Translators Take Ownership of What Authors Have Experienced or Created


– Rafa Lombardino (PLD member) –

It’s an honor to humbly accept PLD’s invitation to share some highlights about book translations, especially as related to our Portuguese language. After brainstorming a good subject to celebrate this new literary section, I thought about sharing my experience translating some letters exchanged by two Brazilian authors: Emilio Fraia and Antônio Xerxenesky. [Check the first link in the section below for more info.]

I haven’t met these two authors, nor visited the many places (Brazil, Mexico, France and more) they describe in their letters. However, while translating the messages they exchanged about trips, books and movies, it was as if I had experienced all that myself. This made me feel much like a voyeur, but I soon shook that off, because the letters and respective translations had been approved by the authors and would soon be published in a literary magazine. And I kept thinking about how the work of a literary translator is precisely that: to take ownership of the images an author describes―whether they are scenes from their own life or something they imagined for their fictional plot.

After all, how could we be faithful to the original without “pretending” we’re going through the same situation in order to narrate these scenes in another language? Of course, there’s always that aphorism, “Translate only what you can relate to and that makes you feel comfortable.” Otherwise, there’s a great chance you’ll feel uncomfortable, no matter how good of a job you have done, or―worse yet―you may end up interfering in the translation if you don’t put yourself in the author’s shoes to give him/her a chance to speak in another language.

Well, “interference in translation” is something we can discuss another time. For now, I’d like to leave this one suggestion to my dear colleagues: take ownership of the images described in the text before you and tell the same story, using the author’s words as if they were your own.

Until next time,

Rafa Lombardino


By Tom Gauld



When a Translator Inhabits the Mind of an Author

Letters exchanged by two young authors from Brazil are published by literary magazine

[Click here for the article in Portuguese]


Literary Characters Who Have Become Part of our Speech

The Guardian highlights some characters whose names became dictionary entries


How do we Teach Literary Translation?

Ampersand blogs about the challenges of teaching how books are translated


The Translator Writes Back

Collective site for book translators to post open letters in response to negative, unjustified

criticism in literary reviews that mention their work


“I’m Not Scared” by Niccolò Ammaniti

Reviewed by author Gustavo Araújo, who read Roberta Barni’s Italian-to-Portuguese translation

[Click here for review in Portuguese]


Translating “Sampa” by Caetano Veloso

World Literature Today features a story by the translators of Caetano Veloso’s “Sampa”


“If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”

“Se você for imune ao tédio, não existe literalmente coisa alguma que não possa realizar.”

David Foster Wallace

Rafa Lombardino  is a translator and journalist from Brazil who lives in California. She has been working as a translator since 1997 and is currently the President and CEO of Word Awareness, a small network of professional translators who work together in multilingual projects. She is certified by the American Translators Association (ATA) in both English-to-Portuguese and Portuguese-to-English translations and has a Professional Certificate in English/Spanish Translation from the University of California San Diego Extension, where in 2010 she started teaching classes on the role of technology in the translation industry. In order to diversify her career, she joined forces with self-published authors and small publishers to translate books into Portuguese and English. In addition to acting as content curator at eWordNews, a bilingual blog dedicated to literary translations and self-publishing efforts, she also coordinates two projects to promote Brazilian literature worldwide: Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories (CBSS) and Cuentos Brasileños de la Actualidad (CBA).

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