Every culture seems to have its own set-up for literary awards. In France, there are millions. Literally. Bars give out prizes for the best work by a female author published between January and May. (Or so I’ve heard.) And these aren’t scoffed at prizes, but include ceremonies with glitz and celebrity.
In Spain and Latin America, most of the awards are given out by the publishing companies themselves. The Anagrama Essay Prize. The Planeta Prize. It’s pretty sweet marketing—the book you’re about to publish already won an award. This is what I believe marketing folks call “pre-publication buzz.” Buzz that you the publisher both created and get to reap the rewards of!
This isn’t meant to be facetious, it’s just a different system than our National Book Awards and Pulitzer Prizes. And like with any prize, some of the award-winning French/Spanish books that I’ve read are great, some are mediocre. That’s how it goes.
All this is a long prelude to announcing that yesterday Santiago Gamboa won the La Otra Orilla Literary Award for his novel Necropolis. La Otra Orilla is a literary imprint within Grupo Editorial Norma with an emphasis on Latin American literature. The Prize is awarded by an international jury of famous Spanish novelists (this year, it consisted of Jorge Volpi, Roberto Ampuero, and Pere Sureda), and the winner receives $100,000.
Gamboa is a young Colombian writer that I heard about not too long about, and whose work sounds pretty intriguing. In addition to Necropolis (more on that in a second), he’s the author of Turned Pages, To Lose Is a Question of Method, The Happy Life of a Youth Named Esteban, The Imposters, and Ulysses Syndrome. None of which have been translated into English. Of course. Although they have been translated into French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Greek (Greek!), Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Czech, Russian, Polish, Basque, Rumanian, and Turkish.
He currently lives in New Delhi as the Colombian cultural attache (intriguing) and is considered one of the most innovative voices in new Colombian fiction. Manuel Vazquez Montalban (pretty impressive in his own right) actually declared that “Gamboa is, along with Garcia Marquez, the most important Colombian writer.” And the jury awarded Gamboa this prize for his “magnificent use of language, accomplishing the difficult task of bringing so many different voices to life whilst making each one authentic and unique.”
And here’s the description of Necropolis:
Following a long illness, a writer is invited to a biography conference in Jerusalem where the accounts of the odd lives of the conference participants come as a shock. These include the case of French bookseller and biographer Edgar Miret Supervielle, Italian adult film actress Sabina Vedovelli, and, above all, José Maturana, a former evangelical minister, ex-convict and recovering drug addict who, employing powerful language acquired on the most squalid streets, tells the story of his savior, a charismatic Latino messiah in Miami. Shortly thereafter, Maturana turns up dead in his hotel room. While everything points toward a suicide, certain doubts lie just beneath the surface. Who really was José Maturana?
In Necropolis, the narrator explores different versions of the same story while simultaneously listening to the shocking tales of the other attendees of the conference.
Always hard to tell what a book is like based on brief agent/publisher copy like this, but I’m personally interested in finding out more about Gamboa’s work. I’ve been reading fellow Colombian Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Informers (masterfully translated by Anne McLean, and a finalist for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), and I’m getting the sense that Colombia has some really interesting young writers . . .
The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .
Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .
The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .
Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .
There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .
In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .
I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .