Obituary: Giovanni Pontiero

Giovanni Pontiero was the ablest translator of 20th-century literature in Portuguese and one of its most ardent advocates.

He will be identified with two writers above all (though he was responsible for the first English versions of many others): the idiosyncratic Ukrainian- born Brazilian Clarice Lispector, six of whose novels he translated, as well as a number of her shorter pieces, and of whom he had planned to begin a literary biography this year; and, more recently, the celebrated Por- tuguese writer Jose Saramago. He produced English versions of five novels by him, and the libretto of an opera based on his English text of Balthasar and Blimunda. His versions of Saramago brought him the Independent Foreign Fiction Award in 1993, the American Trans- lators' Award in 1994, and the Portuguese government's Teixeira-Gomes Translations Award, besides a nomination for the prestigious Aristeion Award of the EC.

Born in Glasgow in 1932 to parents of Italian immigrant stock, Pontiero spent some time as a seminarist at the Gregorian in Rome before going up to Glasgow University in the late 1950s to read Italian, Spanish, and Latin-American studies under Professor W.C. Atkinson.

Immediately on graduating in 1960 he set out for Brazil, a decision which was to shape his academic and personal life. The same year he was appointed Head of English Studies at the University of Paraiba, and the two years he spent working there, and also as Director of Studies at the English Cultural Institute in Joao Pessoa, gave him a taste for cosmopolitan culture of which he was to invent a strain that was all his own.

He returned to Britain in 1962 to take up a newly created post at Manchester University as Assistant Lecturer (later to be promoted Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and, in 1986, Reader) in Latin-American Studies. Apart from a spell of four years at Liverpool University and two tours of duty as Visiting Lecturer in Vermont, he was to spend the rest of his life in Manchester, retiring because of ill-health only in June last year.

Pontiero wrote a number of monographs, most notably (in homage to his own origins and his lifelong love of opera and theatre) his scholarly Eleanore Duse: In Life and Art (1986). He also edited Spanish and Portuguese texts for university presses and commercial publishers, providing informed introductions to the work of, among others, Carlos Nejar, Florencio Sanchez, Drummond de Andrade, and Manuel Bandeira (on whom he also produced a major monograph). His edition of Garcia Marquez's El coronel no tiene quien le escriba continues to be many a sixth-former's first taste of the literature of Latin America.

He also did much of the staff work which characterises the professional life of the university academic, helping out as external examiner both in the UK and abroad, producing anthologies of contemporary writing, compiling entries for encyclopaedias, acting as literary consultant and reader for several British and American publishing houses and, in the mid-1960s (when specialists in what has become a huge growth area were still few), writing the Spanish-American and Brazilian sections of The Years' Work in Modern Language Studies.

But it is as a teacher and as a translator that he will be best remembered. His ability to inspire a love of his subject in undergraduate students and his many unsung acts of kindness did much to foster a warm family atmosphere in his university department, and his hospitality at his home in Didsbury was legendary. "My tastes are simple," he would say, "Nothing but the best."

Pontiero fell ill at the height of his powers as a translator and at a time when the international recognition that was his due was finally coming his way. Despite his debilitating illness, he managed to complete his versions of two of Saramago's works, The Siege of Lisbon and An Essay on Blindness, both of which will be published posthumously.

Nigel Griffin

Giovanni Pontiero, scholar and translator: born Glasgow 10 February 1932; died Manchester 10 February 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own