Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

The glorious fragrance of fresh literary works, hot off the presses from around the world.

It seems that national literatures around the world are shaping their next representatives as we receive further updates of new works by authors from around the globe. From publications by a Guatemalan indie press, to a remarkably young award honouree in Brazil, to a historic list of nominations for the most prestigious literary prizes in Japan, our editors are bringing you a glimpse of what is in yourand your bookshelf’sfuture. 

José García Escobar, Editor-at Large, reporting from Central America 

The biggest book fair in Central America, the Feria Internacional del Libro en Guatemala (FILGUA) is only a few weeks away. And like every year, on the days leading to FILGUA, the Guatemalan indie press Catafixia has been announcing its newest drafts. Mid-July, Catafixia will put out books by Manuel Orestes Nieto (Panama), Jacinta Escudos (El Salvador), and Gonçalo M. Tavares (Angola-Portugal). 

Additionally, this year’s FILGUA marks the tenth anniversary of Catafixia, which has helped launch the careers of poets like Vania Vargas and Julio Serrano Echeverría.

Last month, Costa Rican press los tres editores put out Trayéndolo todo de regreso a casa by Argentine author Patricio Pron, who won the Alfaguara Prize in 2019. los tres editores have previously published books by Luis Chavez, Mauro Libertella, and Valeria Luiselli. 

Finally, one of Central America’s most fierce and beloved news outlets, El Faro (El Salvador), with the help of El País (Spain), has recently put out the first piece on a series of three stories meant to document and show the many crossing points between Mexico and Central America. In the first chapter, El Caribe turbio, author Jacobo García writes about coastline that binds Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. 

Daniel Persia, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil 

Winter may have officially started in Brazil last Friday, but things are still heating up in the literary scene. Nineteen-year-old student João Gabriel Paulsen took home one of this year’s Prêmio Sesc de Literatura awards for his book of short stories, O doce e o amargo (The Sweet and the Bitter). The collection, which explores generational tensions and rites of passage, will be published by Record this November. Professor Felipe Holloway took the parallel prize in the novel category with O legado de nossa miséria (The Legacy of Our Misery), the story of a literary critic who meets an admired writer in a fictitious town in Minas Gerais. The Prêmio Sesc de Literatura began in 2003 and aims to draw attention to new and emerging voices worthy of circulation at the national level. Both Paulsen and Holloway will participate in Sesc’s programming at this year’s FLIP in Paraty, set to take place from July 10-14. This year’s competition was particularly tight, with 1,969 entries: 1,043 novels and 926 collections of short stories. Parabéns to both winners!

Returning to Sesc Pompeia in São Paulo this week was Lá na Laje, a reading club that seeks to promote “literary discussion beyond the printed book.” This cycle’s theme: “Resistência, substantivo feminino” (Resistance, a feminine noun). Discussions are set to focus on Black and indigenous writers, both in Brazil and abroad. The opening session, which was held this past Wednesday, June 26, welcomed Brazilian writers Cidinha da Silva and Eliana Alves Cruz on the topic of “Artificial Paradises.” The circuit plans to address themes such as dictatorship, violence, religion, ancestry, and the LGBTQ+ community from the female perspective. Confirmed writers include Mirta Portillo (Cuba), Porsha Olayiwola (United States), and Igiaba Scego (Italy), among others

Those looking for a more immediate read might want to check out The Sun on My Head by Geovani Martins, hot off the press from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Take a look at Asymptote’s review, or this brilliant essay by the book’s smart and savvy translator Julia Sanches. This is one you don’t want to miss!  

Xiao Yue Shan, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting from Japan

June is despairingly known in Japan as tsuyu, or rainy season—low skies colliding with concrete, damp hems of sleeves, and umbrellas occasionally meeting one another in a multi-coloured tide cascading down the still-avid streets. It is also, on a brighter note, the month in which nominees for both the prestigious Akutagawa and Naoki Literary Awards have been announced. Undoubtedly the most sought-after literary prizes in Japan, with some of the most infamous names in Japanese literature (such as Kenzaburō Ōe, Yoko Ōgawa, and Ryū Murakami) being previous honourees, the two awards are given in partnership, honouring both established and young/rising authors. Winners of the awards will be announced on July 17.

In an unprecedented victory for women in a male-dominated field (as most fields in Japan are), all six of the nominees for the esteemed Naoki Literary Award are women. Included on the list is 窪美澄 Kubo Misumi’s トリニティ (Trinity), which focuses on the subjects of childbirth, infertility, and motherhood by way of three women living from the Showa era to the Heisei era, periods which witnessed an increasing awareness of gender equality while remaining fully rooted in traditional concepts of family, duty, and honour. In a contemporary Japan that is facing a population crisis of falling birth rates, the supposedly personal choice of whether or not to become a mother has become a dominant topic of conversation in the public realm. To be a woman is to have always been criticized externally as to what one’s life should be; this novel is for those who, instead, wade through the straits of self-discovery in attempts to find what is most valuable to them.

I especially noted, amongst the nominees for the 161st Akutagawa Award, Taiwanese-Japanese writer and translator 李琴峰 Lee Yufeng, who is nominated for her sensual and powerful novel, 五つ数えれば三日月が (Count to Five for the Crescent Moon), about two women who come together again after a period of separation. One is Taiwanese, gay, and had moved to Japan to pursue her career. The other is Japanese, straight, and living in Taiwan after having gotten married. The work is a complex mediation on identity—in nationality, in language, in sexuality, in femininity—set against the final summer of the Heisei era. With Taiwan’s recent legalization of same-sex marriage on May 24 (becoming the first Asian country to do so), the basis of this novel is a pertinent and intuitive exploration of our time, and the conflux of global momentum towards a multiple and unenclosed future.

The good news for readers around the world is that foreign presses often hurry to make works nominated for these two awards available in other languages. It is my hope that the winners will come to represent a contemporary body of Japanese literature that urges for further consideration of a nation and a world that is not dominated by singular voices or identities, and that these works by women writers do not become compartmentalized in the category of female literature, but may instead speak boldly as literature of witness for human experience.


Read more dispatches on the Asymptote blog: