Welcome to The Red Opera

The website about the work of Paul Hoffman

Portuguese Translation

Dear Mr Correia

Thanks for your questions. I have tried to answer them as clearly as possible in bold type below. If anything is still unclear please feel free to contact me. And thanks for pointing out the two errors.

Best wishes,


Dear Mister Hoffman,

My name is Mario Correia and as you surely know by now I’ve been entrusted with the Portuguese translation of your book «THE LEFT HAND OF GOD». I have ran into some difficulties and I’m going to need the help I’m told you’re prepared to offer. I thank you in advance.

Brace yourself, because this is going to be a long e-mail.

It’s important that I make very clear to you why I’m raising some of theese questions. Is has to do with the fact I’m translating into a language with a very different structure from the original English, but mainly with the fact of this being the first book of a trilogy. Any option I make now in terms of names, designations and so forth will be impossible to alter when, as I expect will happen, you’ll explain, in due course, al the things that are not clear in this first phase of your work.

At first, for instance, I didn’t know where the action took place. And this was important, because it it where another world, or another universe, the names of places and people would have to be translated, for it would make no sense that they should appear in English. Then, as I went on, I gathered the location was our Earth, although a curiously shrunk Earth where Odessa, the Polish Wood (Katyn?) and Memphis were all within walking, or at least riding distance. That took care of the names of the characters, but not the names of places, because when you refer to Great Bight, for instance, are you talking about the place by that name in Australia or of a very large bay? In the first case it’s Great Bight, in the second it’s Baía Grande. The same applies to the Eastern Brakes (a break is geologicaly, I know, a sudden change in the topography, and this can be a fault, a rift, a cordillera, etc.) Knowing what you mean would help greatly. And Lake Constanz? Is it the German lake (the Bodensee) or the toponimic of another place near Memphis? The problem is the same: translation or no translation.

You’re right that the problem is the same. One of the models I took for place names that might help is America. If you look at a detailed map of the USA you find an astonishing variety of place names that reflect the fact that many new names had to be invented and many of them are foreign in origin. Hence there is an Odessa, the Missouri Breaks, a Paris, a Kalamazoo, Brighton Beach – none of them are in any way like their originals and may be five miles away or two thousand. Think of the world of The Left Hand of God as a kind of America where bits and pieces of the old world survive. Hence Bodensee is fine and I like Baia Grande. I had originally intended this world to be set in the future after two world civilizations had collapsed completely and only random names from these old worlds had survived.

And what’s a Gouger? I can translate the word — that really doesn’t exist in English — in many different ways, and e it doesn’t come up again, anyone of them will do. But if it does and you explain why a Gouger is a Gouger, I must know now. The same with «bupass», the place where you are forgotten. And with «shank», the name of the Materazzi sword. None of the various translations possible in Portuguese has anything to do with a sword, so I opted for The Blade, but, of course, I will abide by or decision.

A gouger is an Irish slang word for a tough guy or thug. (sorry I don’t recognize Bupass – is it bypass? A shank is a prison slang term for a home made knife. Obviously this is not a home made blade but I liked the contrast.

Speaking of the Materazzi (it would help to know if they are a family, a clan, a caste or a people), the «marshal» is a marshal as in «Marshal Pétain» or as in «US marshal»?

Think of them as approximately a mixture of caste and clan. Marshal as in Marshal Petain.

And now I come to page 147 of the draft I have to work with and where there is an entire part I simple don’t understand (I’ll be the first to admit it’s all may fault; maybe I haven’t keep track, as I should have, of the latest developments in the Anglo-Saxon culture). I’ll transcribe it here, using capitals for the words I don’t know or do know but don’t see how they apply:

«There were BAWLERS with their LOOZLES, MAWLEYS in JEMIMAS calling ou “YELLOW, COME AND GET GET”. There were BURTONS and their naked PIKERS, middlemen CALLING FOR AGONY. AUNTS with their BUNG-NIPPERS covered in rouge and shouting for A HALF AND HALF. There were Huguenots selling BUM-BAILEYS to the highest bidder and nutty lads with long tongues looking for for A PIGEON IN A PACKET OF TWO.» Breton wouldn’t have done better. I do need your help… or, of course, I can always improvise.

Unsurprisingly you are not the only translator to raise pg 147.

The basic idea behind the mostly invented or adapted words is precisely that they have no clear meaning in English. In an age when the Internet allows people to have easy access to every kind of human weirdness I wanted to imply the existence of the utterly strange and revolting sexual and other practices available in Kittytown. The point is that no one should know what they mean but suspect only something disgusting. Hence you can use the Portuguese equivalent for ‘pigeon’ easily. I took some terms from medieval or renaissance words but without regard to their original meaning (eg bum-bailey, loozle, mawley) and you might find some useful terms in Portuguese from the same period.

Bawler (someone who bawls or shouts) , loozle, mawley,  (see above) ya-ya, (from the Rolling Stones album Get Yer Ya-Yas Out. Can’t this just be translated directly as Ya Yas ?) benjamin, jemima, burton, (Just middle-class names which in this context suggest some disgusting sexual relationship) piker, (a very low class person, a chav) middleman, (the same in Portuguese will do) Aunt,(the same in Portuguese will do) bung nipper, (entirely invented but a bung is something forced into a tight hole and a nipper is  a cheeky young boy – meaningless in dictionary terms) a Huguenot (as in a French Protestant, just a family joke, often repeated throughout the remaining books so it should be translated exactly) bum-bailey, (see above)nutty (mad) lad (boy)with long tongues, (meaningless -translate literally)  pigeon (again translate literally). A half and half is genuine contemporary prostitute slang for (according to wikipedia) “a service where time is allotted equally to two sexual acts; fellatio followed by ordinary sex.” Translating it literally is fine.
In the light of this I’m happy for you to use your good judgement.

And, last but not least, there are two inconsistencies that only you can put right.
Near the end of chapter 20, it says: «The next morning, Cale woke early and went outside…» Well, he doesn’t see the pigeon, IdrisPukke comes out, sees the pigeon, fins the message and decides: «Well, there’s no moon, so they can’t travel at night and neither can we. We’ll pack now, get some sleep and start at down.» Wasn’t it already dawn? Then, chapter 21 begins: «The next day IdrisPukke would not start until there was light enough…» Something doesn’t check and I’m afraid this part is going to have to be re-written.

You’re right and this is something I should have spotted myself. Change the sentence “The next morning Cale woke early and went outside but not without great unease.” at bottom pg 225/ top226 to “Realising there wasn’t much point in skulking inside Cale went out for a smoke.”

Finally, why would two horsemen need two days to cover twenty miles between Treetops and Cortina Pass? I think maybe you wrote one hundred miles and someone brought it down to twenty.

page 226 8 lines up change twenty to eighty

I’m sorry I took so much of your time and patience and I hope you don’t think me impertinent and I also hope my syntactic and semantic insufficiencies in the English language have not made all this incomprehensible.

I’m counting on your indulgence and will be looking forward to your help.

Yours sincerely,