We talked to Zoë Perry, co-translator of Rodrigo de Souza Leao’s ‘All Dogs are Blue’, about literary translation as part of a new series of Q&As with translators for Ampersand.
Zoë Perry is a Canadian-American translator who grew up in rural southeastern Kentucky. She completed a BA in French at Guilford College and an MA in Intercultural Communication at Anglia Ruskin University. After living and working in Brazil for four years, and briefer periods in Portugal, France, Spain and Russia, she is currently based in the UK.
Describe All Dogs are Blue in five words.
Never read anything like it.
What’s the hardest thing about being a translator?
Apart from financial matters, which I think most translators are familiar with, I’d say it’s the fact that we do something not a lot of people understand. I think translators are quite good at talking about what we do among other translators, but often fail miserably when it comes to explaining our value, or even our actual process to outsiders.
Particular challenges for this book?
I think it would have been very easy to “clean up” Rodrigo’s writing. It’s an incredibly unconventional book in the way its written and how he used language, and it was important to be able recognize when something was intentionally odd in the Portuguese, and not try to “edit” as we went along. Also, there were a surprising number of clever references to everything from sertanejo song lyrics, to French poetry, to 1970s cult soap operas that kept us on our toes.
Which writers or translators working deserve more recognition?
Every translator seems to be a cheerleader for ‘their’ writer or writers. Lourenço Mutarelli is one of my favorite untranslated Brazilian writers. Also, I really like a French writer named Christian Bobin. His book Tout le monde est occupé actually first sparked my interest in becoming a literary translator. He’s quite prolific, but as far as I know only a couple of his books have been translated to English. As for translators, I think nearly all translators deserve more recognition.
What was the process of co-translation like?
It was great. When I joined the project, Stefan had already started on the book, and I took off from there. We then sent the draft back and forth until we reached a version we were both happy with. Because this was my first book translation, it made the whole process less scary, because I knew someone else was reading my work prior to the final editing stage. It allowed me to be gutsier sometimes with my translation choices (which this book often needed). Also, because this was such a unique book, I thought it really deserved and benefited from having two minds working on it. Because we couldn’t ask the author our questions, we were able to get through particularly tricky parts and flag sometimes very obscure references. Two heads are better than one.
If you could be a fictional character for a day..?
What’s your favourite city?
That’s a hard question. I have favorite cities for visiting, for living, summer, for winter, for food, for adventure, for relaxing. I suppose Lisbon is the city that ranks highly all around. Perfect size, perfect weather, incredible light, and delicious food. Beautiful, but still rough around the edges. It’s where I was first introduced to the Portuguese language and where I met some of my best friends, including my husband.
If you could live in one past era, what would it be?
The Roaring Twenties
What are you reading?
They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross, recently rescued from obscurity by Southern Illinois University’s Lost Fiction Series. England’s recent spell of summer weather made me crave hardboiled southern noir (think Raymond Chandler meets Flannery O’Conner). The book takes place in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, where I used to live. You can practically feel the humidity coming off the pages. I also just started O único final feliz para uma hístoria de amor é um acidente by João Paulo Cuenca.