The translator, Margaret Jull Costa, and some of her authors

Readers of Jose Saramago’s recent works will have noticed that he works exclusively with the award-winning translator, Margeret Jull Costa.  She is sometimes referred to as ‘Saramago’s English Translator’.    She made the following remarks at a celebration of Saramago’s Nobel Prize:

“Any Saramago novel requires a high degree of alertness from the ordinary reader and, since a translation involves the closest possible reading of a text, it requires an even higher degree of alertness and nimbleness from the translator. The sheer density of the words on the page can prove exhausting. It’s very easy to get lost not just in the long sentences, but also in the page itself.

Ms. Costa has also translated the works of several old masters and contemporary Spanish and Portuguese writers.  For those of us who love world literature and lesser-known but brilliant international authors, following the works of an accomplished translator, such as Costa, invariably leads us to some wonderful authors.  Here is a  list (but by no means exhaustive) of  authors whose work Ms. Costa has translated:

  • Javier Marias – his novel, A Heart So White,  won the 1997 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (the largest money prize for fiction.  It’s also good for the diversity and breadth of novels on its longlists).  Costa is the translator of  Marias’ Your Face Tomorrow series.
  • Jose Maria Eca de Queiros –  he is generally considered the greatest Portuguese writer. Costa’s translation of  The Maias won two translation prizes.
  • Fernando Pessoa – a very interesting Portuguese writer and poet who developed the literary concept of heteronym, which is one or more imaginary characters created by an author to write in different styles.  One of his heteronyms, Ricardo Reis is a main character in Jose Saramago’s 1986 novel The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.  Costa translated Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet among others.
  • Bernardo Atxaga – contemporary Basque writer. His works include The Accordionist’s Son and The Lone Woman
  • Teolinda Gersao –  Portuguese writer. Her book, Tree of Words, set in Mozambique
  • Angela Vallvey – contemporary Spanish writer. Her book, Hunting the Last Wild Man, was translated by Costa.
  • Arturo Perez-Reverte –  Spanish writer. A number of his books, including The Flanders Panel, are translated by Costa.

As a reader of Saramago and other Iberian authors, I certainly appreciate the work of Margaret Jull Costa.



    • Hold the tears, my friend. The copy of Blindness that you have is in all likelihood translated by Giovanni Pontiero. He was Saramago’s first translator. He died in 1996. Blindness was the last Saramago book that he worked on. I understand that the translation was done with Jull Costa, who succeeded Pontiero as Saramago’s translator.


  1. I find I cannot put a Saramago book down until read cover to cover. Today, while reading The Double, it occurred to me that, although I am reading Saramago, I am reading an English translation by a brilliant translator, Margaret Julls Costa. I wish I could read Portuguese to really appreciate what it takes to make that leap. She turns prose into poetry. I wonder if his choice of words are as poetic as hers. Sometimes I have to stop reading and make note of the poetry, for example:

    We refuse to understand
    that emotions are wise things
    they worry about us
    ..tomorrow, we say
    ..we warned you, they say
    but by then
    in all probability
    it will be too late

    While working as a temp at a university in the Classics Department, I became aware of the vast difference in translations of the same classic. Today, I became aware that I have been reading writing by one of the most brilliant translators of our time; and because I have no way to contact her, I wish to place my thanks here.


    • And I thank you for expressing your sentiments here. Your words capture best how I also feel about Margaret Jull Costa. Certainly, the choice of English words to match Saramago’s Portuguese originals are hers. Her translations do not take anything away from Saramago’s works but rather add to them. It was a great match-up. I haven’t thought about how their partnership compares to that of Saramago and Pontiero but will look into that someday. She is one of the best translators of our time and I’m glad that she works in Spanish and Portuguese. Thanks again for your comment.


  2. Sou escritor e gostaria de fazer traducao de alguns de meus livros para o ingles, mas, nao consigo saber como fazer contato com Margaret Jull Costa.
    E possivel me ajudarem?
    Carlos Pereira


    • I think it might be possible to locate her through any of the publishers of the books that she has translated. For instance, the publisher of Javier Marias’ books. Good luck.


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