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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: BROTHER WOLF

First Impressions: BROTHER WOLF

Irmao LoboOur first submission for November’s First Impressions is a little different than anything we’ve done before. It comes from author Lyn Miller-Lachmann who, along with writing fiction of her own, is a translator of children’s books and other materials from Portuguese to English. She’s applying for a grant to translate a novel for older middle grade readers by the Portuguese author and journalist Carla Maia de Almeida titled Irmão Lobo (Brother Wolf).

She’s seeking feedback on the first page, but unlike other submissions we have seen in the past, she’s limited in how much she can change the original text. Instead of focusing on content, she’s asking us to focus on the voice and language, hoping to appeal to both the grant committee and the ultimate tween readers of the book.

Irmão Lobo/Brother Wolf is a contemporary realistic novel. It would be considered upper MG by American standards, although it is classified as YA in Portugal.

***

I once believed I was madly in love with Kalkitos. But that couldn’t be, because I was eight years old at the time and Kalkitos was the same age as Fossil, my much-older brother. He could have almost been my father, and something about it didn’t seem right. Actually, a lot of things didn’t seem right.

First of all, according to Blanche, I was the one born “out of time.” I began to believe this before I could put the feeling into words. I’m fifteen now and almost ready to start my own life, but I still don’t understand all the things that happened to me.

When I was eight years old, time was the microwave oven’s red numbers, always changing and blinking in the dark kitchen.

Time was Blanche running around like a crazed chicken, beginning at daybreak when she woke me and helped me get ready for school. She would glance at her cellphone and say, We don’t have time right now. We don’t have time. She’d keep running throughout breakfast, leaving crumbs of toast all over the floor like Hansel and Gretel. The crumbs never led us to a house of chocolate, and the next day they were sucked up by the vacuum cleaner.

Cold, rain, sunshine—those were the seasons of time. Jackets, boots, hats, gloves, scarves, sandals, t-shirts, shorts—all ways of dressing for the seasons. I understood. It was easy to figure out.

The same way, when Grizzly Bear sat on the sofa in front of the television and said between clenched teeth, “We are living in ungovernable times,” I knew whether this was good or bad by the way he changed the channel. Bored, zap. Annoyed, zap, zap. Enraged or worse, zap, zap, zap.

Now, I know. I wasn’t born out of time. I simply didn’t understand.

Because in the end, I went to school like the other kids, I wore sandals in summer and a hat when it turned bitter cold. I had a home, like all the kids. In this home lived Blanche, Grizzly Bear, Fossil, and Miss Kitty—my family. My parents and my older brother and sister. It wasn’t possible that they all lived in time and I lived outside of time.

 But there were things that didn’t seem right.

***

Okay, this is a tricky task because Lyn has to keep the content of the first page true to the original book while making it work for an English-speaking audience. There were several things in the opening two paragraphs that stood out to me.

The first thing that struck me was the last line of the first paragraph. Actually, a lot of things didn’t seem right. On my first reading, I thought it referred to the relationship between the narrator and Kalkitos, which brought all kinds of things to mind about what might not “seem right” between an older teenage boy and an eight-year-old girl. If the real meaning is that a lot of things about her life in general didn’t seem right, perhaps it should be in a separate paragraph and actually include the words “about my life.” Or if, in fact, there was something inappropriate about her relationship with Kalkitos, I’d like that to be more clear.

My second pause was at this sentence: First of all, according to Blanche, I was the one born “out of time.” I think it’s the phrase “the one” that throws me, as if this “out of time” description has already been applied to someone else and Blanche says, “No, you’re the one.” Can those two words just come out? First of all, according to Blanche, I was born “out of time.”

And this sentence had two parts that bothered me. I’m fifteen now and almost ready to start my own life, but I still don’t understand all the things that happened to me. Are fifteen-year-olds in Portugal ready to start their own life? The most we ask of American fifteen-year-olds is that they (depending on the state) start learning to drive and perhaps begin to think about what they want to study in college.  Thinking ahead to the rest of their life? Yes. Starting their own lives? Not really. And then there’s the second half of the sentence: I still don’t understand all the things that happened to me. I know the author doesn’t want to give away spoilers, but can “all the things” be partially defined or at least contained in a time frame? From the link Lyn provided to a review of this book on her website, I suspect the narrator is talking about a specific event that happened to her when she was eight. I just don’t feel an urgency from the the phrase “all the things” and something more ominous might help.

