Katrina Dodson on Clarice Lispector, "Brazil's Kafka"

The figure of Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) left two mysteries in her wake: the mystery of how her writing hits us so powerfully, and the mystery of how it came to be composed by this particular Brazilian-Jewish woman, who was, by turns, a law student, a glamorous journalist, a diplomat’s wife, a mother of sons, and, by the 1970s, perhaps the most treasured writer in Brazil’s literary firmament.  

Katrina Dodson has spent the last several years grappling with Lispector's mysteries in a very tactile way: as the translator of her Complete Stories, a collection whose pieces range from the comic to the anguished, the mystical to the surreal, the journalistic to the experimental. In their variety Lispector's short stories serve as a perfect entry-point into her multifaceted genius, and so it's quite fitting that Dodson's translation of the complete short stories — which recently won the 2015 PEN Translation Prize — has helped touch off a full-fledged Lispector revival in the English-speaking world.

In this episode, Dodson reads two Lispector short stories in their entirety — the fable-like "A Chicken" and the intricate "The Smallest Woman in the World" — and reflects on how she tried to render Lispector's very special Portuguese in the English language.

Dodson's sensitive translation of Lispector's Complete Stories has been much acclaimed. In the citation for the PEN award, the PEN judges called Dodson's translation "a revelation that lays bare the breadth of both the author's and translator's talent...An extraordinary translation of an exceptional author." Dodson holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley.

''A Chicken" and "The Smallest Woman in the World" by Clarice Lispector, translation by Katrina Dodson, from COMPLETE STORIES, copyright ©1951, 1955, 1960, 1965, 1978, 2010, 2015 by the Heirs of Clarice Lispector, translation copyright © 2015 by Katrina Dodson. Use by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 

Resources for this episode

Clarice Lispector, Complete Stories (New Directions).

New Directions' Clarice Lispector page (with links to other Lispector books and resources).

"The Smallest Woman in the World" (in Tablet).

Ben MoserWhy This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector (Oxford University Press).

Music used in this episode

Blue Dot Sessions, "Jackbird" (license).

Caetano Veloso, "Clarice," from Caetano Veloso (Philips, 1968).

Luiz Bonfá, "Soleá," from Meu Querido Violão (Odeon, 1959).

Joyce with Nana Vasconcelos and Mauricio Maestro, "Chegada," from Visions of Dawn (Far Out Recordings, 2009 [1976]).

Baden Powell, "Ponto," from As Músicas de Baden Powell e Paulo César Pinheiro: Os Cantores da Lapinha (Elenco, 1970).

For a Spotify playlist of Brazilian music to complement this episode, click here