Where Theater Starts and Reality Ends: A Review of Fernanda Torres’s Glory and Its Litany of Horrors

When does fiction stop and reality begin? What is theater’s role in the production and perception of reality?

Glory and Its Litany of Horrors, by Fernanda Torres, translated from the Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker, Restless Books, 2019

“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.”
William Shakespeare, King Lear

You just sat down, opened up your internet browser—Chrome, because any other browser is just subpar—went to asymptotejournal.com, and finally stumbled across this review of Glory and Its Litany of Horrors by Fernanda Torres. Before reading, you had decided to go for a run, five miles through the woods behind your house that looked similar to the Brazilian backlands. As you ran, you saw a group of soldiers dressed in camouflage about to fire at each other. Without knowing it, you were running through a paintball match; but, thinking it was real, you hit the deck and waited to see what fate would bring you, allowing you to identify with Mario as he struggles through the theater, his acting career, and own reality.

For some of you, this story could be completely true—all details being events that may have occurred throughout your day; for some, bits and pieces were true, while for others, only the act of reading this review is true. These levels of the “you” in reality and the fictional “you” in the above story are the same levels that exist throughout Mario Cardoso’s life in Torres’s work. Published by Restless Books in 2019 (originally published in 2017), Eric M. B. Becker renders Torres’s blurred lines of the protagonist’s fiction and reality (narrated in the first person) in a prose that flows like the action and lines of a play, drawing the reader even further into the scene.

Mario Cardoso spent much of his youth trying to break into show business after leaving his architecture studies behind to take part in theater engaged in activism in os sertões, the Brazilian backlands. In the play, the local population participates by playing themselves and the troupe participates by playing the landowners in an exercise in fighting for rights. The play turns violent as the real workers, unable to separate reality from fiction, physically harm their fictional landowners. Despite the fictional work turning into physical pain, Mario continues his slow rise to fame, eventually becoming a soap opera star. The on-scene sex, drugs, and drama also manifest in reality, causing a middle-aged Mario to begin questioning his association with his art. This self-questioning drives him to propose an intellectual production of Shakespeare’s King Lear to various cultural organizations, returning him to the higher arts.

Once again, fiction and reality blur as the production begins losing money, Mario’s mother falls ill, and King Lear’s madness becomes fully embodied on stage when Mario enters and cannot stop his mad laughter. Fleeing back to his family, he begins a new role as his senile mother’s husband who died long before. Not only does he become husband-son, but he also becomes responsible for the money embezzled by the cultural organization, which surfaces once it cannot be hidden behind other costs in the final days of the production of King Lear. Mario, like the dying King, feels as if he cannot bear any more. Reflecting on his past and the manifestations of fiction within his reality, Mario desperately accepts a position on an evangelical program to pay back the debt accrued from King Lear. In an interesting reversal, he then evokes reality in fiction, showing the reflection of society as it appears in a translated play, Macbeth.

Torres’s experience as an actress takes center stage in her prose as sentences and action flow seamlessly, carrying the reader along on the edge of their seat. Translated skillfully into English, Becker replicates this movement by stringing events together with commas and introducing some Portuguese style into the English.

Foi um instante—sopra, vento, eu uivei em meio à tempestade, apesar da rouquidão que me perseguia desde a estreia; o elenco agitando os trovões de lata, a ideia imbecil do gênio do diretor que pretendia ser maior que Shakespeare.

This first sentence of the piece demonstrates the flow of the Portuguese—phrases, thoughts, and words strung together with commas, semicolons, and prepositions, elongating the phrase and guiding the reader through the action. In English, Becker writes it as:

One moment was all it took—Blow, winds, I howled amid the storm despite the hoarseness that had dogged me since opening night; the cast shook their metal thunder sheets, the inane idea of the genius director with ambitions of outshining even Shakespeare.

The English recreates the flow and words quite literally from the Portuguese, maintaining the theatrical prose of the original. Becker’s translation even furthers the attachment of the text to the theater, italicizing “blow” and “winds” to show their functions as elements happening on stage in the scene.

The above quote also shows the overlap of fiction and reality—one of the larger themes and questions of the piece, as mentioned above—as the stage directions and effects of the fictional setting interact with the mise-en-scène of the protagonist’s reality and interaction within that fictional space. When does fiction stop and reality begin? What is theater’s role in the production and perception of reality? Mario questions this throughout his work, beginning his career working in a type of activist theater, role-playing the revolt of the lower class against the upper class amongst people in a rural setting:

You fill us with ideas, he began, offended, but when the hour of need arrives, you don’t want to dirty your pretty little hands. If no one here is man enough, I am, he proclaimed with a scowl, and he stormed outside, trailed by Araújo and the rest.

Theater, thus, becomes a vehicle to communicate ideas based in reality. Yet, the quote identifies a gap between fiction and reality. Just prior to the quote, viewers of the spectacle cannot separate the two, beating the actors due to the realness of the scenes to the laborers. Danger, however, becomes the dividing line for the actors who often have the opposite issue, casting their fictional representations onto reality rather than reality onto fiction.

Eric M. B. Becker’s translation wonderfully represents the Brazilian text, engaging with Brazilian culture, discourse, and history in English. Not only does the flowing prose come to the fore in both the Portuguese and the English, but the translation also forcibly engages with the translation of Shakespeare. The quintessential Anglophone playwright’s fictions extend beyond Elizabethan England to the contemporary Brazilian moment, blurring the lines between the translation and the original work of both Torres and Shakespeare. Similar to Pierre Menard’s literal translation of Don Quijote, are we reading pieces of King Lear in the original or a literal translation, which reflects a different temporal and spatial moment?

You’ve just finished reading the review of Fernanda Torres’s exceptional new work. Overly eager to read a contemporary take on Shakespeare and jump into Mario’s complicated relationship with actresses, people, and the theater in general, you begin searching for a copy of the book. Until your copy arrives, you return to your everyday reality and wait for your next immersion into the fictional world.

Clayton McKee is a scholar, writer, and translator currently living in Los Angeles, California. His PhD research at UCLA in the Department of Comparative Literature focuses on the translation of gender and sexuality identities across linguistic and cultural boundaries. He works in Arabic, French, Provençal, and Spanish, and he’s currently learning Hindi and Urdu. He has published various translations with Trafika Europe and is negotiating contracts for his first book-length translation.


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