The idea of being born “out of time” is interesting, and I wonder if the narrator means that she was wise beyond her years – or as we might say here in America: “Eight going on thirty.” But the hints on this page leave me confused about whether something happened between her and the aforementioned Kalkitos, or if “all the things” refers to family issues or something else entirely.

After that, the narrative settles into an engaging description of what “time” means to an eight-year-old child and her family dynamics. Blanche is vividly portrayed, and calling the father Grizzly Bear says a lot about him. I wonder why she calls her brother Fossil, her sister Miss Kitty, and her mother by her first name.

Readers, what do you think? Lyn, thanks for sharing your page with us and good luck on your grant proposal. I hope we helped you. Marcy and Krystalyn will have feedback on their blogs. You can also find Lyn’s review of Irmão Lobo HERE and learn more about Lyn as an author HERE. We’ll be back on Wednesday with another First Impressions post.

 

10 Responses to First Impressions: BROTHER WOLF

  1. Tiana Smith says:

    I agree with Dianne’s comments. Also, the line she mentioned sitting strange, “I’m fifteen now and almost ready to start my own life, but I still don’t understand all the things that happened to me.” Is weird to me on another level too. Most teens I know don’t think they’re just starting their life, they’re already living it. Unless you meant to say “ready to start my life *on my own*” in which case, like Dianne’s comments, that’s still strange for an English speaking audience because 18 is usually when our teens strike out on their own.

  2. Wow, what a tough project. I don’t have any comments other than what has been said. I just want to wish the author the best of luck!

  3. Thank you for the comments, Dianne! Those are great suggestions, and I think you’re right that I should hint at the terrible event that does happen (and that doesn’t involve Kalkitos). Bolota’s infatuation with Kalkitos in fact doesn’t go anywhere, though Kalkitos is involved in another traumatic event that affects Bolota. He’s the reason the family has to get rid of Malik, her beloved dog.

    I’m thinking about the idea of being 15 and “almost ready to start my own life” because 50 years ago, 15-year-olds in Portugal were already working (heck, many 10-year-olds in Portugal then were no longer in school but working), but after the 1974 Revolution and especially after Portugal joined the EU, there has been an effort to instill a sense of childhood that didn’t exist in earlier generations. In fact, Bolota’s father was from a wealthier family that has “fallen” and there’s a sense that the economic crisis has resulted in a return to the bad old days.

  4. Your comments gave me some new things to think about. What does born out of time mean then?

    • That’s a good question, Alex, because it involves interpreting the author’s intent as well as translating that interpretation to readers in another culture. The story is about Bolota’s loss of innocence, so the “born out of time” points to the fact that she isn’t experiencing the carefree childhood that her older brother and sister enjoyed and that her parents desired for her. Throughout the story, Bolota wants to be older, her parents want to keep her innocent, and their lies and ploys only make things worse. So, yes, the “eight going on thirty” is somewhat true, but there’s also an element of living in 2010 but experiencing the hard life of children 50 years ago.

  5. The concept of being born out of time is an intriguing one, and it makes me think of a young person who has an “old soul.”

    Good luck with the grant,Lyn. Translating a story into another language is such an exacting challenge. No doubt, you’re striving to be true to the original story, but you’ve also managed to create a certain amount of lyricism, and a believable voice. Great job!

    • Thank you, Susan! I do see Bolota as a child with an “old soul” but also a great deal of resilience. I think what’s helped me in bringing out the author’s voice and lyricism is my love of this story and of the family that’s at the heart of it. I lived in Portugal during the worst of the economic crisis and knew families in very dire situations like this one.

  6. I found you did a great job. One of the problems with translating is that the cultures and general impressions don’t correlate perfectly to another culture, especially when dealing with different time frames too. It’s hard enough to get the sentences and wording close to the same meaning.
    I’ve seen some translations with ‘notes’ before or after the story to help with some of the differences, so that the reader gains a better understanding.
    But thumbs up from me!

  7. Hey, Dianne. I tried to comment on your newest post, but when you click to leave a comment an error message pops up. Just wanted to make you aware because I’m probably not the only one experiencing this. Also, your comments were spot-on with the story.

  8. Chuck Robertson says:

    I generally agree with the other posts. I thought the first line was a great grabber and found it amusing when he mentions being eight, but to me the story fizzled after that. It was very well written, but as a reader I want to see something happen right away. There was a lot of hint something interesting was going on, but with no action, I lost interest.