The literary world loves to love Clarice Lispector. The Ukrainian-born Brazilian was undoubtedly one of the most important writers of the 20th century and probably competes only with Borges for the title of Giant of Latin American Letters. Ask any follower of world literature if they’ve read anything from Brazil and they’re likely to at least mention Lispector, and if you’re lucky, perhaps Machado de Assis or Jorge Amado. This is all well and good, but it makes for a grand total of one female author from a country of more than 200 million people. Lispector aside, there are a number of incredible female writers, both contemporary and 20th-century, who deserve a spot in the canon of world literature. In honor of Women in Translation Month, which ends today, here are five.
1. Tatiana Salem Levy
I first came across Levy in Granta’s The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists. Her debut work A Chave da Casa, published in English as The House in Smyrna (translated by Alison Entrekin), was the winner of the 2015 English PEN award. It is a brilliant, fragmented work of autofiction about generational dislocation and language. I was also reminded of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights to the extent that Levy is also concerned with the gritty details of bodies: blood, phlegm, bile. The House in Smyrna spans across Brazil, Portugal, and Turkey. Levy herself descends from Turkish Jews and was born in Portugal and raised in Brazil.
2. Ana Paula Maia
Ana Paula Maia is one of many Brazilian writers who, for whatever reason, has had more international success outside of the Anglophone world than inside of it—before Saga of Brutes (A Saga Dos Brutos, translated by Alexandra Joy Forman) was published by Dalkey Archive Press, Maia’s work had been published in Serbia, Germany, Argentina, France, and Italy. Saga of Brutes is as grim as the title suggests: It is a collection of three interrelated novellas about men who carry society’s collective shame: crematorium workers, garbage collectors, bloodied-floor-level slaughterhouse employees. Dark though it is, Maia’s work glimmers, if opaquely, with compassion for her characters.
3. Beatriz Bracher
Bracher is undoubtedly the most recent author to find her way into English; I Didn’t Talk (Eu Nao Falei) was published by New Directions at the end of July of this year (translated by Adam Morris). Bracher bears some resemblance to Lispector stylistically, but her preoccupations are her own. I Didn’t Talk is an unflinching look at the short- and long-term impacts of political violence; anybody wishing for a more intimate look at life under the Brazilian dictatorship would find the book useful. Azul e Duro (Blue and Hard) examines how a white woman benefits from Brazil’s bigoted legal system. Since Eu Não Falei’s publication just a few weeks back, a number of positive reviews have been published.
4. Carolina Maria de Jesus
Carolina Maria de Jesus was born in Minas Gerais but would come to be associated with the Canindé favela of São Paulo. Child of the Dark (Quarto de Despejo, translated by David Saint Claire) catapulted her into immediate, if somewhat ephemeral, literary fame, selling extremely well both in Brazil and in the United States. The book, an edited version of her diary, recorded the conditions of favela life and its inhabitants. It reminded me of Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives, an 1890 book about tenement life in New York City. After Child of the Dark, Carolina published multiple other memoirs in her characteristically sparse style. Although Brazil’s overall quality of life has risen considerably since Carolina’s work was first published, the economic inequality she wrote about is still present.
5. Hilda Hilst
Hilda Hilst died in 2004, but her first work didn’t make it into English until 2012 with The Obscene Madam D. (A Obscena Madam D., translated by Nathanaël and Rachel Gontijo Araújo), published by Nightboat Books. This is partly because of how challenging her prose is: Much of it alternates between fragmentation and stream of consciousness; fans of Thomas Bernhard and Laszlo Krasznahorkai will find themselves at home with Hilst’s work. Like Lispector, her work frequently shifts between the sacred and the profane; she continually returns to the supernatural and the utterly corporeal in her work. Since the publication of The Obscene Madam D., a flurry of her work has become available in English. Fluxo-Floema is forthcoming this year from Nightboat Books (translated by Alexandra Joy Forman).