From Portuguese: THE MAN WHO SPOKE JAVANESE by Lima Barreto

(My translation of the short story O homem que sabia javanês – The Man Who Spoke Javanese – by the Brazilian writer Lima Barreto, which was published in the Gazeta da Tarde in 1911)




 was in a coffee shop, telling my mate Castro how I’d conned people in order to earn a living. Once, when I was in Manaus, I’d even had to pretend I hadn’t been to university so that my clients wouldn’t think me unqualified for being a fortune-teller-cum-magician.

My mate listened in silence. He was fascinated by this real-life Gil Blas sitting opposite him.

When we’d finished drinking, all he said was: ‘You’ve had a pretty racy life, Castelo!’

‘It’s the only way to live… All that business of having the same old job, leaving home at such and such a time, coming back at such and such a time… What a bore! I don’t know how I stuck it at the consulate!’

‘True enough, it’s a bore, but that’s not the point. What amazes me is how you’ve managed to have such a jolly time of it in this cretinous, bureaucratic country.’

‘No problem! You can have a wonderful life here in Brazil, Castro. Did you know – by way of illustration – that I used to teach Javanese?’

‘When?! Here?! After you came back from the consulate?’

‘No, before. As a matter of fact, that’s how I became consul.’

‘Get away!.. More beer?’

‘Why not?’

I ordered some more bottles, we filled our glasses, and I continued:

‘I’d just arrived in Rio and was down on my luck, making midnight flits from one digs to another, without a clue how to make any money, when I came across an advertisement in the Jornal do Comércio for a Javanese teacher. Testimonials required etc.

‘“Well”, I said to myself, “there ain’t gonna be many applicants for that job!” So I decided to learn a few words of Javanese and apply. I left the cafe I was in and strolled through the streets, imagining myself a Javanese teacher, earning money, able to afford the trolleybus, not being pestered by landlords… I headed, in a sort of reverie, to the National Library. I didn’t really know what book I was looking for, but I walked in, left my hat with the doorman, picked up my ticket and went upstairs.

‘As I went up I had the bright idea of asking for the volume of the Cyclops Encyclopaedia containing the letter J, so I could look up an article about Java and the Javanese language. No sooner said than done. After a few minutes I’d discovered that Java is a large island in the Sonda Archipelago, a Dutch colony, and that Javanese is an “agglutinative Malayo-Polynesian language with a respectable literature and a script derived from the ancient Brahmi alphabet.”

‘The article cited some books about this Malayan language, so I asked for one of those. I ended up copying the alphabet, together with a latinised version of the pronunciation, after which I left and wandered the streets, chewing over the letters.

‘Hieroglyphs danced around in my head. From time to time I consulted my notes. I roamed the parks, only stopping to scrawl those funny letters in the sand of the paths in order to fix them in my brain and get used to writing them.

‘I slipped into the house that night, avoiding unwanted questions from the commissionaire, and carried on ingesting that Malayan alphabet in my room, with such success that – come the morning – I knew it perfectly. Having convinced myself it was the easiest language in the world, I left, but not soon enough to give the lettings agent the slip:

‘“Ah, Mr Castelo! When are you going to settle your account?”

‘“Shortly. You don’t mind waiting a little bit longer? I’m about to be appointed Professor of Javanese and…”

‘He interrupted me: “What the hell is that, Mr Castelo?” which tickled me, so I decided to call upon his patriotism:

‘“It’s a language spoken somewhere near Timor. You know where Timor is?”

‘Ah! What an innocent soul! He immediately forgot about my debts and informed me, in his slushy Portuguese accent:

‘“Well… I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve heard that Timor is a part of our Empire, near Macau… And you speak that language, Mr Castelo?!”

‘Once I’d got away – and feeling rather smug about my Javanese escape route – I pulled the advertisement out of my pocket again. There it was! Yessiree! I’m definitely gonna apply to be a professor of this Oceanian idiom.

‘I wrote my application and went to hand it in at the offices of the Comércio, after which I returned to the library and continued my study of Javanese.

‘But I didn’t make much progress that day, possibly because it occurred to me that all a professor of this Malayan lingo really needs to know is the alphabet. Or perhaps I’d been concentrating too much on the bibliography and the literary history of my subject.

‘After two days I received a letter inviting me to an interview with Dr Manuel Feliciano Soares Albernaz, otherwise Baron Jacuecanga, in Count Bonfim Street – I don’t recall the number. Don’t forget I was carrying on, in the meantime, learning Malayan… I mean, Javanese. In addition to the alphabet I learnt the names of some authors and how to say “How are you?” plus two or three grammatical rules and a lexical grounding of about twenty words.

