To Margaret Jull Costa

A visitor to this blog, Tosh Shewmaker, left the following fabulous comment on my post on the translator Margaret Jull Costa:

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 Jull 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.



  1. Fantastic to see that wonderful tribute to the translator and the author both! I believe the same translator translated the one work I read by the author – Death With Interruptions. I fully agree with the praise heaped upon her as I loved that work.


  2. Hello, I’m Margaret Jull Costa, and I stumbled across this blog by accident. I just wanted to say thank you so much for your kind comments. It means everything to me that readers enjoy the books I translate (almost) as much for the book itself as for my translation. That’s the highest praise any translator could ever receive. Thank you again. And keep reading!


    • Thank you so much for visiting this blog and for leaving your lovely comment. I’m truly honoured. You have legions of fans who appreciate your work and are grateful for your dedication to and brilliant translations of Portuguese and Spanish literature. And we will keep reading! Thanks again.


  3. It’s great to appreciate translators! I hardly ever read the same book in two different translations, or read it in the original language, so it’s difficult for me to judge or compare, or to know how much of my enjoyment of the prose is due to the translator and how much to the original author.

    I did very much enjoy Saramago’s Death at Intervals, and see that my copy was translated by Margaret Jull Costa. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis was translated by Giovanni Pontiero. I liked it less than Death at Intervals, but seems unfair to blame poor Giovanni for that!


    • Pontiero was Saramago’s first translator. Jull Costa took over from him when he died in 1996. Blasphemy 🙂 that you are not raving about Ricardo Reis. No, it would not be Pontiero’s fault. I think both of them have been good to Saramago’s work. Sometimes, I do read the same book in two different translations. I did that with Bulgakov’s Master and the Margarita. I definitely noticed a difference between the two translations.


  4. Recently I feel like I have been read nothing but Jull Costa, from Spanish and Portuguese, and with my all-new Portuguese Reading Challenge, I will be reading her for months.

    I see The Yellow Sofa over in the “Currently Reading” – that’s one I hope to get to.


    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Yes, I’ve spied your Portuguese Reading Challenge and I’m thinking about joining you for a book or two. Jull Costa is pretty hard to miss if one loves to reading Iberian literature.


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