, Ernesto, to discover his presence. He then moves onto the terror of being found in Melissa’s bed, by Melissa’s father. He ends the passage with “colour is a matter of context”. Quite a haunting statement. He was asked why he did not name São Paulo as the city he chose to write about and he replied he decided to just call it the city and let his imagination play with that.
Adriana then read in Portuguese and English from “Crow Blue”, about her character’s childhood in Copacabana in Rio. The character remembers the light, “and each child seems locked into their own architectural creation, on the beach”. “the intimacy of the sand was so far from the Popsicle sellers”. The drama of the city did not even figure in the drama of the ocean floor. She ends with the line “the sun was for everyone”. Daniel asked her about the translation calling it a “perfect translation”. She laughed and said “sometimes the translator improves the text”.
Daniel asked the writers, “who in Brazil is reading Brazilian literature”. Adriana said “people mostly read books in translation” and “yet more and more people are beginning to read Brazilian writers”. James reflected that perhaps this weekend is important because now, we can start to read about Brazil and not with the intention of learning about Brazil, but to experience Brazil. “We all have our own understanding of place”. He said he was asked once by a Brazilian taxi driver “if Margaret Thatcher is still Queen”. He reflected, “You fuel your imagination by reading stuff and you can train it well”.
Adriana said English has precise words, more so, than in Portuguese. The language explain things easily, so she likes the way her book “has been simplified”. The discussion followed the questions of the audience, looking at the cordiality of Brazil. Adriana reflected “Its very easy to make friends in Rio, but it seems shallow, whereas in the USA to have a friend seems to have depth”.