Home Language & Literature The Age of Translation: Early 20th-century Concepts and Debates
Translations and the Brazilian invasion of the Portuguese market
An underlying aspect contributing to this development is likely to have been a further change to the bilateral transatlantic book trade in the 1930s. In fact, a phenomenon described as an invasion of the Portuguese bookshops by Brazilian books was reported as early as 1933. The amount of books exported to Portugal increased during the 1930s and reached a peak before the beginning of the Second World War (1939-45). According to official Brazilian numbers, Brazilian books exported to Portugal amounted to around 16,000 kilos in 1933; 35,000 kilos in 1938 and 6,000 kilos in 1942 (Hallewell 359-60). Apart from the 1924 postal agreement, a crucial factor for this intense export activity was the low currency exchange rate of the early 1930s, which made Brazilian books much more accessible to the Portuguese reader, thus determining the success of the Brazilian editions. Referring to Portugal in 1933, an article which appeared in the United Press claimed that:
Brazil can boast about having conquered the Portuguese market and, moreover, to have convinced the Portuguese reader. Never before has the South-American country sent so many thousands of books to this nation. One walks around Lisbon and, in every bookshop window, every corner shop and even in the small selling points inside the cafes, one finds Brazilian editions, with their striking covers, alive with colour. They stand next to the sadness of the Portuguese editions, all of which look poor, shy, as if they are ashamed to appear in public... This is making the national publishers somewhat uncomfortable.
No one ignores the fact that due to the low exchange rate Brazil can offer books [...] at a price that Portugal cannot match.
[O Brasil pode gabar-se de ter conquistado o mercado portugues e, mais ainda, de ter con- quistado o leitor portugues. Nunca, como agora, aquele pais sul-americano remeteu tanto milhar de livros para esta naqao. Percorre-se Lisboa e em todas as montras das livrarias, das tabacarias e ate nos pequenos «guichets» dos cafes, nos encontramos os livros de edffoes brasileiras, todos eles com suas capas berrantes, que dao uma nota de vida e de cor, junto a tristeza das edRoes portuguesas, todas elas de aspecto pobre, envergonhado, como se tivessem vergonha de aparecer ao publico... O fato esta causando certo mal-estar nos editores nacionais. [...] Ninguem ignora que merce do cambio o Brasil pode apresentar- nos livros [...] por um preqo que em Portugal nao pode ser igualado.] (Hallewell 357-8)
Throughout the following years, echoes of this opinion bore further witness to the impact described. In 1937 the Brazilian book was portrayed in Sol Nascente as “inexpensive and presentable, easily noticed, full of colour, of good quality paper, and with beautiful covers” [“barato, apresentavel, flagrante, cheio de cor, em bom papel e com belas capas”], thus contrasting with Portuguese editions, which were “in general, loud and striking but of regrettable content” [“[e]m geral, espalhafatoso e berrante mas de lamentavel recheio”] (Lima 4). A few years later, in the beginning of the 1940s, Lobo Vilela, literary director of the publishing house Gleba, thought it was “embarrassing to realise how the Portuguese book is almost banished from Brazil, and how Brazilian books have spread throughout Portugal” [“constrange- dor ver como o livro portugues esta quase banido do Brasil, sobretudo o livro moderno, e como o livro brasileiro se tem espalhado em Portugal!”] (Lisboa 41).
Different accounts suggest in addition the relevant role played by translations in the so-called invasion of the Portuguese book stores. The 1933 article published by the United Press, mentioned above, continued by explicitly saying that “Brazil has invaded the Portuguese book market with their own editions of books translated from every language and as a result everyone buys those books, and reading them is like reading in their own language, except for spelling” [“[o] Brasil invadiu o mercado portugues de livros, traduzidos de todas as linguas, em edi^oes suas [...] e o resultado foi que todos adquirem essas obras, que a parte a questao da ortografia, e o mesmo que ler no seu proprio idioma”] (Hallewell 358). In the beginning of 1940s, Armenio Amado, publisher and founding member of the publishing house Coimbra Editora also agreed that:
Fifty years ago we were the ones to invade the Brazilian market with our books. Now, this has backfired [...] The Brazilian printing houses of our day and age are remarkable.
