Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to France, Brazil, and Argentina.

It’s never a slow news day on Fridays at Asymptote. This week we bring you the latest publications, events, and news from France, Brazil, and Argentina.

Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large, reporting from France

Is it perhaps time to talk about a renaissance for French literature in English translation? More classic French literature has always had an audience in the English-speaking world, but in the past few months new authors are taking the literary world by storm. Édouard Louis is only twenty-five but already a public figure in France. His latest book, a semi-autobiographical work, History of Violence (translated by Lorin Stein) was published to great acclaim in late June. Alison L. Strayer translated for Seven Stories Press Annie Ernaux’s The Years (published in the UK by Fitzcarraldo Editions), an innovative collective autobiography that is both memoir and social critique of our times. To continue the trend, in June came also the publication of Gaël Faye Small Country (translated by Sarah Ardizzone), a coming-of-age story that tackles hard issues, including the Rwandan genocide and Civil War in Burundi. The Guardian went so far as to call Faye “the next Elena Ferrante.”

If the English-speaking world is finally discovering new French voices, France itself is always ready to award international literature. In this vein the Jan Michalski Prize bestows its prize to the best international book, regardless of genre or language. In this year’s longlist, selected by an international jury made up of mostly translators, include some well-known names. Starting with France’s own Virginie Despentes for Vernon Subutex, Maggie Nelson for The Argonauts, to Olga Tokarczuk’s The Book of Jacob (to be published by Fitzcarraldo in 2019, translated by Jennifer Croft) and even Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young.

Another very French tradition is the involvement of high school students in deciding a number of literary prizes. France’s biggest literary prize, the Goncourt, is preceded in the Fall by the Goncourt des Lycéens. In the Summer, it is Folio (an imprint of publishing powerhouse Gallimard) that invites high school students to select their favorite contemporary novel, usually within the literary fiction genre. This year’s list includes a memoir by the above-mentioned Annie Ernaux, an investigation on the death of Vincent van Gogh, and a coming of age story set in the island of Mayotte.

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil:

The world’s gaze turns toward Brazil this summer, and not just because of their team’s performance in the 2018 World Cup. There’s a lot more to follow than soccer memes: June and July in Brazil feature international book festivals and literary news of national interest.

Foreign guests Juan Pablo Villalobos (Mexico) and Gonçalo Tavares (Angola) joined a lineup of prominent Brazilian authors from June 27 – July 1 for the Axará Literary Festival (Flixará) in Minas Gerais. With a theme of “soul, reading, revolution,” the festival coincided with the 110-year birthdate of author João Guimarães Rosa and the eighty-year anniversary of one of Brazil’s most famous novels, Graciliano Ramos’s Vidas Secas (Barren Lives).

June also saw some smaller-scale news and events: Olympio, a new literary magazine of Brazilian and Portuguese fiction, launched in Lisbon on June 7. This publication burst onto the literary scene promising fiction, essays, interviews, photography, and translation. The first issue did not disappoint, with original contributions from J.M. Coetzee and an interview with Silviano Santiago. Plus, the 5th Odyssey of Fantastic Literature took place in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre from June 8-10. More than fifty authors flocked to the city to celebrate and discuss this singular literary genre.

But as far as events go, Brazil’s heavy-hitters are soon to come: the 16th annual Paraty International Literary Festival (Flip) will take place at the end of this month. This year, authors including Colson Whitehead, Leïla Slimani, Alain Mabanckou, Sérgio Sant’anna, and Djamila Ribeiro will fill the tropical historic town of Paraty with their words from July 25 – 29. Interested in making the trip? Find everything you need to know here. Further on the horizon is São Paulo’s Book Biennale, which will be held at the Pavilhão do Anhembi from August 3 – 12. According to the organizers, it is the “moment to promote Brazilian publishing in the global market.”

In sum: it’s hard to look away from Brazil this summer, whether on the soccer field or the bookshelf. Time to grab a beer and crack open a cover.

Sarah Moses, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Argentina: 

The Buenos Aires Literary Translator Club runs a blog and holds monthly events related to all things literary translation. On June 21, Peruvian poet and professor of linguistics, Mario Montalbetti, gave a talk at the Goethe-Institut on the possibility of translating verse. Montalbetti discussed Alain Badiou’s idea that what is vital to a poem is the silence around which it is built—something that can be reconstructed in another language, even if elements like rhythm and sound are lost.

Later on in the month, the Goethe-Institut hosted another event related to translation, this time of works of philosophy. The focus was on German philosopher Theodor Adorno, and two of his translators into Spanish looked at whether a dialog can be established with an author’s previous translators and if so, what this looks like during the process of recreating a work of philosophy in another language.

The event was held to celebrate the first Argentine edition of Adorno’s Ontología y dialéctica (Ontology and dialectics), which was translated by Mariana Dimópulos. The work was published by Eterna Cadencia, an independent bookstore and press that has become a Buenos Aires institution since opening its doors just over ten years ago. The publishing arm is recognized both for its non-fiction catalogue, which includes literary theory and criticism, in addition to philosophy, as well as for focusing on innovative, singular voices in fiction.

Contemporary authors who exemplify Eterna Cadencia’s catalogue are beginning to appear in English translation. Federico Falco and Vera Giaconi’s stories have been published in Granta and Palabras Errantes, respectively, while Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s Slum Virgin and Jorge Consiglio’s Southerly are available from Charco Press.


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