Read beyond samba and soccer, Brazil urges book fair
Samba, soccer and Carnival may provide poster images of Brazil but the Latin American giant has urged the global book world, gathered in Germany Wednesday, to look beyond the stereotypes.
With 70 writers and a lively line-up of events, Brazil has pulled out the stops at the Frankfurt Book Fair to shine a light on its literature and culture as guest of honour, while protests hit the headlines at home.
Award-winning children's writer Ana Maria Machado said Brazil was not perceived, unlike some of its neighbours, as a "land of literature" but with stereotypes based more on "the culture of what is immediately, sensually appreciable: the body".
"But it's a body whose intellect is usually forgotten," she bemoaned, "as if we didn't have one, in the celebration of our dances and our music, of football, capoeira and other sports, of sensuality, of bronzed skin on display on the beaches, of Carnival and of caipirinha."
The literature is not only diverse but also reflects the country's problems, with society and politics playing a role, the author, who is also the president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, told the opening ceremony late Tuesday.
Brazil is gearing up to step into the global limelight, by hosting football's World Cup next year and South America's first Olympics two years later but has been hit by protests over the costs of the events.
Angry demonstrators argue the money would be better spent on improving transport, education and health services for poor Brazilians, and thousands rallied this week to support teachers' calls for a pay rise.
Writer Luiz Ruffato highlighted the prevalence of violent crime in Brazil, intolerance of gays, low-ranked schooling in a country that is the world's seventh biggest economy and that fewer than four books are, on average, read by Brazilians each year.
Advances have been made, with the return of democracy and social advancement for millions, he acknowledged in a speech that won a standing ovation by some in the audience, but described the country as "paradoxical".
"Sometimes Brazil appears to us like an exotic region with paradisiacal beaches, jungles, Carnival, capoeira and football, sometimes like a terrible place full of violence in the towns, child prostitution, disregard for human rights and nature," he said.
But he said that, having grown up in a poor migrant family, he believed "perhaps naively" that literature can change lives and society.
Brazil's best-known author internationally, Paulo Coelho, whose 1988 novel "The Alchemist" has previously received an award at the fair for being the world's most translated novel, has stayed away this year.
He complained in an interview with Die Welt newspaper that he had never heard of about 50 of the 70 writers invited to represent Brazil in Frankfurt. "Presumably they're friends of friends of friends. Nepotism," he said.
"What annoys me most is, that currently there is a new exciting literary scene in Brazil. But many of these young authors are not on the list."
'People buy culture like they buy fridges'
Brazil is seeking to promote the translation of its works into other languages, backed by a 900,000-euro ($1.2-million) programme by the culture ministry for 2011-13. Since 2011, more than 300 translations a year have been done, 67 of them into German.
Bruno Zolotar, marketing director of The Record Publishing Group, said the financial support made a big difference as translations were expensive and complicated by a scarcity of translators.
Business has grown over the last decade as the economy has improved, albeit more slowly in the last two years, he said, pointing to a soaring interest in books, with the Rio book fair now the city's third most-attended event after New Year's Eve and Carnival.
As salaries have improved, people "bought fridges, cars and now are buying culture, so books," he said.
And while Brazilians love their football, fiction about a reality set outside of the country are currently particularly popular. "Most of the young people want to read books that are not exactly about our reality," Rio-based Zolotar said.
"It's a kind of escapism."
© 2013 AFP