Why do so many Nobel Prize winners in Literature have no books in Brazil?


The Tanzanian’s Ad Abdulrazak Gurnah like the Nobel Prize in Literature 2021 brought back an old frustration, which has become almost annual. Four of the last 10 laureates had no works published in Brazil.

That was the case of the American poet Louise Glück last year, and also the Belarusian Svetlana Alexiévitch (2015), the Chinese Mo Yan (2012) and the Swedish Tomas Tranströmer
(2011). Many of the other winners from this period were also not easy to find.

Although known in Brazil, the Austrian Peter Handke was out of fashion, with only two books in his catalogue. And the author announced along with him, the Polish Olga Tokarczuk, had only one: “Os vagantes”, published here in 2015 by Tinta Negra.

The Nobel heated up the market – and so should Gurnah’s work. A month later, Yet published Tokarczuk’s “On the bones of the dead”, and Estação Liberdade released “Essay on the jukebox” and “Essay on the mushrooms”, by Handke.

Sometimes readers have to wait longer to read a Nobel Prize in Portuguese. In 2012 and 2014, few Brazilians knew the Chinese poet Mo Yan and the Belarusian writer and journalist Svetlana Aleksiévitch, both published later by Companhia das Letras. When she took the award, in 2013, Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro already had a handful of titles in Brazil, both by Companhia das Letras and by Biblioteca Azul (Globo Livros), but it was still far from being a commercial success. Most of the books by Frenchman Patrick Modiano had already been published in Brazil, but were out of print when he was awarded in 2014.

— The most obvious names, which end up being the ones that have books published here, have been overlooked by the award — argues Livia Vianna, executive editor of Record. — This same year, one of our authors, Maryse Condé, whose book “Eu, Tituba” already has a large audience in Brazil, was in pools all over the world and that was not the case. Like Margaret Atwood and Murakami, both with huge readerships in Brazil, they are always among the likely, but never among the winners, which have basically been surprises.

Livia cites as examples of the unpredictable choices the victory of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, in 2016, and last year’s double award:

— The names chosen have been so peculiar that they are authors of an almost always restricted audience. If it is restricted even abroad, it means that the author is hardly ever published here.