Lusophone Literature: Brief Notes On Parallels Between The Prevailing Obscurity Of Works By João Guimarães Rosa & António Lobo Antunes in the English-speaking World

João Guimarães Rosa (1908-1967), Brazil

António Lobo Antunes (b. 1942), Portugal

In May of this year, Oliver Farry published an article (via The Millions) concerning the contemporary and highly lauded Portuguese author, António Lobo Antunes, and his works’ prevailing obscurity in the English-speaking world despite its reputable English translators, Gregory Rabassa and Richard Zenith. Until now, I’ve refrained from posting “just anything” that might only remotely pertain to the discussion of João Guimarães Rosa and the obscurity of his work in English translation; however, I believe the following excerpts, taken directly from Farry’s article in The Millions (in large, bold print) warrant our attention in consideration of Guimarães Rosa’s similar troubled-when-present history in the Anglophone world. This, not only, but interestingly, because the Portuguese author, António Lobo Antunes, a Lusophone from the other side of the Atlantic, is one that American critic Harold Bloom has hailed to be “one of the living writers who will matter most.”  A similar claim was made about Guimarães Rosa at the time Grande Sertão: Veredas was translated into English in 1963.



“I received a letter from an American agent — a big name at the time; I wasn’t going to reply — I thought it was a joke. But I wrote back, thinking, why not, it’d be cool to have an agent in New York. […]In the U.S., if you have The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, you have America, and if you have America, you have Europe. [Lobo Antunes]

This was reportedly Guimarães Rosa’s precise attitude when he received a letter from the English translator, Harriet de Onís, who had read one of his short stories in Spanish translation, and who subsequently approached Knopf about translating Guimarães Rosa. He believed an English translation would open the way to translations in other major European languages, a belief which proved indeed to be very true: within five years of its English translation Grande Sertão: Veredas was translated into Spanish, German, French, and Italian.

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Manuel Nardi

A photograph of Manuel Nardi featured at the exhibition "Maureen Bisilliat: Photographs" at the Art Gallery of Sesi in São Paulo. (Click on the Photo.)

Here’s an article published by the New York Times in the obituaries section (May 9, 1997 ) concerning the death of Manual Nardi, the man who served as the inspiration for the character of Riobaldo in Guimarães Rosa’s masterpiece, Grande Sertão: Veredas:

“Manuel Nardy, 92, Brazilian Character in Life and Literature”
a scanned image of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette which ran the same New York Times piece.

I find it very interesting that the NYT published the obit, and even more interesting that other national newspapers followed in suit. How many North American readers in 1997 knew who João Guimarães Rosa was? How did Robert McG. Thomas come to know of either the author, the subject, or of the subject’s death on that very day?

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