Maria Velho da Costa

maria velho

Maria Velho da Costa is a Portuguese writer, the author of more than a dozen books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Born in Lisbon in 1938, she became infamous in 1972 with the publication of Nova cartas portuguesas (New Portuguese letters), a collaboration with two fellow writers, Maria Teresa Horta and Maria Isabel Barreno. Published in English as The Three Marias, it is a political work (comprised of essays, poetry and more) that quickly became known as one of the landmark texts of Portuguese feminism. It got the authors into all manner of trouble – including legal charges, censorship and accusations of immorality. In 2002 she won the Camões Prize, the most prestigious literary award in the Portuguese-speaking world.

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Maria Velho da Costa has described Myra as “a love story between two wild things”.

Myra is a teenager with Russian origins now living in Portugal. She finds a beaten-up dog on a beach in the rain, and decides that they were made for one another. She names him Rambo, and together, girl and dog travel across the country, meeting people along the way. But there is something about this girl, something she’s trying to keep hidden. Each time she arrives somewhere new and meets new people she introduces herself and Rambo by different names (she’s Sonia, Ekaterina, Elena, he’s Fritz, Douro, Ivan). She keeps her real identity and her past – whatever that is – mysterious until one day,  she meets Gabriel under a holly-oak tree. He takes her away to a big wonderful house and it seems the course of her life has changed… but this, too, will not last, and so on they go. The ending, when it comes, is breathtaking.

Beautifully written – and with a section of beautiful colour plates eight pages in – Myra is a cold, dark tale of identity, belonging and flight.

Recommended by Daniel Hahn (translator, writer and acting co-director of the British Centre for Literary Translation)

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  1. Maria Velho da Costa

    I particularly like the respiration in her narrative, the use of punctuation to draw in the reader. The awkwardness of her (or the translator’s) expression – “the nibbled toothpicks of tribal emotion” – is at times distracting, and I’d rather be allowed to understand the intention of a character’s speech myself than to be told – “The my love was more of an inquiry, hardly an admonishment.” – but, overall, this is a pleasant, understated read. Thanks.

  2. Just finished reading the book in Portuguese. I found it very intense, especially the language used. A great challenge for a translator. Disturbing as well. This is not the Portugal I left 30 years ago. The ending suits the journey. Thanks.


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