‘You can’t imagine the struggle I had to try – in vain – to get the four hundred reais for my journey to Count Bonfim Street! Learning Javanese is much easier by comparison, believe you me… So I walked there and arrived hot and bothered. But an alley of old mango trees leading up to the Baron’s house welcomed me tenderly, almost maternally – the only time in my whole life I’ve got anywhere near feeling close to nature.

‘It was an enormous, apparently deserted house, run-down, but somehow – I thought – through neglect and world-weariness rather than poverty. It must have been years since it had last seen a coat of paint. The walls were peeling and here and there a tile – those old-fashioned glazed tiles – was missing from the eaves, making them like a set of rotting, untended teeth.

‘I took a quick look at the garden and saw how the flat-sedge and beggar’s-lice had driven out the angel-wings and begonias, although the drab crotons were holding on. I knocked. And waited…

‘Eventually an ancient African appeared. His cottony hair and beard spoke of age, meekness and suffering. The living room was like a portrait gallery: a parade of pompous, big-bearded men in immense, gilded frames; and the sweet profiles of ladies in head-bands and holding large fans, who looked as if they wanted to be wafted up to the heavens in their balloon-like dresses. But of all the antiques – which looked even more antique and venerable under the ubiquitous layers of dust –, what I liked most was a fine vase of Chinese porcelain… or Indian as it’s sometimes called… The purity of that porcelain, its fragility, the simplicity of its design, its moonlight glimmer, told me it had been moulded in the hands of a dreaming child, to enchant the weary eyes of the old and disillusioned…

‘I had to wait a little while for the owner of the house and it was with a feeling of deep respect that I saw him arrive, a little unsteady on his feet, and holding a Portuguese printed handkerchief from which he was taking snuff, like a picture from the olden times. I wanted to run away. Even if it wasn’t him who was the student, it would be a crime to bamboozle that old man, whose age brought something sacred, something august, to the surface of my mind. I wavered… but waited.

‘“I’m the Javanese teacher you said you were looking for, sir.”

‘“Sit down”, the old man replied. “Are you from here, from Rio?”

‘“No, I’m from Canavieiras.”

‘“From where? Speak up a bit – I’m deaf.”

‘“I’m from Canavieiras, in Bahia,” I trumpeted.

‘“Where did you do your studies?”

‘“In São Salvador.”

‘“And where did you learn Javanese?” he asked, with the doggedness of the elderly.

‘Even though I hadn’t foreseen that question, I extemporised a lie: I told him my father was Javanese, a merchant sailor who’d ended up in Bahia, settled near Canavieiras as a fisherman, got married, prospered and it was from him that I’d picked up Javanese.’

‘And he believed you?! The way you look?!’ asked my friend, who’d been listening quietly.

‘I don’t look that different from a Javanese. Straight hair, long and thick. Dark skin. I could easily pass for a Malayan half-cast. And you don’t need me to tell you there are all sorts in Brazil: Indians, Malayans, Tahitians, Malagasies, Guanches, even Goths – a combobulation of racial types to make the rest of the world green with envy.’

‘Alright… Carry on.’

‘After listening attentively and giving me a good looking-over, it seemed the old man came to the conclusion I really was the son of a Malayan, because he asked me, almost in a whisper:

‘“So you’d be happy to teach me Javanese?”

‘The words “Of course I would” left my lips before I’d even had time to think.

‘“You must be surprised,” the Baron continued, “that, at my age, I still want to learn something, but…”

‘“Not at all! There are many, many admirable examples…”

‘“You see, what I want, Mr…”


‘“My dear Mr Castelo, what I want is to honour a promise – a family promise. I don’t know if you know… I’m the grandson of Counsellor Albernaz, the one who was with Pedro the First when he abdicated. He once came back from London with a book in a strange language – a book which fascinated him. It was a gift from an Indian or Siamese in London as a thank-you for some favour or other. When my grandfather was on his deathbed, he called my father and said: ‘My boy, I’ve got a book here that’s written in Javanese. The man who gave it me said it wards off harm and brings happiness to whoever owns and understands it. I’m not so sure about that… But, in any case, look after it and, if you want the prophecy of that wise old oriental to come true, make sure your son understands it, so that happiness may pass from generation to generation of our family.’ My father wasn’t inclined to believe the story, but he kept the book. When he, in turn, was nearing death’s door, he gave it to me and told me what he’d promised my grandfather. At first I didn’t give it much thought. I put it away and got on with my life. I ended up forgetting all about it, but recently I’ve had so many things go wrong, so much misfortune in my old age, that I remembered the family talisman. I need to read it, to understand it, and I don’t want to pass bad luck to my descendants. But in order to read it I need – of course – to understand it. And there you have it!”

