The current (17 September 2010) issue of The Bookseller carries a feature on the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair (6-10 October), with a special emphasis on Argentina, a country in which 82.5 million books were published in 2008; 20,038 new titles were published in 200; and 4 per cent of new books are published in translation; and where there are 660 specialist bookshops. (Stats according to The Bookseller.)
Five Argentinian authors will be meeting delegates to the FBF, including Claudia Pineiro, a journalist and scriptwriter whose novel Thursday Night Widows was published in the UK last year by Bitter Lemon Press, and whose next, Forever Yours, will be out here in 2011; and Guillermo Martinez, author of The Oxford Murders (Abacus) and other novels.
Although there is apparently a strong reading culture in Argentina, economic calamities have had a negative effect, not least on import of books and on library, school and other institutional budgets. Martin Schifino, a writer, publisher and translator who lives in Buenos Aires (I've read his translations of Water-Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar and At Close Quarters by Eugenio Fuentes, for example), describes the decline of the city's book-publishing industry, which for many years was ranked with Barcelona and Mexico City as one of the leaders of the Spanish-speaking world, but now can't compete with Spain. For most Argentinian authors, Schifino suggests that "cracking the Spanish market" is the main goal, as the country's own market can't sustain writers.
Bitter Lemon Press is singled out for its track-record in publishing many of the small list of Argentinian writers in print in the UK. The company was set up in 2003 to publish crime fiction and thrillers from overseas. Next year, six of the 50 titles on its list will be by Argentinian authors. Francois von Hurter, founder of the press, is quoted as saying "We love noir and we love dramatic locations, but we decided to give Scandinavia a miss because that's been done to death with the likes of Larsson and Mankell. So we looked at Latin America instead, and as we cast about, Argentina kept coming up. Buenos Aires is a totally seductive place and there's such an ebullient literary scene. It's a city of bookshops – like Europe in 1935."
Bitter Lemon's authors include the aforementioned Claudia Pineiro, as well as Rolo Diaz, Ernesto Mallo (who was recognised via the German translations of his work) and Sergio Bizzio (via rave reviews of French translations).
Argentinian books I have reviewed include Thursday Night Widows by Claudia Pineiro, translated by Miranda France (Bitter Lemon); No-One Loves a Policeman by Guillermo Orsi, translated by Nick Caistor (MacLehose/Quercus); and Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo, translated by Jethro Soutar (Bitter Lemon).
Any recommendations for good Argentinian crime fiction that is available translated into English would be most welcome!