What Literature brought us in 2016

Every year the world witnesses uncountable literature-related events. 2016 however brought us some pretty amazing ones. Let’s get a small summary of them before moving to the new adventures of 2017.

The Unexpected Nobel

Credits Xavier Badosa

Probably the most surprising and discussed event from this past year is the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2016. Robert Allen Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, is one of the most popular American singers, as well as the most popular country songwriter this planet has ever seen. And on October 13th the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. Dylan is not the first songwriter to have received the Prize. In 1913 it was also awarded to Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian poet and singer for “his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse”. Nevertheless, this year’s award has been highly criticized by many claiming that there were other more “worthy” writers out there who deserved that piece of paper (plus the 8 million Swedish kronor) way more than him. The dice is cast now and there is no way back…but who were the other favorites for the craved prize? The names of the nominees cannot be made public until 50 years later, therefore these are simply speculations. The two most wanted winners of the past years seem to be Haruki Murakami and Philip Roth, who are like the Di Caprios of the literature world at the moment: they might win but God knows when. According to Landbrokes, another quite likely candidate was the Syrian poet Adonis, followed by Kenyan novelist and writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Joyce Carol Oatesand, the Albanian novelist and poet Ismail Kadare and Javier Marías. This said, most of these great writers will still be in list next year, which will see another rough battle and a great victory.

A New Era for Children’s Books

Credits Gaspirtz (Own Work)

But now, let’s go back to the beginning. Great news for the new souls in this world. In March 2016 a Kickstarter campaign was launched for a tales book, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. So far nothing amazing, right? When launched, the goal was to collect about 40 grand. In barely a month however the campaign collected 445 thousand dollars, becoming the most founded children’s book in the history of crowdfunding. So now you might ask yourself what is so special about these tales? Well, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is no ordinary children’s book. It’s a collection of life stories of real, strong, independent and influencing women. When bedtime comes little girls around the globe will hear about Frida Kahlo, Queen Elizabeth, Serena Williams and the Brontë sisters. Illustrations by 100 different artists (all women!) accompany the stories. I already love it! The creators of this superbook are Eleva Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, co-founders of Timbuktu Labs. Among the great achievements of this San Francisco based company, we also find Timbuktu Magazine, the first virtual magazine for children. So, from great women to great women, cheers!

The Potter Saga

Credits Martin Pettitt

And not to go off topic too much, let’s talk about a book which made all the kids from the 90’s feel nostalgic. Yes, I am talking about Hogwarts’ “sequel”, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Everyone from that generation was waiting for it, holding their breath. In three days only, 680.000 copies were sold in the UK, making it the fastest-selling book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, published on July, 21st 2007. In the US it sold more than two million copies in 48 hours. It seems like the whole world was waiting for it since forever. Data seem to suggest that it has been a great success. The readers’ reviews are however very diverse. While some loved it, others were very disappointed. Why? For a start, the author is not J.K. Rowling. The second big disappointment comes from the genre. In fact the book is not a novel. It’s a play. While a novel is full of descriptions, action and dialogues, a play only has the latter. So basically it’s 343 pages of dialogues. After reading the Potter saga, full of that story telling the Rowling is so gifted with, you can imagine how disappointing it must have been to read this play. Not to mention the fact that it usually took a couple of days to read those books, while this one can be swallowed in a few hours. Least but not last, it seems to be some sort of re-cooking of the famous saga. The Hollywood Reporter was one of the first newspaper to publish a negative review. They claimed that “the big problem is The Cursed Child is less an original story than a remix of the existing Potter mythology. The been there, done that feeling to the whole thing is its greatest weakness”. So the most awaited book of at least the past decade was a great disappointment to some.

The Truth About Elena Ferrante

But let’s move on: from one great best-seller to another. How many of you have heard the name Elena Ferrante? Many I guess. Ferrante is one of the most famous contemporary Italian novelist, who became very famous thanks to her four-volume work known as the Neapolitan Quartet. The red thread of these novels is the intense friendship between two brilliant young girls living in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Neaples. The four volumes follow their stories throughout their lives, from primary school to retirement. Ferrante’s work is so brilliant that the Italian film production company Wildside is working on a TV series based on her books. Elena seems to have earned not only fame but also the title of best female Italian writer alive. Except for the fact that she is not. Elena is not a famous novelist, she does not even exist. Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym. And lately there have been several discussions about her real identity. In October Claudio Gatti, journalist for the Italian business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, made his suspicions public. According to Gatti, Elena Ferrante is indeed Anita Raja, a German-Italian translator working for the publishing house e/o, which oddly enough was the same house to put out the Neapolitan Quartet. Gatti’s evidence is all in the numbers, from Raja’s increased payslips to her and her husband’s real-estate dealing. E/o obviously denied the allegations, but the point is: do we really need to know? The fact that Elena Ferrante’s real identity was a secret created this aura of mystery around her novels. And maybe it were best left unrevealed.

The Greatest Ones

And finally, back to the basics. Which are the books in the spotlight this past year? On top of the list we will probably find Foer’s third novel, Here I Am. Second place definitely belongs to Han Kang’ novel The Vegetarian. In this surprisingly unsettling Korean bestseller an extremely ordinary housewife decides to become vegetarian after having a terrifying nightmare. Ian McEwan also put out another incredible piece of art, Nutshell, whose main character is a fetus concerned with life of humans on Earth. Among the other extremely praised works we find The Girls by Emma Cline inspired by the Charles Manson affair, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Zadie Smith’s finest novel Swing Time.

It has been a year full of surprises. And now, to a 2017 of wonderful writers and great novels. We are ready.

– Luisa Seguin

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