Did you know that Latin American novels are seldom distributed beyond the borders of the country where their authors live? Me, neither.
That means, say, that Guillermo Saccomanno, who won the Premio Hammett Prize for best crime novel in Spanish earlier today, is virtually unknown outside of his native Argentina–despite writing in a language common to most of South and Central America.
Saccomanno, 61, took the prize for the novel 77, but it’s merely the latest volume in a long and productive career that includes poetry collections, books of short stories, and a number of highly regarded crime novels. Several of his books have been made into movies, including Bajo Bandera, named best film at the 1998 Cartagena Film Festival.
After accepting the Hammett award, given at the Semana Negra crime writing festival, Saccomanno called 77 a “phantom novel” because it has not been distributed in the rest of Latin America.
“This is a policy we Latin American writers suffer,” Saccomanno told Reuters. “The book isn’t even published in neighboring countries, so what happens is we have to circulate the books through friends in Mexico or Venezuela.”
Saccomanno said it’s the practice of all the major Spanish language publishers, naming Alfaguara, Random House, and his own publisher, Planeta.
“This is nothing new,” Saccomanno said. “Globalization, like imperialism, has the same ‘divide and rule’ strategy.”
Set in 1977, when Argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship, 77 is the story of a gay teacher with Peronist sympathies and a fascination with English literature. Saccomanno says the theme of the book is civilian complicity in the so-called “Dirty War,” in which thousands of dissidents disappeared.
Calling the Latin American publishing situation “curious,” Saccomano suggested that winning the prestigious Hammett prize, named for American writer Dashiell Hammett, makes it likely that 77 will be translated into French and English before it’s available in Spanish outside of Argentina.