The OF Blog: World Cup of Fiction Preview: Group B

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

World Cup of Fiction Preview: Group B

Click here for description of the 2014 groupings and the Group A preview.

Like Group A, the Group B countries contain a mixture of young and established literary traditions.  Yet with the possible exception of Spain, this group is perhaps more evenly matched than the first group, as there are not as many standouts for any of the participant countries.  In saying this, I am not alluding to actual literary quality or output as much as I am to international exposure, especially in the Anglophone nations.  Certainly there are several critically and popularly-acclaimed writers from these countries, some of which have received recent international acclaim, and in a matchup of individual writers, there is a very real chance of a national literary upset.


The Socceroos have long been overshadowed by their larger, older Anglo-American kin, but those who are tempted to look at Australia's relative sparse population density and conclude that this young nation has not produced many world-class fiction writers over the past century will find themselves greatly mistaken.  Writers such as the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Patrick White, two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey, Colleen McCullough, and Nevil Shute (whose On the Beach was a staple of many Anglo-American school reading lists during the Cold War) certainly make Australia a literary power worthy of respect.  However, the Australian side might be a bit weak when it comes to poetry or to the lack of visible aboriginal or immigrant writing voices.


La Roja may be less familiar to football/literary enthusiasts than the other "roja" in Group B, but lately there have been some excellent Chilean writers who have made literary waves outside South America.  The most visible of these young writers, Roberto Bolaño, spent most of his adult life living outside Chile, but certainly his writing has struck a chord with writers who grew up during the days of Pinochet's rule.  Alberto Fuguet, whether one considers him as a writer or a film writer, certainly has been an influential Latin American voice over the past twenty years.  But before Fuguet helped co-found the McOndo anthology/erstwhile literary movement, Chile had produced several outstanding poets:  Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, and Nicanor Parra being just the most visible of a century-spanning crop of talented poets.  If the outcomes were based on poetry comparisons, then Chile might be a slight favorite in the majority of the contests.

The Netherlands 

The Clockwork Orange may not have been the host country for Anthony Burgess's famous novel of that name, but certainly the Dutch have developed a reputation in recent years for precise yet harrowing literature.  Although long overshadowed by their Teutonic neighbors, the Dutch literary side have produced a trio of recent literary stars, Harry Mulisch, Tommy Wieringa, and Gerbrand Bakker, the latter of whom won an IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.  Despite the talents of these three novelists, the Dutch are not as well-known in international circles for their prose or their poetry, so they likely will be the underdogs in any literary matchup.


La Furia Roja, the Red Fury, certainly has a catchy ring to it.  The defending FIFA World Cup Champions certainly can field a very solid, wide-ranging literary side as well.  Whether one prefers medieval epic poems like Mio Cid or early modern masterworks like Cervantes's Don Quijote or Lope de Vega's poetry and plays, or perhaps the early 20th century writer Miguel Unamuno, a member of the "Generation of '98," or more recently, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Spanish literature is rich in its diverse forms and interesting authorial personalities.  Yet with the exception of Zafón, few Spanish writers have managed to make a literary splash in the early 21st century (I leave Bolaño out of this, as although he had Spanish residency for nearly two decades before his death, he was as much a Chilean as a Spanish immigrant), so if the literary comparisons were to switch to the past decade's production, the Spanish literary side might be at a disadvantage.  However, when the entire national literary output is considered, Spain might be the slight literary favorite out of this group.

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