Many years ago, when I was trying to understand my Azorean identity, I came upon Adelaide Freitas. I had walked into Livraria Gil, an old bookstore in Ponta Delgada, like a detective following a lead, searching for books that could help me understand the meaning of my hyphenated Canadian-Azorean self, when a book title caught my eye from the shelf: Nas Duas Margens: da Literatura Norte-Americana e Açoriana (2008). The book was a collection of essays, some even written in English, that talked about those themes of belonging and identity that had plagued my mind for years.
When I returned to Toronto, I found much to digest and learn from Saudade: Language as Survival; Islands: Dream and Reality – Historiographic Metafiction in Azorean Literature; Os Açorianos em Moby Dick, each illuminating a shard of truth in a prism made up of essays that linked North American diaspora writers to writers in the Azores. The collection of essays was like a mosaic of azulejos piecing together themes and ideas that made me identify with the book’s title which I would translate as From the Two Shores: of North American and Azorean Literature. I have gone back from time to time to read parts of the book, always finding a new perspective and meaning to my questions of identity.
A few years ago, serendipity brought me to meet the American translator Katharine Baker, who was working on a translation of a novel by Adelaide Freitas. After she learned that I had been born in the Azores, that my father’s family hailed from Achada, a town next to Adelaide’s birthplace, Achadinha, Katharine invited me to participate in the final drafts of her translation.
And so it is that I started my reading of Sorriso por Dentro da Noite (2004), written in an exquisitely beautiful lyrical prose that challenges the translator to the point of despair. How to capture Adelaide’s style and give justice to her words; this has been the great challenge. It is my hope that one day the novel will be available in English so that readers will be able to know this tender and sorrowful story of immigration. The protagonist, Xana, will break anyone’s heart, but especially those of us who, as children experienced loss of family through immigration.
Adelaide Freitas had gone silent years ago through the devastation of illness. Her husband, Vamberto Freitas, himself a man of letters and important literary critic in the Portuguese diaspora, with enduring love and faithfulness kept her by his side, even writing about her, but above all loving her with steadfastness. In one of his blog posts he wrote how in the middle of a sleepless night, with her resting in the next room, he would take her books from the shelf and read her words to himself when he could no longer her the voice of his beloved wife. Such is the tenderness and power of language and words that transcend physicality and allowed him to bring Adelaide to the present.
The Azorean community learned of her recent death, on June 6, 2018, and there are many who now mourn the loss of this intelligent mind who wrote so eloquently about us, those of us on the margins of culture, place and sense of belonging, using literature as a vehicle to create understanding and give meaning to our collective experience.
I, too, mourn for someone I have known only through words, but they are just as alive and meaningful for me today as they were the day I first read Adelaide Freitas.
Also posted on Comunidades