An online bookstore of Brazilian literature: Capitolina Books

Nara Vidal, Brazilian writer and the founder of Capitolina Books introduces her online bookstore devoted to Brazilian literature. Through its catalog, readers can browse in English. Capitolina’s rich catalog is a treasure for librarians and publishers to meet new Brazilian writers. This is the story of Vidal’s initiative:

By Nara Vidal

Officially it was September 30th.

A friend convinced me about throwing a party to launch Capitolina Books. We had live Bossa Nova, delicious food and cocktails, reading by some Brazilian authors, a sophisticated crowd that seemed very interested in contemporary Brazilian literature. This event was held at the stylish Baldwin Gallery in Greenwich, London. Even though, I took around forty titles with me, none was sold. No one is to blame, far from it. But when I left, I kept wondering how a party that celebrates a new and very niche bookshop sold no books whatsoever. I looked for answers, but it has taken me a few years to understand and, most importantly, accept, that contemporary Brazilian literature is just something most people are unfamiliar with. More than that: they find it not only foreign, but they cannot really reach it as they can, for instance, French or Spanish literature. Try any bookshop in the USA or the UK for Brazilian literature. You will possibly find Jorge Amado, Clarice Lispector, maybe some Machado de Assis and hurray for that. But where are the talented contemporary writers from Brazil getting published by the indie press and who will never make it to Granta because, well, just because.

Because I have published with the smaller and independent press in Brazil, I understand a lot of their struggles. I can also scrutinise some of their bad habits, but the point here is not that. Mainly, I witness and celebrate their creative approach to try and keep alive and mainly, publishing up and coming authors or established names that have been forgotten by the mainstream media. As a result, you have a vast array of talents that you would never find in major publishing houses nor in bookshops across the world. This was the main intention behind my far from business venture in setting up an online bookshop. I say far from business venture because, funnily enough, there are people who ask me about my business plan and predictions. Well, when you sell around two titles every four months, I think that question becomes irrelevant if not comic. (not to say tragic.)

But behind the glossy Capitolina Books webpage and its carefully curated catalogue, there are initiatives that more than justify keeping the doors open, so to speak. Through Capitolina Books, publishers, academics and translators got to know us and could order brilliant books from Brazil that otherwise would either cost the earth or simply would not be available. Through Capitolina Books, a publisher got to read my latest novel “Sorte” and translate it and publish it in the Netherlands this year. A publisher and a translator from Italy got to read Andre Timm’s Modos inacabados de morrer and give it a beautiful Italian edition. Through us, literary scouts get to read and discover unknown gems that deserve to be available in other languages. Through Capitolina Books we get to work with the Department of Latin American Studies from University College London and meet every month after proposing the discussion of a short story translated by one of the participants. This project, for instance, will be turned into a bilingual book and will have works by writers such as Jacques Fux, Xico Sá, Ronaldo Cagiano, Sérgio Tavares, Carla Bessa, Itamar Vieria Junior amongst many others.

Even if a few children’s titles can be found in the catalogue, I would recommend Miuda Books for this specific type of readers. Miuda is ran by Portuguese author Gabriela Ruivo Trindade and her selected collection is of the highest quality and certainly worth a look.

I suppose the way I see Capitolina Books is like a window display of a minuscule shop in a very small village. Not many visitors, not that much interest, but little sparks here and there enough to keep us alive and dreaming.

About the Writer:

Nara Vidal is a Brazilian writer and journalist based in the UK since 2001. Her latest novel Sorte was one of the winning titles of the Oceanos Awards 2019, one of the most prestigious accolades in Portuguese language literature. She writes about literature, arts and travel.

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