‘He fell silent and I noticed there were tears in his eyes. He dried them quickly and asked me if I’d like to see the book. I said yes. He called his man-servant, gave him instructions and explained to me that he’d lost all his sons, his nephews and nieces, that all he had left was a married daughter who only had one son – an invalid, whose health was precarious.

‘The book arrived. It was an antique, quarto-sized tome, leather-bound, printed in large type on coarse, yellowing paper. The frontispiece was missing, so there was no date of publication. But it did have a few pages in English, by way of preface, where I read that it had to do with stories by Prince Kulanga, an outstanding Javanese writer.

‘I immediately informed the old Baron, who – unaware I’d arrived at this knowledge via English – was greatly impressed by my knowledge of Malayan. I carried on leafing through the great volume, like a certified expert in that sort of gobbledegook, and before long we’d agreed the conditions: my fee and the hours. I undertook to make sure he could read the old tome within a year.

‘Soon I was giving my first lesson, but the old man was not as diligent as me. He couldn’t learn to read and write even four letters. It took us a month to get halfway through the alphabet and you couldn’t say Baron Jacuecanga was much the wiser for his trouble. He kept forgetting what he’d just learnt.

‘His daughter and son-in-law, who I don’t think were privy to the story of the book, found out about his studies, but they didn’t object. They thought it was rather sweet – a good way to keep him occupied.

‘But wait till you hear, Castro, how the son-in-law admired the Javanese teacher! “What an extraordinary thing!” he kept saying. “It’s amazing! Such a young man! If I’d been able to speak Javanese, just think where I might be now!”

‘Mrs Maria da Glória’s husband – Mrs Maria was the Baron’s daughter – was a judge, well-connected and powerful; but that didn’t stop him praising my Javanese in front of everyone. And the Baron, for his part, was as happy as could be. After two months he gave up his studies and asked me to translate a passage from the enchanted book every other day. He said just understanding it would do; there was no reason why he couldn’t just listen while someone else translated. In that way he’d fulfil his duty whilst avoiding the tedium of study.

‘You won’t be surprised to know I can’t speak Javanese even now, but I made up some daft stories and palmed them off on the old man as if they were sacred scripture. The way he listened to that rubbish! He was ecstatic; you’d have thought he was listening to the words of an angel. And I rose even higher in his estimation! He insisted I live in his house, showered me with presents, increased my pay. To put it simply… I was having a rare old time.

‘It helped greatly that he came into an inheritance from some forgotten relative of his in Portugal. The dear old man attributed his good fortune to my Javanese; and I was almost ready to believe it myself.

‘Although my guilt feelings were rapidly diminishing, I was still worried I’d bump into someone who really could speak that Malayan jabberjabber. And I was horrified when the kind-hearted old Baron sent me to Viscount Caruru with a letter recommending I be admitted to the diplomatic service. I did my darndest to dissuade him: I wasn’t good-looking enough, wasn’t elegant enough, looked like a Philippino. “Nonsense!” he replied. “Off you go, my boy! You speak Javanese!” So I went. The Viscount, in turn, sent me – heaped with recommendations – to the secretariat for foreigners. I’d been accepted.

‘The director summoned the section heads: “Gentlemen, before you stands a man who speaks Javanese. What do you think about that?!”

‘The section heads took me to meet the officials and the clerks, one of whom looked at me with hostility rather than envy or admiration. Meanwhile, all the others were asking me, “So, you speak Javanese? Is it difficult? There’s no one else who speaks it here.”

‘Eventually the hostile-looking clerk piped up: “That’s true, but I speak Kanak… Can you speak Kanak? I said “No” and went off to be introduced to the minister.

