In March 2021 we discussed Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida’s book, That Hair (Tin House), translated from Portuguese. The translator, Eric M. B. Becker, joined us for our discussion, on Zoom.
About the book
“The story of my curly hair,” says Mila, the narrator of Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida’s autobiographically inspired tragicomedy, “intersects with the story of at least two countries and, by extension, the indirect story of the relations among several continents: a geopolitics.” Mila is the Luanda-born daughter of a black Angolan mother and a white Portuguese father. She arrives in Lisbon at the tender age of three, and feels like an outsider from the jump. Through the lens of young Mila’s indomitably curly hair, her story interweaves memories of childhood and adolescence, family lore spanning four generations, and present-day reflections on the internal and external tensions of a European and African identity. In layered, intricately constructed prose, That Hair enriches and deepens a global conversation, challenging in necessary ways our understanding of racism, feminism, and the double inheritance of colonialism, not yet fifty years removed from Angola’s independence. It’s the story of coming of age as a black woman in a nation at the edge of Europe that is also rapidly changing, of being considered an outsider in one’s own country, and the impossibility of “returning” to a homeland one doesn’t in fact know.
Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida is the author of five books: the novels That Hair, A visão das plantas, and Luanda, Lisboa, Paraíso, as well as Ajudar a cair, a portrait of a community of people with cerebral palsy, and Pintado com o pé, a collection of essays. Her writing has appeared in Blog da Companhia das Letras, Common Knowledge, Granta.com, Granta Portugal, Ler, Revista Pessoa, Quatro Cinco Um, Revista serrote, Words Without Borders, Revista ZUM, and elsewhere.
Eric M. B. Becker is editor of Words without Borders and a literary translator. He has received fellowships and residencies from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulbright Commission, PEN America, and the Louis Armstrong House Museum, and has translated several books by Portuguese-language writers Oceanos Prize-winner Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida and Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award-winner Fernanda Torres. In 2019, his translation of Mia Couto's Rain and Other Stories earned honorable mention from the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize. He has translated short work by numerous writers across the Lusophone world, including 2016 Nobel Prize nominee and Camões Prize-winner Lygia Fagundes Telles, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and Cabo Verdean Camões Prize-winner Arménio Vieira. He is a cofounder of the transatlantic Pessoa Festival. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Freeman's, and other publications. After a stint in Rio de Janeiro, he now lives in New York.