Sicilian Nostalgia: My New Italian-to-Portuguese Book Translation Hits Close to Home


My most recently published book translation is called "Minha terra, minha gente" and it is the Portuguese version of Era il mio paese written by Sicilian author Cristiano Parafioriti. It's a collection of short stories about his experiences growing up in a small town in Sicily called Galati Mamertino, which is part of the Messina Metropolitan Region, has a total area of 15 square miles (39 km²) and population of about 2,800 people (as of 2011).

In twenty short stories, Cristiano talks about watching soccer on TV while drinking pear juice or enjoying gelato alla nocciola (hazelnut Italian ice cream) at the local bar, playing in the streets, the tradition of religious beliefs and local festivities, getting to know interesting characters around town, the differences between Northern Italy and Sicily, and learning tough life lessons while hanging out with his friends or working with his father, a shoemaker, over summer.

The two main reasons I was attracted to this project were the fact that (1) I wanted to have more Italian-to-Portuguese book translations under my belt and (2) how much I miss Italy in general and Sicily in particular.

Over a decade ago―in October 2007 to be more precise―my husband and I went backpacking through Italy for a month before starting a family. We knew his great grandpa had left Sicily and established himself in Louisiana, having a prosperous life with a big family in the United States, but longing for the relatives and calm life he had left behind. We were able to locate long-lost cousins in the small town of Gibellina, which is less than a couple of hours from Palermo. Having a chance to find family there and getting to know more about the local history is, to this day, one of the highlights of our lives.

Having experienced Sicily first hand helped me understand more about the nuances described by Cristiano in his nostalgic stories. As a matter of fact, his nostalgia was, at a certain level, mine, too, since we're yet to go back for a second visit―just waiting for our two kids to be a little older.

Time seems to go by more slowly when you're in Sicily and you get to appreciate things differently, which is something the author addresses in his writings and rich descriptions of his surroundings―so much so that you can almost see this little town and its characters coming to life before your eyes.

If you can't read the original in Italian, nor my translation in Portuguese, you can still enjoy Cristiano Parafioriti's short stories in English, as translated by Louise Rabour in " My Town, My People "

If you can't read the original in Italian, nor my translation in Portuguese, you can still enjoy Cristiano Parafioriti's short stories in English, as translated by Louise Rabour in "My Town, My People"

One of the best parts of this project, as it is the case with most Italian-to-Portuguese projects I've had a chance to work on, was realizing how closely some Italian expressions translate into Brazilian Portuguese, considering the wave of immigrants that started to reach Brazilian shores in the late 1800s, especially my home state of São Paulo, as Italians looked for work in Brazil. Since then, our cultures have been inexorably intertwined, and I personally believe that this Italian influence is one of the main reasons why Brazilian Portuguese started to move away from European Portuguese.

Era il mio paese has a little over 25,000 words and it took me 40 hours to translate over the course of several months, in addition to another 12 hours just to proofread and polish it. Maybe I would have been able to finish it sooner, if it weren't for the incredible advent of Google Maps... All I had to do was type "Galati Mamertino" and do a virtual trip through its streets, visit the square, and actually see what "Rafa" was all about. It turns out it's a nice area up in the mountain, only a couple of miles outside town, where locals can take a stroll through the woods or go to the club, swim in the pool, and enjoy a stunning view.

With all these components―the resemblance with the town my husband's family comes from and the woods that bear the same name as mine―Minha terra, minha gente was more than a book translation project; for me, it was a true labor of love, longing, and nostalgia.