Since I live in the United States, I’m cut off from an enormous amount of great literature written in Spanish and published in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries. I recently came to understand just how frustrating it is to read great Spanish books not written by Isabel Allende and Márquez unless you have a lot of money to spend.
The book I wanted was a graphic novel called Fueye, written by Jorge González, illustrated in pencil, about the communities of Europeans immigrating to Argentina in the 1930s and 50s. Unfortunately, I have almost no way of getting this book. Ever.
Even in New York City, the Spanish-language sections of large bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders usually only take up one small row, or maybe just one shelf. The entirety of their Spanish collection squeezed into the same amount of space as the store’s collection of books on Crafts & Hobbies (Disclaimer: I have nothing against crafts or hobbies). I went to the two closest B&N locations nearby, just to check. As I suspected, they didn’t have the book, most of what was there was translated Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer.
I decided that, naturally, the Internet would be the answer to my problems! Even though I woulnd’t be able to find the book in a physical bookstore, I figured I could simply type in the book and author names into Amazon, and in five minutes a fresh copy of Fueye would be speeding my way. I was wrong. I couldn’t find it on Amazon.com’s regular website, so I checked the Amazon marketplace. I couldn’t find it in the marketplace, so I checked Amazon.ca, the Canada storefront. Nothing. I searched straight through Google, now desperately hoping to find a small online bookstore that had a copy. Nothing.
I was alone. I wasn’t looking for some obscure, unknown Spanish book; Fueye is a critically acclaimed novel, it won an award from Fnac and Sins Entido in Spain. The book has been translated into French and is soon to be published and distributed in the United Kingdom. Add the fact that graphic novels make up one of the fastest-growing markets for the publishing industry and the absence of this book—as well as other good graphic novels in Spanish—in American markets becomes stranger.
Currently there are 45 million Hispanics that speak English as a first or second language, in addition to the handful (6 million) of students of the Spanish language. To put that in perspective, in the entire world only Mexico, with a total population of 111 million, has a larger Spanish-speaking population. Here in the United States, readers of Spanish are to a large extent treated like a foreign audience. Publishers play it safe, releasing mostly cookbooks and translations of New York Times best-sellers. With the enormous Spanish-speaking audience in the United States—ahem, bigger than those in Spain and Argentina—why not offer Americans this novel and others like it?
For now, Spanish speakers will have to be satisfied with their collections of Márquez and English works translated into Spanish. Obviously these titles sell, or bookstores wouldn’t stock them. But since they know the power of America’s Hispanic and Spanish readership, shouldn’t publishers be taking chances on books written originally in Spanish?
Just like bloggers writing about the Spanish-language market should consider writing in Spanish.
Pete D’Amato is an editor and writer living in New York City. He chooses the books he reads based on the length of the author’s name.