By Adam Critchley
‘Its the Content That Matters’Described by Dave Eggers as “a mesmerizing writer who demands to be read,” Argentina’s Mariana Enriquez (born in 1973) is among Spanish-language authors whose work was showcased for Frankfurt’s potential rights buyers last week.
Enriquez has published three novels and two short story collections, the second of which, this year’s Las cosas que perdimos en el fuego (The Things We Lost in the Fire), had already had its rights sold in 20 countries, including China, France, Germany, and Sweden. The collection is to appear in the spring from Hogarth in the USA and Portobello in the UK.
While Latin American literature seems to be in vogue, Enriquez’ success is a result of the author’s talent, according to Sandra Pareja of the literary agency that represents her, Casanovas & Lynch in Barcelona.
“I strongly believe in Mariana Enriquez becoming an important writer,” Pareja says.
“I’ve never seen this constant level of enthusiasm among readers, and with a book of short stories, and not a novel. If she doesn’t turn out to be a Bolaño-level phenomenon, I’ll change professions.
“Four years ago people said, ‘We want the new Roberto Bolaño,’ or ‘the new Elena Ferrante,’ but I think they’re getting over that now,” she says.
And Latin America remains a region rich in young, literary talent, judging by the agency’s catalogue.
Enriquez, according to Pareja, “is part of the generation born during the 1970s military dictatorship in Argentina. She’s at the mid-point between a new dystopian science fiction and the imagination of [Argentine novelist] Julio Cortázar. But she’s very realistic, very urban.
“There’s a boom of independent publishing in Argentina, so there’s a lot to read and a lot of word-of-mouth.”Sandra Pareja
“This is also a generation of globalized writers who read in English, and for them it’s easier to find a publisher in English, as publishers want works to be exotic, but not too exotic.
“We never try to promote the idea of looking for a writer from a particular country or region. We’re looking for the best, without a specific regional or national distinction. It’s about finding writers who are as good as others,”she says.
“Interest in Mariana Enriquez is [in part] due to her being Argentine, but more because she’s a true storyteller. Publishers are more open to writers from all languages. And what they want is spectacular books. It’s the content that matters. Sometimes it’s convenient for marketing purposes to say it’s the new voice of Colombia, or wherever, but that doesn’t always help, and it’s a little absurd.”
Latin America at Guadalajara
It’s significant, in that light, that the Guadalajara International Book Fair has chosen Latin America as guest region of honor, another sign of the rising interest in the continent’s literature.
Pareja says there’s more curiosity now about foreign-language fiction among readers and publishers, while the tendency to read in translation is also growing. Pareja says she finds it gratifying to see agency authors such as Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Mercè Rodoreda, and Javier Marías appearing in lists of books to read this season. Some of these lists can give their authors the same chances to be discovered as their American contemporaries.
And interest remains strong in Latin America, she says. “Spain is not as exotic or as close,” she says, “but there’s a clear desire among US readers to enter into dialogue with Latin America.”
Pareja also attributes the emergence of new, young voices in Argentina to a proliferation of independent publishers there.
“There’s a boom of independent publishing in Argentina, so there’s a lot to read and a lot of word-of-mouth. An example of this, she says, is María Gainza (born in 1975), author of the critically acclaimed El nervio óptico, published by local indie press Mansalva.
Also published by another indie press in Chile, Laurel, the book’s rights have also been snapped up in other Latin American countries and Spain, and is Frankfurt
Narrated by a Buenos Aires-based art historian, The Optic Nerve is described by the agency as “striking the perfect balance between intellect and emotional punch in a groundbreaking story of what art can do to you.”
Agency Authors From Spain
There also are young Spanish writers in the agency’s catalogue and some had attracted international interest before Frankfurt. Elvira Navarro and Marina Perezagua, for example, were both born in 1978.
Navarro was included in Granta’s 2010 list of the best Spanish-language writers under the age of 35, and her novel La trabajadora is to be published by Two Lines Press in the United States.
“Navarro is respected and read but she’s seeing slower acceptance abroad, and that often happens,” Pareja says. It’s difficult to achieve recognition both at home and abroad. And that’s one of the biggest challenges for editors, to achieve recognition in multiple markets, the agent tells Publishing Perspectives.
“It can be harder to move Spanish literary fiction into a market such as the United States,” Pareja says, “given that there are fewer common questions of geography and history, compared with Latin America.”
Marina Perezagua, however, has proved an exception. Described by Salman Rushdie as “one of the best of the new generation of Spanish writers,” Perezagua’s novel Yoro will be published in the US and Canada by Ecco Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.
“Her work has nothing to do with what people are writing [in Spain],” Pareja says, “because she left the country and has been living in New York for 15 years. Her work has the perfect balance of life experience and imagination, and authors need both of those.
“It’s all about quality, more than the territory or the language. At the end of the day we’re talking about writers.
“There are now fewer prejudices too,” she says. “A book from a different region is treated the same way, which is why it’s absurd to be looking for the next big thing from a particular region.”
Casanovas & Lynch has also had success in representing The Book of Emma Reyes, which will appear as a Penguin Classic in 2017, translated by Daniel Alarcón.
And another surprise breakthrough is Argentine author Martín Caparrós’s Hunger, a 700-page book of narrative nonfiction, which sold to 15 countries and will be published by Other Press in 2017. More upcoming US publications for the agency include Emiliano Monge’s El cielo árido (Restless Books) and Fernando Vallejo’s El desbarrancadero (New Directions).