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Beatriz Yagoda, the famous Brazilian writer goes missing. She was last seen sitting on an almond tree with a cigar, a book and her suitcase. Her American translator Emma Neufeld wants to help look for her. She might have a clue to the author’s disappearance. What if no one else thought of the scene in one of Beatriz’s earliest stories with the warden who disappears into a tree?
Emma has been consumed with Beatriz since graduate school and has finished one translation after another with the intensity of an addict. She thinks she knows Beatriz. She knew the melon color of her author’s bathrobe and which side of the sofa Beatriz preferred when she curled up to read. But does she really know the author whose works have consumed her for seven years and more?
Off goes Emma to Brazil and her boyfriend is none too pleased about this unscheduled trip – they have a wedding to pay for. Emma finds that she has to deal with more heat than just Rio’s weather – a rapacious loan shark, a disillusioned editor who launched Beatriz years ago, Beatriz’s daughter who does not trust her and Beatriz’s son who she is drawn to!!
Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear is a delightful novel of bizarre adventures and characters. From snowy Pittsburg to sultry Rio, from an average boring boyfriend to a sexy green-eyed lover, and from a structured desk and life to the dangers in a Rio alley, Emma must make the journey to discover what she knows, and what she wants.
At the heart of it though Ways to Disappear explores the art of translation, the relationship between the author and the translator, and what is lost in translation. Does this loss become more pronounced when one is not as immersed in the language and culture? Does translating a book make you an expert on the author’s thought process? Is translating a book a mere transcribing of the plot and characters, or is translation an act of transgression? As Beatriz tells Emma, ” For translation to be an art, you have to make uncomfortable but necessary transgressions that artists make.”
I loved this book because translators are not usually heaped with praise for bringing works alive for us. We don’t appreciate the intense process by which they immerse themselves in another’s work to translate it with honesty and integrity. It is a tough task – to capture the nuances in another language, and to constantly wonder if you got it right!
A definite read.
Idra Novey is the author of the debut novel Ways to Disappear and Exit, Civilian, selected for the 2011 National Poetry Series. Born in western Pennsylvania, she has since lived in Chile, Brazil and New York. Her fiction and poetry have been translated into eight languages and she’s written for NPR’s All Things Considered, The New York Times, Poetry, and The Paris Review. She’s also translated four books from Spanish and Portuguese, most recently Clarice Lispector’s novel The Passion According to G.H.