Argentinian Writer Wins Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award

Organisers of the Edinburgh International Book Festival today announced that the Argentinian writer Selva Almada has won the Festival’s 2019 First Book Award with her debut novel, The Wind That Lays Waste. The novel, which was nominated for the Argentinian Book of the Year Award when published in 2012, has been translated by Chris Andrews and was published by Charco Press in the UK in July 2019.

The First Book Award celebrates the wealth of new fiction from the UK and around the world featured in the Book Festival public programme by giving readers and visitors to the Festival a chance to vote for their favourite. This year 46 debut novelists and overseas writers whose words were published in English for the first time were eligible for the award, including a selection of young adult fiction.

Considered as one of the most powerful voices in contemporary Argentinian literature and lauded as a rising star of Latin American fiction, Almada also has a reputation as one of the region’s most prominent feminist intellectuals. Her work has been translated into French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Swedish and Turkish.  She has been a finalist of the Rodolfo Walsh Award and of the Tigre Juan Award (both in Spain).

Selva Almada said “I am very pleased that my book has been chosen by the readers. The Wind that Lays Waste is the first novel I ever wrote and the one that opened doors for me to thousands of readers not just in my country, but also in a wide array of places such as Sweden, Brazil, France, Portugal, Germany, Holland, the US… and now, the UK. The edition that Charco Press has produced is one of the most beautiful, and through this award I celebrate the meticulous and loving labour of this publishing house. I am very grateful to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I truly enjoyed my participation and my visit to the city last August. This award is an unexpected gift; the best sign for all my books to come in the UK. Many, many thanks.”

Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said “The Wind That Lays Waste is a quietly devastating book that packs a heavyweight punch despite being a slender novella. Four tightly-drawn characters locking horns amid the ominous landscape of the Argentine pampas: this is a mini masterpiece that is quite simply a perfect choice as our First Book Award winner.”

Selva Almada’s exquisitely crafted debut, with its limpid and confident prose, is a profound, poetic and nearly-tangible experience of the landscape amid hot winds, wrecked cars, sweat-stained shirts and damaged lives. It is told with the cinematic precision of a static road movie, like a Paris, Texas of the south. The Wind That Lays Waste is a powerfully distinctive novel that marks the arrival in English of an author whose talent and poise are undeniable.

The novel was a clear favourite, with voters commenting “This book is a masterpiece: beautiful, sparse, dark and descriptive with characters that feel so real you could swear you've crossed paths with them at some forgotten roadside outpost.” “It is a story of deterritorialization, love and defeat. In some sense, it shows us human ambition in a small world, surrounded by miseries and weaknesses.”  and “One of the best books I've read in a long time. Its prose is filled with a deep understanding of the human condition, love and sorrow.”

For full details of all writers and books eligible for the 2019 First Book Award go to edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/first-book-award. The 2020 Edinburgh International Book Festival will run from Saturday 15 to Monday 31 August and the full programme will be announced in June.

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