Peter Lownds Explains How and Why he Translated the Brazilian Novel Never-Ending Youth

My friends, my readers, comrades: in a week when I would have every reason to write the saddest verses (as, by the way, has been the experience of all democrats in Brazil under the current fascist government), here I receive the news of Peter Lownds’ interview with Eric A. Gordon, in People’s World.

Let me clarify right away: the translator Peter Lownds is a writer, poet, actor (he worked in Kramer versus Kramer, for example), a youthful friend of Jack Kerouac. And a thoroughly likable person, even from me. Eric A. Gordon is a writer, editor, militant, and comrade, translator of nine books of fiction by Alvaro Cunhal, who published novels under the pseudonym Manuel Tiago. And as if such references were not enough, Eric A. Gordon was the person who made it possible for my novel to be published at International Publishers.

In his interview with Peter Lownds, I cut out the passages that speak directly about “Never-Ending Youth”. Below.


International Publishers has just released Never-Ending Youth, a recent novel by Northeast Brazilian writer Urariano Mota, in Peter Lownds’s translation. People’s World sat down with him to explore how and why he got involved with this project.

Peter: Urariano Mota writes about in Never-Ending Youth. One of the things that attracts me to the novel is that the author talks about his roots, the loss of his mother when he was five, his drinking, his mixed-blood ancestry, his hanging on to a humiliating job for the sake of penurious comrades who depended on him for food and shelter. Urariano, like many people from Northeast Brazil, is a fascinating mixture of tough and tender. It permeates his prose. The hunger, the hard times, but above all, the acceptance of other people’s quirks and passions as the expression of their humanity, particularly under pressure. Camaradagem—comradeship—went beyond party loyalty politics in strife-torn Pernambuco during the years of undeclared but real civil war and clandestine struggle that Urariano writes about. Nowhere was this more evident than in the mocambos, the shantytowns surrounding Recife and Olinda. That was my introduction to the violence of everyday life in Brazil.

People who buy Never-Ending Youth will get a notion of the serendipity of our collaboration in your prefatory essay in your capacity as my People’s World editor, and as the copy editor for this book, and also from José Carlos Ruy’s essay and my foreword. The author, Urariano Mota, sent me a PDF of his 2017 novel at a point when worldwide COVID-19 “sheltering” had gone into effect and vaccines were still unavailable. It was almost 300 pages long and I thought to myself, “This will be a good way to while away the hours”.

But there was another, even stronger pull—the world he was describing was one that I remembered and cared about. My Peace Corps tour of duty in Recife and Olinda ended in 1968, and I went back to visit in 1969, the year the novel begins with the meeting of two friends in front of a Recife landmark I had patronized, the São Luis Cinema, especially at 8 a.m. on Saturdays when New Wave French and Italian films were shown. As it turned out, so had Urariano. That was just one of a series of circumstances that drew me to Never-Ending Youth. Others were the fact that the author was an older man looking back at his life, a poet and jazz fan who had had a traumatic childhood. All these things we shared despite the fact we had never met nor heard of each other. You see what I mean by serendipity.

I have not yet met Urariano. We’ve never spoken on the phone or even Skyped. We keep in touch by email. I sent him chapters of my work-in-progress and he seemed generally pleased with them. A translator’s job varies from book to book. With Never-Ending Youth, I actually learned a lot from you, Eric, as you copy-edited various proofs of the book.

Eric: I was glad to help you, and International Publishers, on this book. By the way, just to be clear, I also ask for help with my work. It’s always good to get other sets of eyes on your work to make it stronger.

Peter: Urariano’s characters are fledgling Communists. They are members of student groups who meet and form clandestine cells where they’re indoctrinated with mimeographed summaries of the theories of Marx, Lenin, and Mao Tse-Tung. Some of them have been or are in danger of being “outed” as urban terrorists. This is the case with the narrator’s new friend Luiz do Carmo and another militant, Vargas, who has a pregnant wife and appears resigned to martyrdom for the cause. He runs afoul of a notorious double-agent and eventually succumbs to the witch hunt. The same is true of Soledad Barrett, a Paraguayan beauty from a long line of anarchists who trains with Fidel and Che in the Sierra Maestra and comes to Recife to meet her gruesome fate. The novel is full of uproar and incident. Young people fall in and out of love, obsess about sex, realize they are dreamers without weapons or a cogent ideology and go about their lives. They get depressed, hunger for food and recognition, go to films, read books, argue about music and write poetry. I met such people in Recife.

Eric: It sounds so similar to my own experiences in the student anti-war, anti-draft movement in the U.S. at the same time, under Nixon. Believe me, I recognized myself and my own circle of comrades and friends in the inexperience and confusion, and the ideological drift of those years.

Peter: The same things were happening in a lot of places around the world then. In 1969-70, I taught at the American School of Rio, and things had changed. No one outside the American community would talk to me because I had the all the bona fides of a CIA operative—“pale, male and Yale!” Translating Never-Ending Youth has provided the chance to meet and engage with my revolutionary counterparts all these years laterI have relished the experience, more than I can really express in words. I trust the book’s readers will too, and many for their own subjective reasons.

Eric: Thank you, Peter. I believe readers will have a much better idea of what to expect when they wrap their hands around this new release from International Publishers.

Order Never-Ending Youth from International Publishers.

Uriarano Moto is author of the novel “Never-Ending Youth.”