Author Mark Brazaitis, professor of English at West Virginia University, has won the 8th Annual Gival Press Novel Award for his novel “Julia & Rodrigo.”

“Julia & Rodrigo” chronicles the ill-fated love of Julia García and Rodrigo Rax, two teenagers who meet against the backdrop of the waning years of Guatemala’s long and bloody civil war. Brazaitis hopes the Romeo-and-Juliet story will resonate with readers across time and cultures.

The author served as a Peace Corps volunteer and technical trainer in Guatemala in the early- and mid-1990s and found the country’s fault lines deeply affecting. He notes that divisions in Guatemala arise over religion (Catholics versus Evangelicals), race (indigenous people—modern Maya Indians—versus ladinos—people of mixed European and indigenous heritage) and class (the divide between rich and poor is even greater than it is in the United States).

“I wanted my novel to explore these divisions via the lives of my two protagonists,” Brazaitis said.

Julia, the daughter of an engineer, is Evangelical, ladina and wealthy. Rodrigo, a soccer star, is Catholic, indigenous and poor. What begins as a love story soon becomes a struggle against war’s madness. Julia and Rodrigo rise above old-fashioned customs of marriage and religious worship only to collide with events they cannot control. Will their story mirror the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, or can they find a happier ending?

“Ultimately, this finely crafted novel goes a long way toward answering the question of whether human free will can overcome fate, or God’s will,” said author Thaddeus Rutkowski, final judge of the Gival Press contest.

“Julia & Rodrigo” will be available in print in November 2013.

Finalists for publication and the $3,000 prize included “Color a Crumbling Landscape,” by Michael McGuire of Jalisco, Mexico, and “Naraka,” by Gopal Balachandran of Northampton, Mass.

Mark Brazaitis is the author of four books of fiction, including “The Incurables: Stories,” winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize, from the University of Notre Dame Press. He is also the author of a book of poems, “The Other Language,” winner of the 2008 ABZ Poetry Prize. He directs the Creative Writing Program at WVU and is currently working on a collection of stories set at an ice skating rink.



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