‘We buy Brazil’s clothes, we admire its football, we dance to its beats, but the dream-life of the nation – something contemporary fiction creates in a unique and vital way – remains mostly invisible to us, simply because of a lack of translation.”
So said the editor of Granta, John Freeman, when he published his 20 Best Young Brazilian Novelists issue in July 2012. Two years on, the dream-life of Brazil is still largely unexplored territory for Europeans. Most readers of contemporary fiction in translation could name 10 Indian novelists with little difficulty; try the same trick with Brazilian authors, and see how the scoreline pans out.
But there are beacons of light. Recently, Dalkey Archive Press brought one of the authors from its Brazilian list, João Almino, to meet a group of literature students at Trinity College Dublin. They are studying for a master of philosophy degree in literatures of the Americas, and the course ranges from William Faulkner through The Exorcist to Inuit writing in English. The students have also been reading Dalkey Archive Press’s handsome hardback edition of Almino’s The Book of Emotions, copies of which begin to appear from satchels and backpacks as everyone settles at the large round table in the seminar room.
The Book of Emotions is also perched at the top of the very long 2014 Impac longlist. As the founder of Dalkey Archive Press, John O’Brien, writes in his introductory remarks, it is “a very strange book”. The story takes place in a future Brazil, where a blind photographer named Cadu is organising a series of old photographs in his head – a diary, in effect, of his emotions as they were frozen on this or that day.