Nowhere People

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There are ways it might have been rephrased, restructured, reordered to make it closer to more common usage, but even now it's not difficult to follow the sense, I think. Which is exactly the trouble. I needed to create sentences to match Paulo's, which can break or shift direction in surprising places, shift tense or perspective, and yet read as though there's always a clear thread leading you through them.

And I had to resist the temptation to simplify, which would be cheating. Yes, I could in theory tidy up a sentence like this move a phrase, add an obliging comma , but with an uncompromising piece of prose like Paulo's, who am I to start compromising in my English version of it? I spent so long tinkering with that first sentence. And with many, many other sprawling, springy sentences like it. Though to be fair to the original, they certainly aren't all that awkward.

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By which I mean, also, good. Writing the translation may not be the least of my worries, but it is certainly the last; before it comes the process of reading the original and figuring out what the hell is going on before working out how to write the damn thing again in my language. My usual practice, when I have the choice, is not to read a book before I start translating it—I prefer just to launch myself at the first page and discover it as I go—but in this case I had done a full read already and somehow not noticed what was going to be difficult about it.

It's only when you're doing the translating that the devilish detail makes itself known, and a sentence which you sort-of basically kind-of more-or-less understood to all intents and purposes , becomes intransigent when you want to pin it down exactly , to splay it out on your workbench and pick it apart to discover its mysteries, in order that you might attempt to create an identical living thing of your own.

Paulo Scott has—and his characters have—a slightly different Portuguese to mine; different in local terms for one thing, he and they are from Porto Alegre, in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, where I have never been , with the occasional unfamiliar idiom, and so on. This is a common enough problem. Added to this, there's his occasional use of somewhat eccentric phrasing to potent effect. But to recreate the meanings of the idioms and the effects of the phrasing in your translation, you first have to understand them, not approximately but precisely , in the original.

I spend quite a lot of my first drafts feeling pretty stupid. Maybe I shouldn't be a translator if I can't even understand what this damn thing means!

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What else? It's generally assumed that a translator is supposed to know the culture of the language he translates from, but in practice you often have to fake it, especially if you're translating from widely spread languages like mine. In the past two years I've translated books from Brazil, Spain, Angola, France, Guatemala, Canada, Portugal—I'm supposed to know every aspect of all of them intimately?

No, when you become a translator you just learn pretty quickly to befriend your nearest search engine and never to stray too far from it. For this book, a combination of judicious Googling and Wikipedia-ing helped me to understand exactly what colour "durepoxi" grey is.

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And what the characteristics of "farroupilha" sandwiches are. My editors and I learned some surprising skateboarding terminology, too. I now know what "bombachas" are, I know what it means to call someone "chiru. Next time I translate a book from Porto Alegre I'll have a head-start and it will all be really easy. When you reach the point in your quest for answers where you discover that the all-knowing Internet does not, in fact, know everything, there is only one thing to be done.

You ask your mother. I have, very conveniently, a Brazilian mother, and she is used to being drafted in to rescue me when I'm adrift in a scrappy draft and floundering to put things into order. And when she doesn't know the answer, at least that reassures me that my failure to understand the writer's phrasing isn't just my own inadequacy with the language, that there might be something unusual at play this time. And then, when it becomes clear to you that even your mother is not infallible—it's one of those traumatic growing-up moments—and there are still doubts in your mind which even She cannot settle, it's then that you have recourse to the ultimate authority, and you ask God.

Or, to put it another way, the Author.

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Only the Author can tell you really how big He means the girl's "barraca" to be—is it a kind of hut? A shack?

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Or just a tent? This example is recurring, and significant. The first thing Paulo did when I wrote to him saying, "Help! In here, he said, I might find the answers to some of mine. The document ran to thirty-two pages. It's not just me! About half of my queries were answered there. Ah, so "Mister Faiado" is just an accented play on "falhado"—I see! But there were things she'd asked that seemed entirely obvious to me and I wasn't sure why she needed help maybe she didn't have a Brazilian mother? How could she have known these things?

How could she have understood that sentence whose workings seemed so mysterious? Was I just being stupid again? There's one thing about taking on a task you know by definition to be impossible: it can engender a certain amount of self-doubt.

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Or maybe that is just me? Because all translation is impossible, we know that. We have to pretend it isn't, that it's possible for an Anglophone who writes in English an Angloscribe? And yet we pretend, and we expect our readers to do the same. I expected you to read that quoted opening line as though you were reading Paulo's writing, not mine.

I expect you to read this novel—about a young law student in Porto Alegre and an indigenous girl he meets by the side of the road, in a world I know nothing of though there's a phase set in London, which made it easier for a Londoner like me —and believe that you are reading Habitante irreal , and not Nowhere People.

Which reminds me—that title. This is a book about dispossession, about people struggling to put down new roots after their old ones have been yanked up, so the title suits.

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But it just sounds wrong in English, doesn't it? I liked it, and still do. I have a bit of previous with changing my mind about titles, but I think this one's a keeper. My friend Catherine would later make the wry observation that it's not a bad way of describing the lot of the invisible translator, either. I wrote my translation of Habitante irreal —sorry, Nowhere People —slowly and carefully. After a quick first draft, this meant many slow-and-careful re-reads and re-edits, wrangling all the many trouble-spots.

There's that famous Oscar Wilde quote: "I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma.

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Many have no form of identification, which makes them ineligible for admission to Malaysian schools. Without access to an education, many children are thrown into the workforce at a young age. Young Filipino boys push around wooden carts in Safma fish market in Kota Kinabalu. Bihari across the country consider Bangladesh their home and feel it is essential they are recognised and provided with the rights granted to all Bangladeshi citizens.

None of the women in the village have Nepali citizenship. Here in Nepal, women are lower than second-class people. If we have citizenship, then we can fight to get our rights. Many people in the village who later went into town to register were turned away by local officials. None of the women in the village have Nepalese citizenship and none of the children have birth certificates.

It is a struggle to get documents. Those children who possess documents are able to attend private schools and some public primary-level schools. Those who do not have documents are shut out of most public programmes.