Foreword: The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists

Roberto Feith & Marcelo Ferroni

Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor

 

This is the first edition of Granta dedicated to Brazilian writing. It is being published in the English language at a time when Brazil has attracted global interest on a variety of fronts: the surging economy, sports and culture. Brazil will host the next World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, and Brazilian music is as vibrant today as when bossa nova swept the world in the 1950s. Yet, when one considers literature, what is written and read in Brazil at this moment is still largely unknown outside the country. The lack of will to translate the work of our best new writers is beginning to change, and we hope that this issue will speed that momentum along.

The work of the twenty young Brazilian writers selected as the Best of Young Brazilian Novelists is deeply rooted in their experience and culture, even if it may not be reflected in the manner expected. The stories here do not convey an image of an idealized, tropical nation.

This is a generation less interested than those that have preceded it in the question of a Brazilian identity. For many years this identity was often defined through a return to the land or to the ‘authentic’ Brazil, where the search for cultural origins could be made outside the corrupting influences of the world at large. Young Brazilian writers are not especially concerned with parsing what derives from within and what comes from outside. Sons and daughters of a nation that is more prosperous and open, they are citizens of the world, as well as Brazilians.

Many of the pieces are set in cities and take place outside easily identifiable Brazilian settings. Laura Erber’s main character travels to a remote part of Romania searching for the works of a dead artist. Ricardo Lísias describes a chess player’s descent into madness, over the course of repeated (and progressively more farcical) international trips. Leandro Sarmatz writes about an actor trying to escape Nazism in Germany.

These young writers are also less interested in explicitly political issues such as inequality and ideology, which permeated much of the writing of their parents’ generation. They experienced the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–85) through the lives and stories of their elders. Born after 1973, they were very young during the struggle for freedom that consumed Brazilian society in the early eighties. Their work is a reflection of the political and economic developments of later decades.

Still, the dictatorships that shaped the history of South America are present in these stories as an indirect consequence of the oppression in neighbouring countries. The families of four of the twenty selected authors left their native land and emigrated to Brazil in the seventies, exiles from repressive regimes.

Carola Saavedra was born in Chile in 1973, the year of the military coup, and her father, an engineer specializing in hydroelectric power plants, moved to Brazil in 1976, attracted by the so-called ‘economic miracle’ of the seventies. Javier Arancibia Contreras was born in Salvador, Bahia, but is the only Brazilian-born son of a Chilean family of five brothers. As in the case of Saavedra, his parents moved to Brazil after Pinochet took power in Chile.

Julián Fuks is the son of Argentinians who fled the dictatorship in 1977, and his story of a family dinner at which one of the guests, a retired army officer, becomes the focus of tension, is largely based on personal experiences – an encounter his parents had with a member of the Argentinian military government during a family wedding in the 1990s.

It’s the same story with Miguel Del Castillo, one of the youngest authors in this collection, whose father left Uruguay in 1976, fleeing as well from a violent dictatorship. His story describes family members arrested by the repressive forces and, as in the work of Fuks, is based on fact.

Contemporary Latin American literature looms large for this generation – even among those born in Brazil – with influences that range from Borges to Bolaño. It can be seen in Lísias’s slightly surreal story, or in the parallel, fragmentary structure of Emilio Fraia’s piece, or in Sarmatz’s descriptions – more literary than historical – of Germany under Hitler.

Taken as a whole, the twenty texts form a surprising mosaic of styles and themes. They are remarkable for the vigour and craft of their prose – the aptness of details, the search for a coherent language, the development of character. The stories speak of personal loss and family relations (Vanessa Barbara, Michel Laub), the alienation of large urban settings (Chico Mattoso), moments of childhood (Antonio Prata, Luisa Geisler), and trips where anything can happen (Antônio Xerxenesky, Carol Bensimon). Tatiana Salem Levy and J.P. Cuenca, two writers who live in Rio de Janeiro, express very different perspectives on the same city.

This selection includes authors who range from the most well- known writers in Brazil to the ones who have published only a few stories in anthologies and are now working on their first collections. Laub is working on his fifth novel, and in 2011 won the Bravo! Bradesco Prize. Levy won the São Paulo Prize for Literature for her first novel, which has been translated into five languages. Daniel Galera has written three novels, a volume of short stories and a graphic novel. He is the winner of the Brazilian National Library’s Machado de Assis Prize.

Among the lesser-known authors, Vinicius Jatobá is established as a literary critic and is currently finishing his first novel and a book of short stories; Cristhiano Aguiar published a collection of stories in 2006. The oldest of our authors were born in 1973. The youngest, Geisler, the author of a collection of short stories and a novel, both of which won the SESC Prize for Literature, was born in 1991.

In recent years, Granta has acquired a global dimension, with editions in other countries and languages: there are Spanish, Brazilian, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, Bulgarian and Chinese editions. The fact that the English, Spanish and Chinese editions of Granta have committed to publishing translations of The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists will guarantee that the work of these authors reaches close to 80,000 readers in Latin America, Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom and China – a heretofore unheard of audience for these young writers.

Granta em português was first published in Brazil in 2007. The first issue was a translation of The Best of Young American Novelists 2. Since then, we have published issues with themes such as travel, family, sex and work. We select pieces published originally by Granta in the UK as well as new material by Brazilian authors. In recent editions, Granta em português has also published pieces that first appeared in the Spanish and Italian versions of the magazine, thus expanding the possibilities of translating new and exciting authors from other languages. The magazine is currently on its tenth edition.

The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists was conceived at the end of 2010. Our idea was to make a selection of twenty authors born from January 1972 on: that is, writers younger than forty at the time the issue was published in Brazil. They needed to be prose writers, writing in Portuguese and publishing in Brazil, and with at least one story published.

We assembled a team of seven highly qualified, independent judges, active in different strata of the literary world. Beatriz Bracher is the author of three novels and a story collection, and worked as a literary editor from 1992 to 2000; Italo Moriconi is a literary critic and poet, and teaches Brazilian and comparative literature at the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ); Manuel da Costa Pinto is a journalist and critic, columnist for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo; Cristovão Tezza is a writer and former university professor, author of the novel The Eternal Son, winner of the most important Brazilian literary prizes and a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2012; and Samuel Titan Jr is a professor of comparative literature at São Paulo University (USP), and the editor and translator of Flaubert, Canetti and Capote, among other classic and contemporary authors.

Granta in the UK suggested a sixth judge, Benjamin Moser, an American writer, editor, critic and translator, author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector. His ‘outsider’ point of view enriched the judging process. The seventh judge was Marcelo Ferroni, editor, writer and one of the coordinators of this issue of Granta.

The project was officially launched in July 2011. We received 247 valid submissions by our deadline of October 2011, which were judged over the following months. At the end of February 2012, each of the seven judges drew up a list of names, and met in a hotel in Rio de Janeiro to agree on the shortlist. The Brazilian edition was published in July 2012, a year after the call for submissions.

Over the past two decades, few Brazilian authors have been published abroad. There are several reasons for this. Brazilian literature is sometimes seen as difficult, and the language barrier is significant. Few people outside Portugal and Brazil read Portuguese; hence the gap between the vitality of Brazilian literature and its presence in the world. The writer Jorge Amado, when speaking of the potential of Brazil, said we are a continent rather than a country. The work of these writers is part of the diversity and scope that Amado perceived. We expect they will go on to produce works that will be essential to an understanding of Brazilian literature, and to ensuring a wider presence for it in the world in the coming decades.

Melanie Rae Thon on Vinicius Jatobá
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