Gringa Reads

Top 15 Brazilian Novels of the 21st Century - Part 1

ListsZoe Perry1 Comment

Some days the internet seems to be turning into one big list. I would hesitate to add to the ever-growing fluff, but I don't see a lot of lists of Brazilian books circulating out there… oh wait, maybe that's my job on this often neglected blog. In the last month or so, some decent lists of Brazilian books have appeared online that I think are worth sharing in English. Book Fair season is upon us, and surely someone out there is thinking about new Brazilian finds. I won't claim to agree 100% with the selections, and of course many worthy contenders have been left out, but they're fine places to start! Some of these have already been translated to English, which is all the more reason to check out the authors' other work. I'll include some links below to other related projects as well. Brasil Post, the Brazilian version of Huffington Post, came up with their list of the top Brazilian novels of the 21st century. They begin with some depressing information about how little Brazilians read, particularly their own writers (almost the opposite problem to most English-speaking countries), and explain how they hope this will inspire Brazilian readers to check out writers from their own backyards. Their list claims to be based on awards and the editor's personal preferences, and is in no particular order. This gets a little long, so here are the first eight books.

1. Cinzas do Norte by Milton Hatoum

Well, we're off to a strong start! This Jabuti award winner has already been translated (by John Gledson) and was released by Bloomsbury in 2008, as Ashes of the Amazon. As contemporary Brazilian writers go, Hatoum has done exceptionally well in translation – as far as I know, all of his four novels have been published in English. All worth checking out.

And if you're interested in graphic novels, an adaptation of Hatoum's Two Brothers by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon is coming out this month in Brazil and France, and an English translation will be published in October by Dark Horse. Here's an article in English with more information and a beautiful preview.

2. Vista Parcial da Noite by Luiz Ruffato

This strikes me as a somewhat odd choice for this list, only because this is the third in a series of five novels Ruffato wrote over a span of six years about Brazilian industrialization and the working class, entitled "Temporary Hell". A sneaky way of squeezing in more books? Possibly, but who I am to begrudge them? This one is about a community of Italian immigrants in the state of Minas Gerais. Ruffato famously gave the opening address at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2013. His first novel came out in English earlier this year: There Were Many Horsestranslated by Anthony Doyle.

3. Eu Receberia as Piores Notícias dos Seus Lindos Lábios by Marçal Aquino

Roughly: "I'd Receive the Worst News from Your Beautiful Lips". How's that for a title? Marçal Aquino is one of my favorite writers – he's a master at suspense, tension, and all things seedy and grimy. I've reviewed another of his books, O Invasor. This was originally published in 2005, and was made into a feature film in 2011. None of Aquino's work has been translated to English that I'm aware of, but this book has been translated to Spanish. Here's an article about Aquino (and this book) that came out before Frankfurt in 2013.

4. O Filho Eterno by Cristovão Tezza

Another book that has already been translated to English, by the amazing Alison Entrekin, published by Scribe in 2010. And for very good reason: this book swept the award season in 2008, taking home the Jabuti, the Portugal Telecom prize and the São Paulo prize. You can read an excerpt of it on Words Without Borders.

5. O Drible by Sérgio Rodrigues

How this book wasn't snapped up for English translation within weeks is a mystery to me, particularly with the buzz surrounding last year's World Cup. Hailed as Brazil's great futebol novel, it was a finalist for both the Jabuti and the São Paulo prize, and won the prestigious Portugal Telecom prize. Luis Fernando Verissimo called it a "great performance", an unprecedented book that's not about soccer, but in which soccer is one of the characters. I translated Sérgio's book Elza: The Girl, which came out earlier this year, and much like that one, this book has a really, really good twist. It has been published in both Spanish (translated by Juan Pablo Villalobos) and French (co-translated by Ana Isabel Sardinha Desvignes and Antoine Volodine).

Bookanista has posted a translation of the book's first chapter. You can read more about all his work at his website. He is represented by the Riff Agency and Mertin Agency.

6. K. by Bernardo Kucinski

Originally published in 2012, this debut novel tells the agonizing story of a father's search for his daughter, who disappeared during Brazil's military dictatorship. It was reissued by Cosac Naify in 2014 to mark the 50 years that have passed since the 1964 military coup in Brazil. While recent events might suggest some people have forgotten about that particular mark on Brazilian history, for many the wounds are still fresh and this book is, in my opinion, more important than ever. Praised by critics and a finalist for the Portugal Telecom and São Paulo prize, it was published in English in 2013 by Latin American Bureau, translated by Sue Branford, and reviewed in the November 2014 issue of World Literature Today.

7. Se Eu Fechar Os Olhos Agora by Edney Silvestre

If I Close My Eyes Now was published in English last year by Black Swan, translated by Nick Caistor. A second book, Happiness is Easy, also translated by Caistor, was published just six or so months later. His third novel, Vidas provisórias, came out in 2013 – it's not in English yet, but I'd say it's just a matter of time.

8. Órfãos do Eldorado by Milton Hatoum

Another from Milton Hatoum. Orphans of Eldoradowas published by Canongate in 2012, translated by John Gledson.

See the other seven books in Part Two.