Stefan Tobler was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for his translation of Raduan Nassar's A Cup of Rage. Stefan's other translations include the works of Rodrigo de Souza Leão and Clarice Lispector. He is the founder of And Other Stories.
Words Without Borders (WWB): What drew you to Raduan Nassar's work?
Stefan Tobler (ST): Almost fifteen years ago, before I had thought of starting And Other Stories, I was keen to make an anthology of writing from rural perspectives and asked a few people for book suggestions. Sara Brandellero (then lecturing at the University of Oxford) suggested I read Raduan Nassar’s Lavoura Arcaica (Ancient Tillage). I read it and loved it. The anthology never happened, but by this time I’d read Um Copo de Cólera (A Cup of Rage) too, and found it different, but just as powerful as Ancient Tillage. It was clear he was one of those rare writers whose works couldn’t have a single word changed. A lovely challenge for the translator.
WWB: What was unique about this translation compared to others you'd done?
ST: The easiest way to see what was unique about the translation is to read it. But a few things I could mention briefly that made it so fun to translate: the chapter-long sentences, the quick changes of register (from colloquial to high-flown within a phrase), and his playing fast and loose with grammar and syntax. All of this is done with the most carefully crafted repetitions and sound patterning, all of it works to convey the characters’ extreme emotional states.
WWB: What are you reading now, or which writers from the language and literary tradition you translate do you think readers ought to pay attention to as potential future MBI winners?
ST: Michel Laub and Paulo Scott. It pains my local patriotism, having been born in Brazil’s northern state of Pará, but based on my (incomplete) reading of contemporary Brazilian fiction, I think these two writers from the south (from the state of Rio Grande do Sul) have it in them to win the MBI with future books. In their English debuts, (respectively) Diary of the Fall (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) and Nowhere People (translated by Daniel Hahn), they have already shown incredible formal invention, emotional power, and human understanding, opening revelatory paths both for understanding Brazil and for the art of writing in general.