‘His Eminence rose from his chair, stood arms akimbo for a moment, adjusted his pince-nez, and finally asked, “So, you speak Javanese?” ‘I said “Yes” and, in answer to his question about where I learnt it, I wheeled out the story about my Javanese father again. “Right…” said the minister. “Nevertheless, your physical appearance is not ambassadorial. The best thing would be a consulate in Asia or Oceania. There are no vacancies at present, but I shall find you a place after the forthcoming re-organisation. Until then you will be an attaché at the ministry here and next year you will go to Basel, where you will represent Brazil at the Linguistics Congress. In the meantime, study! Read Hove-Iacque, Max Müller etc.!”

‘So there I was, knowing next to no Javanese, but employed by the foreign office, and about to represent Brazil at a learned congress!

‘Before long the old Baron died, leaving the book to his son-in-law until his grandson came of age, and leaving me a little something in his will.

‘I launched myself enthusiastically into the study of the Malayo-Polynesian languages, but it was no good! I was now well-fed, well-dressed and enjoying my sleep; I simply didn’t have the energy to force all that weird stuff into my head. I bought books and subscribed to journals: The Revue Anthropologique et Linguistique, the Proceedings of the Anglo-Oceanic Association, the Archivo Glottologico Italiano, you name it! All to no avail. But that didn’t stop my fame growing. People would point me out in the street and proclaim: “That’s the man who speaks Javanese!” Grammarians approached me in bookshops to ask me about the collocation of pronouns in that Sunda Islands lingo. I started receiving letters from learned people in the interior of Brazil, the papers used to cite me as an authority, and I turned down a request from a group of students who were anxious to understand the language. At the invitation of the editor of the Comércio I wrote a full-page article about ancient and modern Javanese literature…’

‘How?!.. seeing you knew nothing about it,’ interrupted Castro, who’d been following every word.

‘Piece of cake! First I described the island of Java with the help of dictionaries and a few geography books and I padded out the rest with quotations.’

‘And they never suspected?!’ asked my friend.

‘Never. That’s to say, apart from one time when I almost came a cropper. The police arrested a bloke, a dark-skinned sailor who spoke a strange language no one could understand. They summoned various interpreters, but none of them could understand him. And they approached me, with all due respect – of course – for my erudition. I was in two minds whether to go, but in the end… I went. Fortunately he’d already been released, thanks to the intervention of the Dutch consul, to whom he’d managed to say a few words in Dutch. And yes: he was Javanese!.. Phew!

‘Finally it was time for the congress, so off I went to Europe… where I had a ball! After the inauguration and the preliminary sessions, they registered me for the Tupi-Guarani Section, which was in Paris. But before I went, I got my picture published in the Basler Zeitung, together with my biographical and bibliographical details. When I got back, the president of the congress couldn’t apologise enough for having registered me for that section: he hadn’t been familiar with my work and had assumed that, because I was Brazilian, the Tupi-Guarani section would be just the thing. I accepted his apologies and promised to send him some of my works on Javanese; but I never did – never had the time.

‘When the congress was over, I published extracts of my article in the Basler Zeitung in Berlin, Turin and Paris, where the readers of my works invited me to a banquet hosted by Senator Gorot. All this ballyhoo, including the banquet, cost me about ten thousand francs, almost all my bequest from dear old credulous Baron Jacuecanga.

‘But neither my time nor my money had been wasted. I’d became a national treasure: when I disembarked at Pharoux I received an ovation from rich and poor alike and, just a few days later, the President of the Republic invited me for lunch.

‘Before six months had passed, I was despatched to Havana as consul. I stayed there six years. And I’ll go back to perfect my knowledge of the Malayan, Melanesian and Polynesian languages.’

‘Amazing!’ said Castro, clasping his empty beer glass in both hands.

‘Guess what I really wanted to be, apart from being happy.’


‘An eminent bacteriologist… Ready?’



(The following biographical details have been translated from the [now defunct] Casa Lima Barreto website.)

Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto was born in Rio de Janeiro on 13 May 1881 and died in the same city on 1 November 1922. The son of a typographer at the National Printing Works and of a state-school teacher, he was of mixed race. He was taught at first by his own mother, who died when he was seven. Through the influence of his godfather, Viscount Ouro Preto, an imperial minister, he completed his studies at the Pedro II National School, from where he went, in 1897, to the Polytechnic with the intention of studying to be an engineer. He had to give up his course, however, in order to become the breadwinner at home, after his father – bursar at the Colony for the Insane on Governador Island – himself became mentally ill in 1902. In the same year he had his first work published in the student press. The family moved to the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Engenho de Dentro, where the future writer decided to take part in a public examination for a vacancy in the Ministry of War. He came second but, because the first-placed candidate withdrew, he was able to take up the post, which he did in 1903.

Because his salary was only small, the family moved to a modest house in the suburb of Todos os Santos in which, in 1904, he began the first version of his novel Clara dos Anjos (Clara of the Angels). In the following year he began his novel Recordações do escrivão Isaías Caminha (Memoirs of the Clerk Isaías Caminha), which was published in Lisbon in 1909. He also published a series of reports in the Correio da Manhã newspaper and commenced the novel Vida e morte de M. J. Gonzaga de Sá (Life and Death of M. J. Gonzaga de Sá), which was not published until 1919. He participated in the Fon-Fon magazine and in 1907, together with some friends, launched the Floreal magazine, which survived for only four numbers but attracted the attention of the literary critic José Veríssimo. During this period he devoted himself to reading, in the National Library, the great names of world literature, including the European realist writers of the period; he was one of the few Brazilian writers who became familiar with the works of the Russian novelists.

In 1910 he was a juryman in a trial that condemned some soldiers involved in a student’s murder, an incident that came to be called ‘The Spring of Blood’; as a result he was passed over when it came to any possibilities of promotion in the secretariat of war. In the space of three months, in 1911, he wrote the novel Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma (The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma), which was published in instalments in the Jornal do Comércio, for which he wrote, and also in the Gazeta da Tarde. In 1912 he published two instalments of the Aventuras do Dr. Bogoloff (The Adventures of Dr. Bogoloff), in addition to little humorous books, one of them printed in the O Riso magazine.

Although alcoholism was beginning take hold of him, it did not prevent him from continuing to work for the press and, in 1914, he commenced a series of daily feuilletons in the Correio da Noite. In 1915 the A Noite newspaper published his novel Numa e a ninfa (Numa and the Nymph) in instalments, and he began a long phase of work with the Careta magazine, writing political articles on various topics.  In the first months of 1916, the novel Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma appeared as a book, together with some notable short stories such as ‘A Nova Califórnia’ (New California) and ‘O homem que sabia javanês’ (The Man who Spoke Javanese); these were warmly received by the critics, who saw Lima as a true successor to Machado de Assis. He began writing for the political weekly A.B.C. After being hospitalised in July 1917, he delivered to his editor, J. Ribeiro dos Santos, the manuscript of Os Bruzundangas (The Bruzundangans – Bruzundanga being Lima’s satirical name for Brazil), which was not published until a month after his death, in 1922.

He applied for a vacancy in the Brazilian Academy of Letters, but his application was not even considered. He published the second edition of Isaías Caminha and, subsequently, the novel Numa e a ninfa in book form. He started publishing articles and feuilletons in the alternative press of the period: A Lanterna, A.B.C. and Brás Cubas, which published an article of his showing sympathy for the revolutionary cause in Russia. After being diagnosed with toxic epilepsy, he was pensioned off in December 1918 and he moved to another house in the Rua Major Mascarenhas in Todos os Santos, where he lived until his death.

At the beginning of 1919 he ceased his collaboration with the A.B.C. weekly, because he took issue with an article it published criticising the blacks. He published the novel Vida e morte de M. J. Gonzaga de Sá, which was personally edited and sent for typing by the editor Monteiro Lobato; this was the only one of Lima’s books to receive such standard editorial care and for which he was well paid; it was also well advertised, being praised by both old and new literary critics, such as João Ribeiro and Alceu Amoroso Lima. At this time he applied once more for a vacancy at the Brazilian Academy of Letters; on this occasion his application was accepted, but he was not elected, although he received the permanent vote of João Ribeiro. Under the title of ‘As mágoas e sonhos do povo’ (The People’s Sufferings and Dreams), he started publishing, in the Hoje magazine, weekly feuilletons of so-called ‘urban folklore’ and he entered into a second phase of collaboration with Careta, which lasted until his death.

From December 1919 to January 1920 he was hospitalised in consequence of a nervous breakdown, an experience recounted in the first chapters of the memoir O cemitério dos vivos (The Cemetery of the Living), which was not published until 1953, when it was issued in a single volume together with his Diário íntimo (Intimate Diary). In December 1920 Gonzaga de Sá was short-listed for the literary prize of the Brazilian Academy of Letters for the best book of the previous year; it received an honourable mention. In the same month, the short-story book Histórias e sonhos (Stories and Dreams) was published, and the manuscript of Marginália (Odds and Ends), comprising articles and feuilletons already published in periodicals, was delivered to his friend, the editor F. Schettino; the manuscript was lost, however, and the book did not come to be published until 1953.

