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Writers’ Room: Carola Saavedra

By Sam Sedgman on 10/3/14

Carola Saavedra

Carola Saavedra. Image by Andrea Marques

For the last few months, Daniel Hahn has been translating the novel 'Blue Flowers' by Carola Saavedra, and blogging about it for us along the way. To get an author's-eye view of the process, we spoke to Carola herself, who has been reading the blog, about what it feels like to see your work put under the microscope.

This interview follows on from Daniel Hahn's Translation Diarywhich you can read in its entirety here.

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First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself for our readers who aren't familiar with your work? How did you become a writer, and what sort of things do you write? 

I was born in Chile, but went to Brazil with my family when I was three years old. Because of my family, I have very strong ties to Chilean and Hispanic culture. In Brazil, I graduated in journalism (though never worked in that area), and after my graduation I moved to Germany for eight years, where I also got my Master’s degree. I’ve also lived in Spain and in France, but for several years now I’ve been back in Rio de Janerio.

Despite being born in Chile and having spent a considerable amount of my life outside of Brazil, I consider myself a Brazilian writer: that’s mainly because of my strong attachment to the Brazilian Portuguese language and its literature. All my books are in Portuguese, and Brazil is the place where I feel at home.

I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a child. But it took a long time of introspection and reading until I started to write seriously. I was 34 when I published my first novel, Toda Terça (Every Tuesday). So far, I’ve published a collection of short stories and three novels. The first three novels are about love: about the impossibility to love (Toda terça), the excess of love (Flores azuis / Blue flowers) and possible, or imaginary, relationships (Paisagem com dromedário / Landscape with Dromedary). But my books are not only about relationships - they also deal with the act of writing and reading. My fourth novel comes out this month. 

Tell us a bit about Flores Azuis / Blue Flowers. What’s the book about, and what inspired you to write it?  

The book is about a young woman who has separated from her lover. She is still in love with him and tries to win him back. She writes him a letter every day, for nine days. In these letters, she tries to seduce him, but also remembers the last days they spent together. The reader becomes aware that something terrible happened before they separated: something traumatic. But her ex-lover doesn’t receive these letters: he has moved to another apartment, and the person who actually receives the letters (and reads them) is Marcos, the new tenant. Marcos has also recently separated; he has a three-year-old daughter and a difficult relationship with his ex-wife. He reads the letters, and becomes obsessed with this woman he has never seen, and who he knows nothing about apart from what he reads in the letters.

We've loved following Danny's progress through your book. What was it like to read his blog? How does it feel to have someone translate your work? 

For me it was an amazing experience. I am also a translator and I understand the difficulties concerning translation, especially when dealing with very different languages like Portuguese and English. I think the translator is first of all a reader: a very thorough and specialized reader. He does not only have to understand the text, but also recreate the story in another language, with different words. He has to simultaneously act as a reader and a writer.
Reading Danny’s blog was also a fabulous opportunity to discover new aspects of my own book.

How different is Danny’s process to your own? Does he do anything differently?

I think we work very similarly. I also finish a first draft and then begin to work on the details, fine-tuning until I feel that I’ve created an equivalent to the original text that works, and that is coherent in the new language.

What do you think was the hardest part of the novel to translate?  

I think it was the letters, because they are very poetic - sometimes almost like a stream of consciousness. Very different from the narrative from Marcos, which is more rational and direct. To translate a poetic text demands a much greater investment from the translator, as he really has to create his own text. In some ways it’s much more like translating poetry.  

Danny mentions in one of his blog posts (this one) that the novel doesn't have much in it that ties it to a specific place, which made it easier to translate. Were you careful about not setting the story in a specific place, and if so, why? 

Yes, the story is about the inner life, desires, fears and obsessions of the characters. It is not important where it take place. My characters could be based in Rio de Janeiro, but also in other Western cities like Berlin or New York. I wanted to talk about some aspects of life that are not specific to a certain place, like love, loneliness, and madness. It’s a book about emotional disturbance, about daydreams, obsessions and nightmares. 

What are you reading at the moment?

At the moment I’m reading The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman and I’m re-reading  Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges.

Learn more about Blue Flowers and Daniel Hahn's efforts to translate it in the Translation Diary.

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