BOGOTÁ, Colombia – In the land of Gabriel García Márquez, Brazilian literature is the guest of honor.
The 25th International Book Fair of Bogotá (FILBo) – the third-largest event of its kind in Latin America, according to organizers – has chosen to honor Brazil during its 2012 edition.
Out of the 58,000 m2 (624,306 square feet) of space at the International Business and Exhibition Center (CORFERIAS), where the fair is taking place from April 18 to May 1, 3,000 m2 (32,291 square feet) are reserved for Brazilian literature, music and dance.
A total of 420 exhibitors represent 95% of the Colombian publishing market. Visitors can find 120,000 titles from 18 countries.
“One day is not enough to see the entire fair,” says Alejandro Rohenses, 33, a doctoral student in Hispanic Literature. “We want to come more than once.”
Icons of Brazilian literature, such as Machado de Assis, Guimarães Rosa, Clarice Lispector and Cora Coralina, are among the Brazilian honorees. The names of these authors were carved into the wood paneling displayed in thematic rooms where it is possible to “travel” through their works and learn more about their life stories.
In addition to 50 contemporary authors, 100 Brazilian artists are participating, most of them musicians and dancers.
Among the highlights of contemporary literature from Brazil are Nélida Piñon, Fernando Morais, Eric Nepomuceno and Ziraldo.
Nélida Piñon, the first Brazilian woman to preside over the Brazilian Academy of Letters (1996-1997), says through books it is possible to explore some of the universe of “sensitivity, intelligence and imagination” in Brazilian literature.
“You can begin to understand this country of continental proportions, characterized by its strong protection of the Portuguese language – its great miracle,” Piñon said during a discussion with Colombian writer Guido Tamayo.
And it is precisely the Portuguese language that has caught the attention of Brazil’s Spanish-speaking neighbors.
Thousands of books in Portuguese are for sale, and about 800 titles by Brazilian authors that have been translated into Spanish are for sale at the pavilion dedicated to Brazil.
Student Liliana Zamora, 13, does not speak Portuguese, but she was surprised to find the similarities with Spanish as she thumbed through some of the Brazilian books at the fair.
“I thought that it was very difficult, but I’m finding that I can understand a lot,” she says. “There are words that are almost identical.”
Social sciences professor Rubi Porto, 43, came to the fair in search of books to satisfy her curiosity about how Brazil was able to improve the education of its population.
“I learned that the reading levels of students have improved a lot,” she says. “I’m here looking for books on inclusive education applied in the public schools there.”
Brazil on display
Colombia’s growing interest in Brazilian culture justifies the Andean nation’s tribute to Brazil at the 25th FILBo.
Enrique González, the president of the Colombian Chamber of Books, says Colombians are “amazed” by the economic development Brazil has achieved in recent years.
“For us, Brazil is a vast unknown,” he says. “We know some of their music, but even being neighbors, there is an Amazon jungle between us and we speak a different language.”
Brazilian Minister of Culture Ana de Hollanda, who was in Bogotá for the fair’s opening ceremonies, says Brazilian culture is experiencing a moment of “ascension.” Brazil is being invited to participate in cultural and literary events worldwide, she adds.
Last year, the country was highlighted at the 23rd edition of Europalia, one of the largest cultural events in Europe, held in Belgium. In 2013, the country will be invited to the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany.
De Hollanda adds it is important to take advantage of this “boom” to show Brazilian culture “beyond the stereotypes, showing its diversity.”
The Brazilian government spent US$1.5 million to bring this aspect of Brazilian culture to the Bogotá book fair.
The program includes concerts in a variety of musical styles not widely known outside Brazil, such as caipira music.
“We brought a variety of styles, not just of music and literature, but other cultural manifestations, such as graffiti and capoeira,” Hollanda adds. “We want to show that Brazil is more than just samba.”
Ziraldo, a Brazilian writer and illustrator of children’s books, is releasing two books in Spanish at the Bogotá fair – “Una professora fuera de série” and “El Chico del Cómic,” translated from Portuguese.
Eleven years ago, Ziraldo released “Vito Grandam,” another Spanish translation of his work, in Bogotá. The book was used by preschool teachers in Colombia.
“All of this interest is because we’re fashionable at the moment,” he says.
Most of the books translated from Portuguese to Spanish arrive in Colombia via Europe and not directly from Brazilian publishers, González says.
“Moreover, we only know the classics,” he adds. “We know very little about contemporary literature. But I believe that Brazil also knows little about Colombian literature beyond García Márquez.”
But Colombia also has the challenge of increasing its reading rates, González adds.
The country is ranked sixth in Latin America when it comes to reading, with 2.2 books read per inhabitant per year, according to the Regional Center for Book Promotion in Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLALC). Chile tops the list, with 5.4 books per year. Brazil is in fourth place, with 4.0 books per year.
“For many years, the fair has been one of our tools for encouraging the habit of reading,” González adds.