Women in Translation Month: ‘Portuguese Pussy Riot’ turns 40

August is Women in Translation Month, as declared by Biblibio: A whole month to read women in translation, a perfect summer holiday project. The dust is settling around Kamila Shamsie’s challenge to only publish women, with And Other Stories taking up the challenge – for 2018. But that seems a rather long time to wait. Biblio’s database of women in translation is a good start, and your help is needed to complete it.

new_portuguese_lettersGoing to Lisbon this year, I struggled to find women in translation from Portuguese: until I found the three Marias. Barreno, Horta and Costa were the ‘Portuguese Pussy Riot’ of the 1970s: their feminist, radical and erotic New Portuguese Letters, inspired by the 17th century Portuguese Letters ‘from a nun to her soldier lover’, were banned on publication and their interrogation and trial became an international cause. Helen Lane and Faith Gillespie’s 1975 translation turns 40 this year. In maturity the book has gained numerous translations and an international research project.

Is this really 40 years old? “How has the situation of the woman changed? Once an object that was a produces, of children and so-called domestic labour… she has now also become… a consumer product. Once upon a time she was like a piece of farmland, something to be made fertile, and now she is commercialized, something to be distributed.”

The authors knew they were “doing something disturbing and exciting”, but also, with Guimarães Rosa, that “there are too many mysteries surrounding books and those who read them and those who write them… often,  nearly always, a book is a far bigger thing than what we are.” (quotes from the 1994 Readers International edition, pictured here)

May your August be full of big, disturbing and exciting books!

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