Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lucio Cardoso [Interview]

The pub date for Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, which is translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, with a biographical note from Ben Moser officially came out on Tuesday, December 13th. To celebrate the release of this Brazilian masterpiece, we’ll be running a series of pieces over the rest of this week, including some early reviews, an excerpt, a press release, and part of Ben Moser’s piece.

Ploughshares was kind enough to interview both Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson about the process of translating this book. You can read the whole interview here after you check out a couple bits from it below.

Chronicle is available at better bookstores everywhere, or through our website. If you order before the end of 2016, use the code BOOKSEASON at checkout to receive 40% off your total order.

Graham Oliver: Given Cardoso’s fame in Brazil, his extensive ouevre, and his romantic relationship and friendship with Clarice Lispector (who in turn has an enduring and even growing popularity in the US), why do you think this is the first book of Cardoso’s to be translated?

Margaret Jull Costa: Ben Moser, who wrote the introduction and has written a biography of Clarice Lispector, recommended the book to Chad Post at Open Letter, who was sufficiently intrigued to commission a translation.

Robin Patterson: I think it was both a natural choice, in that Chronicle of the Murdered House is certainly Cardoso’s best-known work, and also a bold one, in that it is not the most accessible of books. So it is both an obvious starting point, and a difficult one. Perhaps that is why it has taken to so long to bring to readers in English.

GO: Can you talk some about how you approach translating a deceased writer versus having the author available for questions or guidance? Do you rely on the author’s other works as points of reference??

MJC: I’m not sure it makes any difference, except, as you say, the author is not available to answer queries. The edition we used proved very useful, because it gave all the variants from earlier drafts, and the clue to what the author might have meant was often to be found there.

RP: Yes, looking at earlier drafts was useful, but at times not so much to clarify meaning, as to indicate where we simply needed to stop trying to clarify (even to ourselves!) and simply trust the author. Although it might be more time-consuming, in some ways not having the author around gives you a clearer concept of the text as a thing in itself—ultimately, that is where you have to find the answers.

GO: The story is told using the voices of multiple characters. In English, I could easily see differences in style between them, but I’m curious if there were any differences in the original that you found harder to bring over during translation? Or maybe you differentiated them in other ways?

MJC: The differences are clear in the style of each of the characters, the very melodramatic style of André, for example, and the rather pedantic style of the pharmacist. The Portuguese tells you what tone and register to use in English, but I must admit that I found André the most difficult, simply because his language and the way he expresses his feelings are so florid and over-the-top. I had to resist the temptation to tone him down a bit.

RP: Yes, as well as the linguistic indications in the Portuguese, I think the characters themselves helped to set their own tone. We get to know them so well over the course of the book that you begin to know how they would speak, or formulate their thoughts. The fact that nearly all the characters take their turn as narrator at some point helps with that—you really do get inside their minds, even if at times that can be quite an unsettling process.

Go read the rest of the interview at Ploughshares and come back tomorrow for a bit of Ben Moser’s introduction to the novel.

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