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Culture

Faces behind the pages

Brazil is the guest of honor at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair. From racism to superstition, DW caught up with some of that country's top contemporary authors as they read from their own works.

The world has had its eye on Brazil for months: mass protests, the papal visit and upcoming events like the Soccer World Cup and the Olympic Games. Germany has added another focus: literature. Since Brazil is the guest of honor at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, more Brazilian books were published in German than ever before in such a short period of time. DW met five of the most exciting authors of contemporary Brazilian literature in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre.

Daniel Galera, "Flood." Translated from Portuguese by Nicolai von Schweder-Schreiner, © 2013 Suhrkamp

Watch video 01:15

Daniel Galera reads from "Flood"

We meet Daniel Galera in a wintery and rainy Porto Alegre, in the south of this huge country. His novel, "Flood," is a gloomy family story set in the Garopaba surfers' paradise on the Atlantic. A young man whose father has just committed suicide moves to this coastal town to find out what once happened to his grandfather there. Decades ago, he was supposedly killed at a village festival, but a corpse was never found. The residents refuse to talk and treat him with mistrust: for one, because he looks very much like his grandfather, awakening painful memories among the older generation, and also because he suffers from a rare disease that makes settling in the village difficult. He is face blind, which means he can't recognize faces.

Galera describes a reality shaped by myths and superstition, as well as corruption and the effects of globalization. That adds up to a heady mixture. "It all started with a story a fisherman told my father in the 1970s about a murder. One day, he passed it on to me. It has affected me to this very day." Galera was inspired to write "Flood."

Andrea del Fuego, "Siblings of Water." Translated from Portuguese by Marianne Gareis, © 2013 Carl Hanser Verlag München

Andrea del Fuego reads in a bookstore in Sao Paulo Copyright: DW/Ricarda Otte

Andrea del Fuego's novel, 'Siblings of Water,' was inspired by her family's tragic history

Andrea del Fuego lives in Sao Paulo, but her roots are in Minas Gerais. A special tone, an eccentric love for technology and a deliberate journey into the past make her debut in Germany, "Siblings of Water," stand out . The author turned a chapter of her family history into literature: The entire family slept in the same house. Her great-grandparents are killed by lightning, and the three children survive. But they are separated. Nico, the eldest and the author's grandfather, stays in the valley and works for a major landowner; the two younger children are sent to an orphanage in the city. Del Fuego turns this into magic realism. In passing she observes the advent of electricity and thus the modern world in this region when the valley is flooded to create a water reservoir.

In 2011, Andrea del Fuego, who previously wrote books for children and youths, was awarded the most prestigious Portuguese literature prize, the Premio Jose Saramago, for her first novel.

Paulo Scott, "Unreal Inhabitants." Translated from Portuguese by Marianne Gareis, © 2013 Verlag Klaus Wagenbach

Watch video 01:26

Paulo Scott reads from "Unreal Inhabitants"

We meet Paulo Scott in the garden of the Indian Museum in Rio de Janeiro's Botafogo neighborhood. His novel, "Unreal Inhabitants," may be the most stirring in the array of more than 100 new Brazilian publications on the German market. With brutal honesty, he tells the doomed love story of Paulo, a politically active law student and Maina, an Indian girl. But it is about much more: racism in Brazil, the inhumane conditions under which Indian families today live in Brazil, impoverished along the side of the highway, reduced to begging and making crafts. It is also about the political landscape in the country over the decades, like the ideological skirmishes within the Workers Party PT in the late 1980s - a party that has provided Brazil's president for the past ten years.

The novel begins in Porto Alegre, but it also leads the reader to Europe shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the squatter scene in London - and at some point back to Brazil for the trial of Paulo and Maina's son Donato, who attracted attention with awkward performances. Paulo Scott was the first of his generation to address the plight of the Indians in Brazil. "Indian issues don't sell very well around here. In Brazil, readers seem to be most interested in things that aren't happening at their front door," Scott says. Bearing that in mind, he has earnedthe good reviews and the Brazilian National Library Award for the best novel 2012.

Luiz Ruffato, "They Were Many Horses." Translated from Portuguese by Michael Kegler, © 2013 Assoziation A

Close up of Luiz Ruffato, wearing glasses Copyright: Márcia Zoet

Luiz Ruffato seeks to give a voice to blue-collar workers, the people he says are often forgotten

The vehemence and fierceness in Luiz Ruffato's texts are sure to blow the reader away. Ruffato describes himself as the son of a semi-illiterate popcorn seller and an illiterate washing woman. In 1990, the skilled not quite 30-year-old locksmith left Minas Gerais state for Sao Paulo to work as a journalist. During his first month in the megacity, he slept at the bus terminal - he couldn't afford a boarding house until he had earned his first monthly wage. His debut book "They Were Many Horses" wasn't published in German until 2012. At that point, it was more than ten years old and had already won the most prestigious Brazilian awards. In 69 episodes, Ruffato gives a glimpse into the harsh everyday lives of ordinary people in Sao Paulo.

Carola Saavedra, "Landscape With Camel." Translated from Portuguese by Maria Hummitzsch, © 2013 C.H.Beck

Watch video 02:04

Carola Saavedra reads from "Landscape With Camel"

Carola Saavedra's book, "Landscape With Camel," is set on a remote island that turns out to be Lanzarote. Saavedra was born in Chile but raised in Brazil, which she left to study in Europe. She spent eight of her 10 years abroad in Germany.

"Those were very important years for me, I call them my 'educational years." Without those years, not only would I not have written the books I wrote. No, more importantly: I believe I would not have become a writer." The unlimited access to art, libraries and education in particular shaped her.

Saavedra's novel is a retrospective of a love triangle between an artist couple involved for many years and a female student, who unexpectedly died of cancer. The story is recounted from the point of view of the woman artist who flees to said island after the student's death. There, she tries to find her feet again while evaluating the relationship and her art. She records her thoughts on audiotapes meant for her boyfriend. Or is it, in the end, an art installation? An interesting, deliberate confusion.

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