World Cup: Literary stars face off soccer-style in Penguin UK's Penguin Cup

In the Penguin Cup, writers from 16 countries are playing in imaginary match-ups.

Sergei Grits/AP
In the real World Cup, Algeria's El Arbi Hillel Soudani (l.) and Belgium's Vincent Kompany (r.) fight for the ball during the group H World Cup soccer match between Belgium and Algeria at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Yes, soccer fans love to see their favorite players face off. But how about Jane Austen going up against Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Or Ernest Hemingway competing against Haruki Murakami?

Penguin UK has created a way for authors to do just that with their new World Cup-themed tournament. The publisher created teams for 16 of the countries currently competing in the soccer championship and filled their teams with literary stars. For example, Emile Zola is currently serving as goalie for France.

“Sixteen of the world’s literary giants battle it out for supremacy,” Penguin UK wrote on its website.

The publisher also includes a detailed breakdown of exactly how each player would perform. For example, for the American team, “the creative Hemingway and Fitzgerald offer contrasting styles but play consistently well together: one offers a blunt, direct path through the opposition’s defence, while the other can conjure a fluid style like no other… Potential weak links include JD Salinger and Thomas Pynchon, who have undeniable talent but can occasionally go missing.” 

(Meanwhile, one author was happy about the idea – on his Facebook page, writer Nick Hornby called his spot on the UK team “my proudest moment in football and literature.”)

What’s unclear is how winners will be determined, but Penguin UK is letting fans gamble on the outcomes. The publisher has chosen a book from each country and is offering consumers a 10 percent discount on the title. If, however, they believe in their team, they can wait until the country beats another and moves on, at which point the discount becomes 20 percent, and so on. But if a country loses, the title goes back to full price.

Are you interested in a Nabokov-Fitzgerald faceoff? Check out the Penguin UK Penguin Cup here.

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