German book fair to showcase cultural melting pot Argentina
By Jan-Uwe Ronneburger Oct 3, 2010, 17:34 GMT
Buenos Aires - Argentinians love to read books, and some of them love to write them as well, as Germans will be discovering next week on book-review pages and TV during the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Every year the Fair nominates a special guest for promotion to the German reading public. Argentina is to use its five days of glory at the October 6-10 event to highlight younger writers who do not yet enjoy world fame.
The country is a 'melting pot' of world literature, says Mario Goloboff, a writer himself and professor of literature, referring to the multi-ethnic style of his homeland. Goloboff thinks this is what makes Argentine books so special.
The nation is funding visits to Frankfurt by 60 Argentine authors and other intellectuals and mounting 12 exhibitions in Germany.
This is a special year for Argentina: the bicentennial of its independence from Spain.
The government has funded a programme to translate 300 books by 230 Argentine authors, mainly into German but 32 other languages have benefited. Many of the books deal with Argentina's dark past: its years under a brutal military dictatorship.
Several major German newspapers publish one or two pages of reviews of books from the special guest nation just before the Fair, and TV arts programmes interview the writers if they speak German, so the seed money may pay off with increased book sales in Germany.
A country of 41 million people, Argentina offers not just breathtaking natural beauty and scenic variety but also high culture.
Its best-known cultural export is the tango, danced to melancholy music and haunting words written by some of the nation's great poets.
'Enrique Cadicamo and Homero Manzi,an Argentine surrealist, wrote tangos, as did Hector Negro,' said Goloboff when asked to name names.
The ranks of Argentine novelists and essayists with a world following are led by Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar. Others would name Adolfo Bioy Casares, Roberto Arlt, Manuel Puig, Ernesto Sabato, Juan Gelman and Osvaldo Bayer.
Argentine book publishing is strong, with 22,600 titles published in the country for total annual sales of 88 million last year. Two thirds of those sales are by classical publishers selling through bookshops: the remainder are free religious tracts and advertising publications.
Argentines seem to be keen writers, judging by the success of creative writing courses conducted by recognized or budding authors.
Says Goloboff, 'I find my students tend to be more serious about what they are doing than the students I used to have in France. People are very dedicated to literature, even if there's not a hope in hell that it will ever earn them an income.'
Organizers of Argentina's self-promotion at the book fair hope to win TV and German news coverage for younger authors such as Felix Bruzzone, Elsa Drucaroff, Martin Kohan, Guillermo Martinez, Samanta Schweblin and Alan Pauls.
'They are figureheads of some important and courageous literature,' said Goloboff, 71, who compiled an anthology of work by authors who were killed or driven into exile by the 1976-83 dictatorship.
Goloboff said major names in the group included Rodolfo Walsh, Paco Urondo and Haroldo Conti, the latter a figure who Goloboff believes deserves greater fame than he has won so far.
The professor says that what he finds most fascinating about Argentine writings is the mixing of cultures.
'Take me for example. I grew up in a home where we spoke Yiddish,' said Goloboff, whose Jewish grandparents emigrated from Ukraine in 1904. 'My roots obviously affect the way I use language.'
Roberto Arlt (1900-42), author of the coming-of-age novel Mad Toy, was typical too.
Arlt once said, 'They say I write rather badly.'
He spend his childhood in Argentina in a family where German was spoken (and his mother was a native Italian speaker), so he mostly heard badly spoken Spanish and had to teach it to himself. His Spanish always remained idiosyncratic, said Goloboff.
'But that is what gave his style its incredible force,' the professor explained.