The Language Challenge

As I am approaching the end of this saga, my first year on American soil, I’m faced with a compulsory reflection about what moves me, what do I want, where do I go from here.

Nothing seemed so hard, thus far, as the challenge of mastering the English language. Which clarifies a couple of issues. First, there is no free lunch; those who wish to immigrate cannot afford to delude themselves. Every step taken was painful, complex, annoying, hard to overcome. However, once I solved each problem, I could forget it. I could follow through, go ahead.

As to my capacity in the new language, let’s put it that way: I needed more time. It was always a critical point in my marriage, putting a pressure on me, humiliating me, making me suffer. I cried. I rebelled. Living in Brazil, I could easily relegate this annoyance to the background. Moreover, my survival did not depend on it. I had the necessary skills to keep control, of the surrounding environment, of our marriage. After all, talking and writing, editing, and even translating was natural, an easy conditioning in which I had grown and surfed almost unaware, with total clearance.

Once in the United States, my reality changed, was aggravated. To most people here speaking English is automatic; to me, every word spoken has been a massive challenge. With the obvious exceptions of “where is the bathroom,” “please,” “thank you,” “the book is on the table” — “the” uttered in a whistle, your tongue moving between the teeth.

It took me some time, while other priorities were imposing themselves. Then reality crashed. With the dollar on the rise against the Brazilian real, my only chance of survival would be inserting myself in the local market, while somehow managing to preserve my previous prestige. In Brazil, I mean. I did not dare to “dream the American dream.”

KBR has been facing the Brazilian crisis with a full schedule and the usual commitment. Knock on wood. Nevertheless, the face value of our contracts has been reduced to less than half, the dark side of a crisis that spares no one. Did you believe it would be enough to leave our ailing country before the downfall?

I received an invitation that seemed positive at first, a right step in the desired direction. I rejoiced: I would publish my stories in a printed magazine, and in English! Success!

My goal has been established, clearly defined. I would become known. Meanwhile, I could position myself as a translator, perhaps even a publisher in a country that, different from Brazil, does not relegate education and culture to the last link in the social chain.

It would not be easy. So many years of training in a foreign language, plus the willingness to face any challenge, come on, was not an “easy” path. My resume included more than 20 titles. I might not have translated them myself, but I had edited them, published, put them on the market. Well done.

At first, I tried to react. I complained, acting as a victim of too many difficult circumstances. But once the cat was out of the bag, there was no way to shove it back inside without a lot of work. And much suffering.

I had heard many times Brazilian authors’ comments on how translations tampered their work. They accepted it. It was “the only way to enter a global market through publishing in the English language.” And a different set of rules, I would add, despite the uniqueness of every work of art. I too suffered, as the most serious issue in this adaptation is not the quality of the translation, but of the original.

Other values, different from our own, guide the notion of literary quality in the English language. Even if I decided to pick local proofreaders, it would involve a careful reevaluation of my career as an author. Lucky for me, I had the will, the resolve to seize the painful opportunity.

While it lasted, it was fun to blame Alan — my favorite character — without whom, I admit, my stories wouldn’t be half the fun; but I could not stand his obvious boredom while editing my writing. As a shrink friend told me, in order to comfort me, “it was so out of fashion a husband bothered by his wife’s success.”

Well. Faced with a massive existential crisis, I was reduced to two alternatives. I could either forever forget what’s essential and makes me happy, or relearn how to write, the hard way. I opted for the second. How far I will go is yet to be seen.

I’m at this point now, discouraged and hopeful. Perhaps I will persist, but I may give up as well. In both scenarios, I will not be spared a fair amount of work, challenges, even a touch of humiliation. The good side is that I managed to go over the peak of this depressive crisis. Other peaks will come.

My productivity may be affected. I might not come up with new stories with the usual regularity. My proverbial wordiness will surely suffer. And while confronting it, I won’t force myself any further.

I may disappear eventually. I’ll be busy reinventing myself.

But I will return. Mark my words.

About the Author
Noga Sklar was born in Tiberias, Israel, in 1952. She grew up in Belo Horizonte and lived for 30 years in Rio de Janeiro, a city she left behind to take refuge in a paradise among the mountains of Petropolis. Noga met her American husband Alan Sklar in 2004, through the American Jewish dating site JDate. This meeting gave new impetus to her life and literary career, inspiring her first novel, “No degrees of separation” (to be published in English in 2016. She now lives in Greenville, SC, US, where she moved with her husband in October 2014.