Spain book prizes tilt at publishing barriers

GIJON, Spain (Reuters Life!) - One of Europe’s biggest book festivals awarded prizes Friday to writers from across the Spanish-speaking world who back in their home countries often cannot read each other.

Javier Sinay, who won the Rodolfo Walsh prize for non-fiction at the Semana Negra (Noir Week) festival in Gijon, northern Spain, has a Spanish publisher, yet his book “Sangre Joven” (Young Blood) is not available outside his native Argentina.

“I would like to be (published in Spain),” Sinay said after receiving the prize. “Let’s hope this helps.”

Semana Negra organizer Paco Ignacio Taibo II said that although the prizes award no money at a festival with a shoe-string budget, they do bring prestige among the world of crime-writers from whom the jurors are selected.

“We’ve awarded prizes this year to Argentines, a Cuban and Spaniards, which goes to show that once again we are chipping away at the publishing barriers of readers and writers who speak the same language,” said Taibo, a Spanish-born writer who lives in Mexico.

Sinay’s book is a compilation of six true stories of violent deaths in Argentina between 2002 and 2008 where the victims and perpetrators were just coming of age in the chaos of Buenos Aires, a city of 15 million people.

“It’s difficult to be young anywhere, but especially in Argentina, where you are about to set out in life but find you have to fight against situations, obstacles,” he said.

“They are ordinary situations, like jealousy, but with an extraordinary outcome, a mistaken and violent one.”

The top award of the festival for best crime novel written in Spanish, the Hammett Prize - named after U.S. author Dashiel Hammett - went to Argentine novelist Guillermo Orsi, for his book “La Ciudad Santa” (The Holy City).

Orsi’s book tells of a cruise ship which runs aground in the wide but shallow River Plate, forcing the wealthy passengers to disembark in Buenos Aires, who then become bait for kidnappers.

“A city which, like many another megalopolis, but above all in South America, is riddled with corruption and violence, makes the perfect setting for a crime writer,” Orsi said of the Argentine capital, where he lives.

The Silverio Canada prize for best first novel written in Spanish went to Spaniard Gregorio Casamayor for “La Sopa de Dios” (God Soup), while Cuba’s Alejandro Hernandez won the Espartaco (Spartacus) Prize for best historical novel with “Oro Ciego” (Blind Gold).

Spains Juan Miguel Aguilera received the Celsius 232 Prize for best science fiction novel in Spanish for his book “La Red de Indra” (The Indra Network).

The Semana Negra is now in its 23rd year and over its 10 days attracts about a million visitors to what is a combination of a literary festival, street party and fun fair, complete with Ferris wheels, tombolas and candy floss.

Above all, entry is free and the fair aims to lure new readers and prevent existing ones from looking down on crime-writing, science fiction, fantasy and other novel forms often referred to in a dismissive fashion by literary snobs as “genres.”

Reporting by Martin Roberts, editing by Paul Casciato