I just received in the mail two copies of Pops: A Vida de Louis Armstrong, the Brazilian edition of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, which was published last month by Larousse. The design of the book is essentially identical to that of the American edition, except that it’s in Portuguese. The translators are Andrea Gottlieb and Castro Neves, and I wish I could tell you that they did a fabulous job. Alas, I must confess to being humiliatingly ignorant of a language to which I have nonetheless spent countless hours listening. Would that my longstanding passion for the music of Antônio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Sérgio Mendes, Luciana Souza, and Trio da Paz had miraculously caused me to learn Portuguese by osmosis, but the only word I know in that lovely, liquid tongue is, appropriately enough, saudade.
Even though I’ll have to leave it to my Brazilian friends to tell me whether Ms. Gottlieb and Mr. Neves got it right, I still managed to spend an exceedingly pleasant hour leafing through the Brazilian edition of Pops and marveling at how much cooler I seem to sound in Portuguese. My favorite passage from Pops, for instance, is the last paragraph:
Faced with the terrible realities of the time and place into which he had been born, he did not repine, but returned love for hatred and sought salvation in work. Therein lay the ultimate meaning of his epic journey from squalor to immortality: his sunlit, hopeful art, brought into being by the labor of a lifetime, spoke to all men in all conditions, and helped make them whole.
Here it is in Portuguese:
Confrontado pelas terríveis realidades do lugar e da época em que nasceu, ela não se afligiu, mas retribuiu ódio com amor e procurou a salvação no trabalho. É aí que está o resultado supremo da épica jornada que percorreu da esqualidez à imortalidade: sua arte, iluminada pelo sol, cheia de esperança, criada pelo trabalho de uma vida e capaz de tocar todos os homens de qualquer condição, e torná-los completos.
Doesn’t that just make you want to roll over and purr?
As I flipped through the book, I ran across a number of additional footnotes that were credited to the translators. Notwithstanding my inability to speak Portuguese, I could see that their purpose was to explain to Brazilian readers the meanings of various untranslatable English-language expressions, including Uncle Tom, minstrel show, black-and-tan club, poboy, hepcat, and–this one is my favorite–The Jetsons:
Familio do desenho animado de mesmo nome da Hanna-Barbera, criado nos anos 1960 e ambientado no ano de 2062, no qual o futuro é descrito como um mundo de robôs, hologramas, carros voadores etc.
I suspect that these footnotes are in large part responsible for the other main difference between the two versions of Pops, which is that the Brazilian edition is thirty-six pages longer than the American edition.
I was fascinated, by the way, to read the following translation and explication of these lines from a song by Fats Waller and Andy Razaf: My only sin is in my skin/What did I do to be so black and blue? Take it away, colleagues:
Meu único pecado está na minha pele/O que fiz para ser tão negro e trist? [blue, em inglês, significa tanto a cor azul quanto tristeza].
Quanto tristeza, indeed!
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Luciana Souza sings “Docemente” with the Fred Hersch Trio:
If an audiobook version of Pops should ever be published in Brazil, I’d like her to read it.