As you sit in the presence of Brazilian novelist Autran Dourado, you can feel the strength of character, enthusiastic personality and will for clairvoyance that are features pervasive in all his writings. His occasional lack of facility with the English language does nothing to hamper his extroverted ideas and muses, which he wants deeply to convey.

As he passes excitedly from English to his native Portuguese and back to English, it is easy to see why Dourado is such an acclaimed writer. Indeed, it is because of his combination of enthusiasm and sensitivity that many believe him to be the most important contemporary writer alive now in Brazil and one who could easily be classed among other famous South American writers such as Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Born in 1926 in Patos, in the state of Minas Gerais, Dourado studied law and wrote for a Brazilian newspaper before devoting himself to the writing of novels, short stories and essays in 1947. He moved to the capital, Rio de Janeiro, in 1954 and has since won great acclaim in the literary field, garnering eight of Brazil’s most prestigious literary prizes. Opera dos Mortos (Voices of the Dead) was included by Unesco in its collection of representative works of universal literature. Most critics agree that the novel, written in 1967, is his masterpiece. Unfortunately, finding an English translation has not been an easy task.

“That novel is only one of a few that have survived the translation from Portuguese to English,” he says. It is very difficult to maintain the same meanings and structure of words and lines into the English language — but it is not impossible. I am very fortunate to have a very skilled translator [John M. Parker] to do the job and he is very effective.”

Voices of the Dead, which is in its 11th edition in Brazil, has only one edition in English, printed in 1980.

The author’s writing style is comparable to that of many great North American writers, but he readily admits that success on this continent was slow in coming. “I strive for a continuity and density in my narrative,” the writer shares, “which makes it more terse and complex. Because my writing style is more sophisticated, it is not as accessible to most Brazilians like the writings of my compatriot, Jorge Amado.”

“Jorge Amado,” he jokes, “Is a writer who writes in a more popular and simpler style, he is able to sell hundreds of thousands of his books and becomes rich. Whereas myself, I have to settle for less.”

With the sudden surge or interest in Latin American writes, he is extremely pleased with the announcement that Octavio Paz, a Mexican writer, has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this year.

“I have had the pleasure to meet [Octavio Paz] on one occasion and am very familiar with his essays,” he says. “His writing is beautiful and the decision was very just in awarding him the prize. He is not only a good poet but also a great thinker.”

Dourado’s novels have been labeled as “impressionistic” by many critics, and he cites the writings of American writers as especially influential.

“We are very fortunate in Brazil to have the translations of American works and William Faulkner is one that I admire the most. But I think the writings of Black Americans were very important to Brazilians.”

“Ralph Ellison’s work Invisible Man, which I wrote several essays on, was a great success here when it was published in 1952 along with such other notables as James Baldwin and Richard Wright.”

“The social structure of Brazil is very similar, in regards to the different races and our own history of slavery, to that of the United States. It is easy for us to identify with that aspect.”

Asked whether he was familiar with Canadian writing, he gives an apologetic smile and replies, “No.”

Despite his problems with English, Dourado’s wit and intelligence are always clearly in evidence. His presence in Toronto this week for the author’s festival should give Brazilian writing the profile boost it has long deserved.