Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Central America, France, and Peru—our writers bring you this week's latest news from around the globe.

This week, our reporters bring you news of the release of unpublished Proust short stories in France, literary award winners in Guatemala and Panama, and the Lima International Book Fair in Peru.

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

It’s award season in Central America!

In early October, the committee of the Miguel Angel Asturias National Prize in Literature (Guatemala) announced that this year’s winner was the poet, fiction writer, critic, and translator Luis Eduardo Rivera. Luis began his career in the seventies, alongside other great Guatemalan writers like Marco Antonio Flores, Ana María Rodas, and Luis de Lión. He’s the author of close to twenty books, and he currently lives in France where he teaches Spanish and Literature. Famed writer Eduardo Halfon received this prize last year.

Guatemalan readers and book lovers also saw the opening of a new bookstore called Kitapenas Books & Bistro, and Editorial Catafixia, one of Central America’s most important indie presses, celebrated its tenth anniversary a few days ago. Catafixia has published the likes of Vania Vargas, Wingston González, Sabino Esteban, Jacinta Escudos, and Alfredo Trejos.

And moving from one side of the isthmus to the other, Pedro Crenes Castro’s “Crónicas del solar” just won Panama’s Ricardo Miró National Prize in Literature. This is the second time Crenes Castro has won this award—the first time he did so with his book Cómo ser Charles Atlas.

Barbara Halla, Assistant Editor, reporting from France

On October 8, Éditions de Fallois released nine previously unpublished short stories by Marcel Proust under the title Le Mystérieux Correspondant (The Mysterious Correspondent). The stories were all written during Proust’s youth and he consciously chose to omit them from his first collection of short stories and prose poems, The Pleasure and the Days (translated by Andrew Brown). According to French literature professor and Proust expert, Luc Fraisse, these stories “allow us to better understand who Proust was in his twenties” and how his writing style began and evolved over the years. In fact, although written years earlier, these stories still focus on themes that Proust would go on to explore later in life too, such as music, death, memory, and his ambivalent relationship to his sexuality.

2019 also marks the centenary of Proust’s Goncourt win for his Within a Budding Grove (translated by C. K. Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin), the second volume of his magnum opus. Goncourt is France’s most renowned literary prize, and currently nine authors are in the running for this year’s edition, a list culled down from a first selection of fifteen. The centenary of Proust’s 2019 will be celebrated on October 27 in Cabourg where this short list will be further shortened to only four contenders, with the winner being announced on November 5. But this announcement will only be one of various celebrations to be held in Cabourg over the weekend, a city that inspired Proust’s now famous Balbec. At the Grand Hôtel de Cabourg, where Proust spent many of his holidays, academics and literary figures will host talks discussing Proust’s oeuvre and visitors will get a chance to visit an exposition dedicated to the history of the Goncourt prize and even listen to concerts and music inspired by the music of the Belle Époque.

Paloma Reaño Hurtado, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Peru

Whilst Peruvian cultural industries are in a sustained phase of growth and development, they are also a mirror of the delicate socio-political context. The 24th edition of the Lima International Book Fair (FIL), the most important literary event of the year (July 19—August 4), was an example of this.

Among the main news of this event was that not a single woman was invited to the presentation gala, in which the highest positions of local politics and culture rub shoulders. It was alleged that this ‘slip’ was because invitations are extended based on relevance of position rather than person. However, the Director of the National Library and the Minister of Education, who also happen to be women, were not invited. This notable mistake overshadowed the unprecedented fact that the list of guest writers had a female majority. Undoubtedly, making the work of women visible in high spheres of power is directly related to the social change that the country—soon to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of its independence—needs. More than one hundred femicides have been reported so far this year: an important sign in a conservative country where machismo is deeply rooted. The literary scene is at a sensitive point that can define its hatching or stagnation. The FIL continues to beat its records for sales and attendance, but the instability of policies underpinning the industry leaves much to be desired.

At the same time, the FIL served as a stage for the president of the republic and the minister of culture to commit to a new book law. This law includes—in addition to tax exemptions—tax refunds to small businesses and the implementation of an investment in public libraries. The repeated postponement has led to a recurring (bad) habit of granting yet another one year extension, pending a decisive long-term solution.

Tax-free books is an issue that been historically overcome in more than sixty countries, and is a vital stimulus for the publishing industry, as well as part of a set of cultural policies that ultimately support the promotion and democratization of reading.

The commitment of the Peruvian high politicians was a relief for the book industry agents since, less than two months after the deadline to pass it, the new law was still waiting for its review by Congress. However, the debate was soon immersed in a new wave of political instability: on Monday, September 30, the president closed the Congress saying that only then could he “end this stage of political entrapment that has prevented Peru from growing to the rhythm of its possibilities”.

After a long political crisis due to corruption, Peru was then plunged into an institutional crisis. Just one day before expiration, the deadline to extend tax benefits to the publishing sector was extended through an emergency decree. Accustomed to temporary solutions, the editorial union were at least relieved for one further year of tax-breaks, and expects a new congress next year to finally inaugurate the new book law.


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