January 22, 2013

Brazilian lit’s $35 million publicity campaign


from The Alienist, the illustrated edition by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

What do Clarice Lispector, Paolo Coelho, and Machado de Assis have in common? Beyond being well-regarded authors, they are, among many more literary lights from Latin America’s largest country, about to be thrust into a global effort designed to raise awareness and appreciation of Brazilian literature.

The Brazilian government has allotted $35 million for an eight-year stimulus project to promote new works in translation, grants for publishers outside of Brazil to support Brazilian publications, and funding for Brazilian authors on world book tours. And while much of the money will be dedicated to helping readers discover new authors, it will also go to marketing some of Brazil’s better known voices, whose books will surely be on full display during 2013’s Frankfurt Book Fair, where Brazil will be the guest of honor.

According to Language Magazine, Brazil’s promotional efforts coincide with what it thinks will be increased book sales thanks in large part to a “certain” “online retailer” “you may have heard about“:

Last month’s announcement that e-commerce leviathan, Amazon, closed deals with some of Brazil’s largest publishers, including Globo, Objetivo, and most recently Companhia das Letras is more evidence that Brazil’s culture industry is bleeding into the rest of the world. With the new Brazilian Kindle Store, readers everywhere have access Brazilian literature in a digital format. Additionally, Amazon is offering  Portuguese language reading apps for Android, iOS, Mac and PCs.

“With the collaboration of Penguin, […] we seek to experiment with new formats and make our catalogue available to the most channels possible, giving more freedom of choice to the reader,” said Companhia das Letras editor Luis Schwarcz in a statement. “The agreement with Amazon and our conversations with other international players represent another step in this direction.”

But as MobyLives has reported before (here and here) many Brazilian booksellers and literature stalwarts are not looking forward to Amazon’s arrival. True, Amazon’s retail capabilities will most likely accelerate e-commerce book sales, but at what cost to the institutions that have been championing the country’s literature all along? Further, if Amazon does indeed become the default retailer there, is such a company the right fit for introducing a market to a larger community? To that end, the Brazilian government’s efforts to bring its authors and books to the international fore could not be more perfectly timed — by drumming up interest independent of Amazon, Brazil’s literary reputation could reach corners of global culture, where it has the potential to develop lasting relationships with new readers.

Overall, though, this is a happy story, one that, despite its complications, shows how government can get behind the arts in order to satisfy a plugged-in global community’s eagerness to discover new authors. One author to start with is Machado de Assis, a founder of the Brazilian Academy of Letters and author of The Alienist, which is included in Melville House’s Art of the Novella series.

The Alienist tells the tale of a brilliant physician named Simão Bacamarte, who sacrifices a prestigious career to return to Brazil and dedicate himself to the budding field of psychology. Bacamarte opens the first asylum in Brazil hoping to crown himself and his hometown with “imperishable laurels.” But the doctor begins to see signs of insanity in more and more of his neighbors, until the reader is left to ponder who, in fact, is really crazy.

For more information on Brazilian literature, check out the Brit Writers’ Awards, which has just launched an essay series on the topic. The first essay is called “Brazilian Literature 101 First Topic: The Country and the Beginning of its Literature”; or you could buy a copy of Granta’s “The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists” magazine; or there’s the Dictionary of Brazilian Literature, which is available at the NYPL, among other libraries.



Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.