The Power of Translation in The Return

Guest Post by Christy O’Callaghan

Last summer, when we could still travel, I had the honor of attending the Disquiet Literary Program in Lisbon. As part of that fantastic two weeks, we were treated to panels of local authors and discussions about the history of Portugal. Had I not had that experience, I may never have learned about the western world’s longest dictatorship. The panelists possessed so much history as people who lived those times or grew up in the wake of them. One such panelist was Dulce Maria Cardoso. Before I left Portugal, I’d already ordered her book The Return.

Her novel, which is translated into English by Angel Gurria-Quintana, mirrors her experience of being a Portuguese citizen but raised in Angola, one of Portugal’s colonies at the time. When Portugal had its revolution, so did their colonies. This book follows a family exiled back to Portugal, returning to a country many had never set foot in and where they weren’t welcomed with open arms. The main character Rui is a teenage boy trying to wrap his head around what’s happening, why, and how to live in this foreign Motherland.

Books like The Return exemplify why good translations are valuable. This dictatorship, let alone that colonies still existed, weren’t discussed when I was in school. And these events took place only 45 years ago. Being able to hear Dulce tell her story was a gift I shall treasure forever, but not everyone has that privilege. Access to books written in other languages then translated means more people can share in that information, those cultures, and experiences. Learning about our own society and history is essential. So too is knowing what has happened in the larger world—allowing us to glean from other’s experiences in hopes of not repeating them.


The Return by Dulce Marie Cardoso. MacLehose Press, 2016.

Reviewer bio: Christy O’Callaghan lives in Upstate, New York. Her favorite pastimes include anything in the fresh air. For her blog and writing, go to christyflutterby.com.

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