We take a look at the nominees for its three categories: Novel of the Year; Best Debut Under 40 and Best Debut Over 40
A few days before the Olympic opening ceremony in Rio, a more bookish news item briefly stole the headlines: finalists for the Prêmio São Paulo de Literatura had been announced. Though less than a decade old, and given to the best novels from the previous years, the Prêmio has climbed in prestige to rival Brazil’s long-running Machado de Assis’s prize, which is given to a writer for lifetime achievement in Portuguese letters. Any writers across the Lusophone world (the Portuguese-speaking world) is eligible, with a handsome cash component accompanying the prizes given in three categories—Novel of the Year; Best Debut by a Writer under 40; Best Debut by a Writer over 40 (don’t you love that?).
The Prêmio’s most famous winner, at least in the English speaking world, has so far been Daniel Galera for his novel Blood Drenched Bear later translated by Alison Entriken and published by the Penguin Press. But with many of the writers highlighted below beginning to make appearances in English, we could see a large growth in popularity overall of Brazilian writing. Though ceremony date hasn’t been announced, it is usually held around the end of November giving us plenty of time to get to know the following nominees for Book of the Year. A brief description of the debut prize nominees follows below.
Noemi Jaffe, Írisz: As Orquídeas (Írisz: The Orchids)
A long time academic and literary critic, Noemi Jaffe got her official start as a writer when, at the age of 43, she published her first poetry collection: Todas as coisas pequenas (All the Small Things) in 2005. Her 2012 non-fiction novel, O que os cegos estão sonhando (What are the Blind Men Dreaming?), explores the tragedy of the Holocaust through the words of three-generations of women: Jaffe, her mother (a survivor) and her grandmother (a victim). It will be published in English by the independent press Deep Vellum in September in a dual translation by Julia Sanches and Ellen Elias-Bursac. Her nominated novel Írisz: The Orchids is set during the Cold War and revolves around a young Hungarian women who flees the Iron Curtain for São Paulo. In her adopted home, she takes up work at the city’s Botanical Garden studying a new species of orchid. Her reports, which include reflections on Communism, exile, and the family and lover she left behind, soon catch the attention of the Garden’s director. An English excerpt of Írisz: The Orchids is available from Electric Literature in a translation by Words Without Borders editor Eric M. B. Becker.
João Almino, Enigmas da Primavera (Enigmas of Spring)
Almino’s Enigmas of Spring is unique to the list as it has already been published by his longtime American publisher Dalkey Archive in a glistening English translation by Rhett McNeil. The novel tells the story of Majnun, a Brazilian who heads to Madrid under the pretext of penning a novel set in Medieval Spain, and who in fact may be heading to North Africa to join Islamic militants. A former diplomat to the United States, Almino has taught Brazilian literature at a number of prestigious American universities, including UC Berkeley, Stanford, and the University of Chicago. His many awards include the 2003 Casa de las Americas Award The Five Seasons of Love, and the 7th Passo Fundo Literary Biannual Zaffari & Bourbon Award in 2011 for his novel Free City.
Mia Couto, As Areias do Imperador: Mulheres de Cinzas (The Sands of the Emperor: The Ash Women)
The only non-Brazilian on the list, the Mozambican Mia Cuoto is often cited as a rising star in international literature and is arguably the biggest living Lusophone writer. Cuoto is the winner of the Neustadt Prize for International Literature (2014); his most recent novel to appear in English, Confessions of a Lioness, was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. The Ash Women, the first book in the proposed The Sands of the Emperor trilogy, is set in the late nineteenth century during the rule of Ngungunyane, the last emperor of what is now the Mozambique state of Gaza. The story brings together a cast of characters who are caught up in Ngungunyane’s rebellion against the Portuguese.
Beatriz Bracher, Anatomia do Paraíso (Anatomy of Paradise)
Bracher came to novel writing via a celebrated career as screenwriter. She’s been a mainstay on the award circuit ever since, winning the Clarice Lispector Award given by the Brazilian National Library in 2009, as well as the first ever Rio de Janeiro award in 2015. Her novel Anatomy of Paradise follows a day in the life of Felix, a young middle-class student writing a dissertation on Paradise Lost. Felix threads his studies of Milton with reflections on the hard-knock life of his neighbor and the maturation of his younger sister.
Julián Fúks, A Resistência (The Resistance)
At under 35 years of age, Fúks is one of the younger writers on this list, and among its most active. Fúks is a literary rising star in South America, and has enjoyed some attention from the English speaking world—a short story translated by Johnny Lorenz, and an interview with Argentine writer Pola Olaixarac, were published in Granta’s anthology of contemporary Brazilian literature. Fúks’s works include Fragmentos de Alberto, Ulisses, Carolina e eu (2004) and Histórias de literatura e cegueira (2007), and Procura do romance (2011). A Resistência concerns a young man who helps his adopted brother come to terms with his birth family’s association with the Argentinian Dirty War.
The accomplished Rio-based samba musician Nei Lopes also moonlights as a historian and novelist. Unsurprisingly, he’s married the two forms, first with his study The Reality of Samba (1981) and with a biography of samba pioneer Zé Keti (1996). His newest novel, Rio Negro, 50 a departure from Lopes’s wheelhouse topics. Set in the weeks after Brazil’s infamous defeat in the 1950 World Cup, the blame for which was directed at the team’s black players, the novel concerns the aftermath of a racially motivated murder and the birth of the Afro-Brasilia movement.
Marcelo Rubens Paiva, Ainda Estou Aqui (I’m Still Here)
Paiva is one of the more socially outspoken writers on this list. The son of a real life “disappeared” politician abducted and assumed killed by Brazilian military agents during its dictatorship, Rubens Paiva’s works abound with fiery prose toward the unjust and authoritarian. The pen is a weapon he was nearly unable to wield after a freak diving accident in 1979 left him tetraplegic. After three years of extensive physiotherapy, Paiva regained the use of his arms and wrote his debut, a memoir Feliz Ano Velho (Happy Old Year), which was published in an English translation in 1991. His newest work, I’m Still Here, tells the story of his mother—how she coped with the loss of her husband by becoming a human rights lawyer, and how Alzheimer’s later ate away at her ability to remember him.
Paula Fábrio, Um Dia Toparei Comigo (One Day I Will Run Into Myself)
Fábrio is no stranger to the São Paulo Prize—she won in 2013 in the category for “Best Debut Novelist Over 40” for her book Desnorteio (Bewilderment). Now, a novel later, she’s in the running for the big prize: One Day I Will Run Into Myself, which takes its title from a line in Brazilian poet Mário de Andrade’s modernist masterpiece Macunaíma, has its protagonists escaping South America and jet setting to Europe, landing in Barcelona and hitting the long(ish) road to Paris.
Raimundo Carrero, O Senhor Agora Vai Mudar de Corpo (The Lord Will Now Change Bodies)
Journalist and novelist Raimundo Carrero is a veteran on the Brazilian literary scene. He was an an active member of the 1970s Brazilian pop art movement Movimento Armorial, which spanned the arts from literature to architecture. His novel Seu livro somos pedras que se consomem (We Are the Stones We Consume) was voted by El Globo, the largest newspaper in Brazil, as one of the ten bests Brazilian novels of the 1990s. In 2010, Carrero suffered a stroke that rendered him partially paralyzed in his left hand. The Lord Will Now Change Bodies is an autobiographical work that investigates the memory of that event and Carrero’s chronicle of attempting to find the words to capture its trauma.
Santana Filho, A Casa das Marionetes (The House of Marionettes)
Though he’s only been publishing for a few years, Filho has become a favorite of Brazilian independent publishers. Not as widely known as some of the other candidates, even in his native country, Filho has still managed to develop a following of fans with his debut novel O rio que corre estralas (The River That Runs Stars) and a volume of short stories O beijinho e outros crimes delicados (The Kiss and Other Delicate Crimes) in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The House of Marionettes is a family drama spurred on by the death of a matriarch and the emergence of secrets and shame.
In addition to the Novel of the Year, the institution has also nominated the following books for Best Debut, broken into categories that highlight writers below and above the age of 40.
BEST DEBUT BY A WRITER OVER 40
Eda Nagayama, Desgarrados (Stragglers)
An evangelical woman having lost her faith sets out on a personal journey to discover the meaning of life.
Marcelo Maluf, A Imensidão Íntima dos Carneiros (The Immensity of Intimate Sheep)
A novel about a Lebanese family divided by war and the fate of those who stay and those who find refuge in Brazil.
Robertson Frizero, Longe das Aldeias (Far From the Villages)
As his mother is taken by illness, a young teenage boy attempts to find out the truth about his estranged father.
BEST DEBUT BY A WRITER UNDER 40
Alex Sens, O Frágil Toque dos Mutilados (The Fragile Touch the Mutilated)
A winemaker returns to her family’s seaside town for a reunion that is marred with bitterness.
Isabela Noronha, Resta Um (One Left)
A novel that traces the years of grief by the mother of a young girl abducted on her walk home.
Julia Dantas, Ruína y Leveza (Ruin and Lightness)
Faced with near certain ruin, an advertising exec spontaneously embarks on a journey across the South American continent.
Rafael Gallo, Rebentar (Burst)
A family comes to terms with the loss of its youngest member.
Sheyla Smanioto, Desesterro (Desesterro)
A polyphonic novel written through the voices and photographs of the inhabitants of a shantytown.
Tércia Montenegro, Turismo Para Cegos (Tourism for the Blind)
After being diagnosed with degenerative blindness, a star arts student relearns both how to live and how to create.
Tomas Rosenfeld, Para Não Dizer Que Não Falei de Flora (What I Didn’t Say to Flora)
A narrative of one couple’s unexpected pregnancy from inception to birth.