As are their publishing houses! In terms of its industry, book dissemination, book selection and translation, etc., that country is wonderfully equipped to beat us, and even to forget about us.
[Ha cinquenta anos invadlamos nos o mercado brasileiro com os nossos livros, hoje voltou-se o feiti^o contra o feiticeiro [...] Hoje as oficinas tipograficas brasileiras sao notaveis. E notaveis as suas casas editoras! Este pals esta magnificamente equipado para nos bater e ate para nos esquecer: quanto a sua industria, a expansao do livro, a selec^ao e tradu^ao deste, etc.] (Lisboa 100)
At that moment in time, the development of the book industry in Brazil was indeed parallel to that of translation publishing - their growth in the 1930s and 1940s was such that this has been dubbed the golden period of the book industry and translation in Brazil (Milton 199). Together with these favourable conditions, Portuguese language made Brazil ideally placed to fulfil the role of provider of books and other publications that could not be found in Portugal. This is expressed by the very name of a well-known publishing house established in 1945, Publica^oes Europa-America (“Europe-America Publications”). Its co-founder, Francisco Lyon de Castro (1914-2004), has explained that his plan was
[...] “to work with Culture, importing and distributing publications and books that would contribute to the enlightening of the population and the increasing of its cultural level.”
He thought “it was crucial for Portugal to obtain books, newspapers, magazines, etc., from Europe and America, especially South America - where, at the time, there were already excellent publishing houses.
[Vinha com a ideia de exercer uma actividade profissional no domlnio da Cultura, de importar e distribuir publica^oes e livros que contribulssem para o esclarecimento e a eleva^ao do nlvel cultural da popula^ao. [...] [P]ensava que era indispensavel para Portugal que pudessem aqui chegar, vindas da Europa e das Americas, sobretudo da America do Sul - onde existiam ja naquela altura excelentes editoras - [...], livros, jornais, revistas, etc. [...].] (Azevedo 527-29).
The name of the company, which began its activity by distributing books bought in Brazil and disseminated through networks of cultural associations, “was inspired by the idea that Portugal lacked publications, be it books, magazines, newspapers, which conveyed the picture of the world’s current situation - publications from
Europe, which was about to be born, but also from what was already available in South America, particularly in Brazil” [“O nome da casa, que se chama Publica^oes Europa-America e inspirado na ideia que em Portugal faltam publica^oes, quer livros quer revistas, quer jornais que deem o quadro da situa^ao do mundo. Da nova Europa, que vai nascer, mas tambem aquilo que ja havia na America do Sul, particularmente no Brasil.”] (Leite 67)
A further expression of the importance of the transatlantic connection as a privileged form of access to foreign books in Portuguese language can be found in Pedro Leite’s account of the creation of the “Biblioteca dos Operarios da Sociedade Geral” [General Society Labourers’ Library]. The library, established in 1946 by a group of workers who belonged to the General Society and wanted to “develop the culture of all workers” [“desenvolverem a cultura de todos os trabalhadores”] began by serving a group of around a hundred workers who would borrow books to read at lunchtime or take home (Leite 145). These purchases
were normally made following a decision, by the directors, which was based on suggestions put forward by the associates. [...] Another purchase process could imply the stocking of foreign books, mainly bought in Brazil by members of the Society travelling abroad. Forbidden books, for example by Jorge Amado, would be added to the library in this way. The directors and, in particular, those who were more active and more aware of their cultural and political activity, obviously knew about the risks for the association that the ownership of such books implied and, consequently, the existence of a given book was not registered anywhere, and the book was kept at a member’s home.
[eram normalmente feitas por decisao da direcqao, a partir das propostas que lhe eram apresentadas pelos socios. Um outro processo de compras podia implicar o abastecimento de livros estrangeiros, principalmente comprados no Brasil, por pessoal da companhia em viagem. Os livros proibidos, por exemplo de Jorge Amado, entravam assim na biblioteca. Naturalmente que a direcqao, sobretudo os seus membros mais activos e conscientes da sua actividade cultural e politica, sabiam dos riscos que a posse de tais livros representava para a associaqao, pelo que a informaqao da existencia de um determinado livro circulava “de boca”, sendo o livro guardado em casas particulares.] (Leite 145).
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