A section of O Cemitério dos vivos was published in January 1921 in the Revista Souza Cruz, under the title ‘As origens’ (The Origins); but the work remained incomplete.  In April of that year he went to the little town of Mirassol in the State of São Paulo, where a doctor friend of his, Ranulfo Prata, who was also a writer, tried to put him together again, but in vain. With his health badly undermined, he turned into a sort of recluse in his little house in Todos os Santos, where friends came to visit him and where his sister Evangelina looked after him devotedly. Whenever possible, however, he would embark on another walk through the city he loved, keeping reading, meditation and writing for home, despite the constant presence of his father’s madness, which got worse through a series of crises.

In July 1921 Lima applied for a vacancy in the Brazilian Academy of Letters for the third time, but he withdrew his application for ‘entirely personal and private reasons.’ He delivered the manuscript of Bagatelas (Trifles) to the publisher; this book was a collection of his principal journalistic work from 1918 to 1922, in which he analysed, with rare vision and clarity, the problems of the country and of the world after the 1st World War. However, Bagatelas was not published until 1923. In November 1921 he published, in the Revista Souza Cruz, the text of a speech ‘O destino da literatura’ (‘The Destiny of Literature’) that he had been due to make – but had not managed to do so – in the town of Rio Preto, near Mirassol. In December he began work on the second version of his novel Clara dos Anjos, which he finished the following January. The manuscript for Feiras e mafuás (One Thing and Another) was delivered for publication, which did not happen until 1953.

In May 1922 the magazine O Mundo Literário published the first chapter of Clara dos Anjos, ‘O carteiro’ (The Postman). His health was declining steadily as a result of rheumatism and alcoholism amongst other things, and Lima suffered heart failure and died on 1 November 1922. They found him holding the copy of the Revue des Deux Mondes – his favourite journal – which he had just been reading. Two days later, his father died. They were both buried in the São João Batista cemetery, in accordance with Lima’s wishes.

In 1953 a publisher issued some volumes of his unpublished works. But it was only in 1956, under the direction of Francisco de Assis Barbosa and with the collaboration of Antônio Houaiss and M. Cavalcanti Proença, that all his work  was published in 17 volumes; these comprised all the novels mentioned above and also the following titles that were not published during his life: Os bruzundangas, Feiras e mafuás, Impressões de leitura (Literary Impressions), Vida urbana (City Life), Coisas do reino de Jambon (A Report from the Kingdom of Jambon), Diário íntimo, Marginália, Bagatelas, O cemitério dos vivos and two further volumes containing all his correspondence – both letters sent and letters received. In the following decades Lima has been the subject of many studies, both in Brazil and abroad. His works, particularly his novels and short stories, have been translated into English, French, Russian, Spanish, Czech, Japanese and German.  He has been the subject of doctoral theses in the United States and Germany. To mark the centenary of his birth in 1981, conferences were held about him throughout Brazil, resulting in the publication of innumerable books, including essays, bibliographies and psychological studies of the author and his works. There is currently a growing interest in him among new Brazilian writers, who see him as a pioneer of the sociological novel. His literary production, which is vast in view of his early death, is gaining him – quite rightly – more and more distinction.

Translator’s note: In an obituary for Lima in the Jornal do Brasil on 5 November 1922 , Coelho Neto – who had given the oration at Machado’s funeral in 1908 – described him as:

one of the best novelists Brazil has had, who observed things with the power and precision of a microscope, and who wrote with magisterial assurance, describing ordinary life like no one else has done. Just as he was neglectful of himself, of his own life, so was Lima Barreto neglectful of the work he constructed, not seeking to correct its defects of language, presenting it just as it flowed from his pen, without the necessary revision, the indispensable polishing, the definitive final touch which a work of art needs. Despite everything, however, what has remained to us of this man is worth so much by way of observation of life and depiction of characters that the rough edges cannot destroy the beauty: sometimes they compromise it here and there but only in the same way that a wall with stains and cracks can affect the harmony of a fresco, but cannot negate the magnificence of the painting.

Despite the nit-picking, this might be considered gracious in view of the virulent criticisms made of Coelho Neto by Lima.


2 thoughts on “From Portuguese: THE MAN WHO SPOKE JAVANESE by Lima Barreto

  1. This is an excellent translation. I just read this story in Portuguese alongside a translation in English in a bilingual edition, and your translation is superior. Congratulations!

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