About 90% of the Brazilian young adult market is composed of foreign books. Of those, most are from United States, a few are English and one or other are French or German or something like that. Books written by Brazilians are a huge trend now, but they don’t amount to a lot of the titles published here (yet, I’m an optimist). We are still stronger on the middle grade market, with the amazing books of Coleção Vagalume and Pedro Bandeira’s Os Karas series, among other titles.
This leads to a serious problem: we grow up surrounded by american culture, not only in books, but in movies and series as well, and strangely, our expectations of high school are highly based on those from United States - when our system couldn’t be more different. Our classes are from 7-13, we are obsessed with Vestibular and almost everyone aims to enter one of our highly ranked public universities. We can choose to vote when we are 16 and we only learn how to drive when we’re 18, the same age as we are allowed to drink. We kiss and make out before going out on a date – for some people, it’s crazy to go out with someone you have never kissed. We greet people with kisses on their cheeks and tight hugs. Most of middle and high class teenagers study in private schools that doctrinate them that YOU HAVE TO GO TO UNIVERSITY OR IT’LL BE THE END OF YOUR LIFE. The others go to public school, and have difficulty to access higher education for free, ending up in private universities. Medicine and Law are the most wanted undergrad courses, and some people spend five or more years trying to enter in a Medicine course.
None of this is reflected in the books we translate, but still, it’s better for our publishing houses to bet in a book that was previously tested in a market as robust as the American. There’s also this crazy prejudice that Brazilian Books are bad and lame, a prejudice that is being slowly decomposed by the rise of new authors like Paula Pimenta and Thalita Rebouças, among others. There’s now an opportunity to young Brazilian authors in our market, but it’s still a dwarf sized share of the market. Every time someone reads one of my books and says “Oh, I loved your book, it doesn’t even seem Brazilian*” I want to go back to bed and cry, but I smile and say “Oh, this is amazing! NOW READ THESE OTHER 34 AUTHORS”. Sometimes I’m on a fair and someone passes by, grabs my books, asks me a question, finds out I’m the author and says “Oh, I was interested, but you’re Brazilian, so it’s bad”, I want to scream and shoot something, but I just smile and wave. Anyway, this text is not about this.
Cue to the diversity discussion of YA books in the US. There’s an amazing Ted Talk by Chimamanda Achidie about the Dangers of a single story, and what she says about being an kid in Nigeria and reading mostly American and British Books applies to being any Brazilian too (earlier version said “any other nationality”, but I don’t know other markets as deeply as mine). We grow up with this vision of those countries, these visions of stories that seems right to us. We think their systems are better just because the books never care to show other sides, other voices, never make us reflect on what we’re reading. There are people here that know more about Pensylvannia (How do I even write this?) than about one of our 26 states and our federal district. When you, Americans, talk about diversity in your books, indirectly you’re talking about diversity in the books our kids will be reading – and this is one of the reasons why I engage in the discussion actively, that’s one of the reasons I try to bring awareness of these movements here. We need diverse books everywhere in the world.
This is why I’m writing this text today: I KNOW there are diverse people writing and producing and trying to publish in the US. I know where they stand on the market and I’m aware of all the difficulties, all the hardness. But I want to add one more perspective to the discussion: why nobody talks about translating books from other countries, with other views, in addition to all of these? I see so many readers saying how they love to read books that are set outside US, so why not translate more books? Why not look outside the box and try to bring YA by latin authors, by african authors, by asian authors that are set in their countries, with their culture? Manga has been a huge success in US since the beginning of this century and they’re heavily infilled with Japanese culture, why not give this chance to books?
So, this is a conversation starter. I don’t want to stole focus from the main discussion, that I find fundamental for everyone. I want to invite people from the international community to talk about this, about the books they love that could be translated to english and people would love too. I also want to understand pros and cons of translating books in the US market, because I see so few translations. Is this a cultural think? There aren’t as many translators as in other countries? Sometimes, translating to english is one of the only ways of other countries to translate books, or for people from other countries have access to some books. For instance, I’ve always wanted to read the Three Body Problem, but I know zero chinese. I speak French and English, in addition to portuguese, so I rely heavily in translations to have access to some texts - and I actually celebrate when they get translated.
I also want to know from people from countries other than US/UK, what are the YA books written by authors from your country that you would recommend? That you would want the world to read? (This will be also an attempt to build a list for my project for next year - not reading anything by US/UK authors, as much as I’m not reading any fantasy written by men this year)
*This is textbook microagression, by the way. PEOPLE, I KNOW YOU WANT TO MAKE A COMPLIMENT, BUT IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THIS.