Editor's Note

Rub your eyes no more: our Fall 2016 issue, 'Verisimilitude,' is here (watch the video trailer)! We’ve materialized from the ether dream-team authors Halldór Laxness (Iceland’s Nobel Laureate), László Krasznahorkai (2015’s International Man Booker Prizewinner), Grand Budapest Hotel muse Stefan Zweig, and last, but certainly not least, Anita Raja, whose exquisite essay we accepted for publication before news broke about the real Elena Ferrante. Our nets cast wide, we’ve shined our searchlight beyond Europe too; gathered here are works from 31 countries, including fiction from Algeria, nonfiction from Cambodia, poetry from Uruguay, drama from Côte d’Ivoire, and visual art from Nepal. All of it is brilliantly illustrated by Madrid-based guest artist Florinda Pamungkas.

Our wildcard Special Feature this issue takes us to Canada, but not the one you might be familiar with: assistant editor K.T. Billey presents First Nations and Aboriginal poets alongside Francophone and Latin American diasporic voices. Of the five new languages in our pages this issue (bringing our tally of languages up to 109), you’ve probably never heard of the three from this feature (neither have we, to be honest!): Anishinaabemowin, Cree, and Innu.

Also making its debut in Asymptote, Georgia gives us, via Vazha Pshavela, an essay about the self and world, urging the reader to beware of pseudo-cosmoplitanism (for “cosmopolitanism [is] a matter for the brain”). Pair with Stefan Zweig’s emotional farewell to friends in foreign lands and renouncement of formerly felt commonalities, shortly after the outbreak of World War I.

“Foreign lands” also dominate the Poetry section, which opens with celebrated Taiwanese poet Hsia Yü’s gorgeous text- and movie-still-collages of Paris, and closes with Singapore-born Tan Chee Lay’s acrostic, spelling out the TAIWAN of his university days via a dreamlike meditation on history, politics, and self, through place. In between, many other places emerge, such as the unreal vistas borne of “insomnia’s sediments” in Jan Dammu’s poetry; or a nocturnal Pennsylvania reminding rockstar poet Serhiy Zhadan of “all that junk called ‘Soviet life’.” Whereas “voices of the near” wake up in India’s Kunwar Narain to become “silences of the far,” it’s from the future that Iran’s Rasool Yoonan invites us to see the ‘here’ in the irresistible: “Take a photo of me as a keepsake; I am the human of the 21st century!" 

The first set of trompe-l’oeils in our Fiction category also invites us to take the long view, teleporting us through the ages from Halldór Laxness’ medieval Iceland and Su Qing’s early 20th century China to Maïssa Bey’s modern-day Algeria—all while examining a timeless gender divide. In the next three pieces, doubt and uncertainty are agents of unraveling set against the backdrop of knowledge-centered academia. Rounding off the entire section is Jung Young Su’s artfully constructed (and admirably translated) laugh-out-loud tale of translator hubris, which one might contrast with Anita Raja’s genuinely edifying notes on translation.

Elsewhere, read about and pore over visual artist Stefana McClure’s tactile translations, get high with a couple who have just won the lottery, as dramatized by György Spiró (the author du jour who recently gave us Captivity), and find out from our exclusive interview with Lászlo Krasznahorkai why nothing is real but nature. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend Guillermo Fadanelli’s entertaining and supremely wise freeform treatise on literature and the question of being. In an issue that’s unusually crowded with gems (even for Asymptote), this article stood out for me.

A few housekeeping announcements: Submissions are now open for the latest installment of our now annual Close Approximations international translation contest (find the details here). David Bellos (author of Is That a Fish in Your Ear?) and Sawako Nakayasu (winner of the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize) will help us award $3,000 in prizes to six emerging translators. All winners will also be published in our April 2017 issue, and possibly at our partner newspaper The Guardian. The deadline to submit to this contest is 1 February 2017.

We're also casting our nets far and wide for new team members to fill our many new volunteer positions, including the Writers on Writers section editorship, and for the first time this year, we are advertising for new editors-at-large. In line with our ambitious plans for expansion, we are also seeking a human resources manager, a head of programming (events), and grantwriter, alongside our usual call for graphic designers and audio editors (three-month internships can also be arranged). As this final recruitment call of the year notes, it is unfortunate that magazines with key editors and position-holders of non-White or non-Western backgrounds are still a rarity in English-language literary publishing (To wit: I was the only Asian editor invited to this year's London Book Fair panel on "Discovering New Stories from Asia"). If you treasure not only what we do, but also the lengths we take to be an inclusive journal—as regards what we publish, and whom we put on our masthead—please help us spread the word. 

As you do so, why not consider a donation in support of our challenging mission too? The hard reality is that Asymptote has in all its six years of existence been unaffiliated with any university or government; being based out of Asia means we also don't qualify for the funding that like organizations in US or Europe receive. Whereas most 'world literature' journals publish country-themed issues (which easily qualifies them for funding), our commitment is to delivering the freshest literature from the world over, issue after issue. For as little as US$5 a month, you could be a part of our mission: to build the greatest archive of world literature ever. Don't wait! Become a sustaining member today.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue October 2016

Editor-in-Chief: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Assistant Managing Editors: Sam Carter (USA), Lori Feathers (USA), Janani Ganesan (India)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Joshua Craze (UK/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Ellen Jones (UK)
Henry Ace Knight (USA)
Eva Heisler (USA)

Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang

Assistant Editors: Alexis Almeida (USA), K. T. Billey (USA), Julia Leverone (USA), P. T. Smith (USA), and Lin Chia-wei (Taiwan)

Contributing Editors:
Ellen Elias-Bursac (USA), Howard Goldblatt (USA), George Henson (USA), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Sylvia Lin (Taiwan/USA), Sayuri Okamoto (Japan/Italy), Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore), Antony Shugaar (Italy), Dylan Suher (USA) and Adrian West (USA)

Chinese Contributing Editor: Francis Li Zhuoxiong (Hong Kong/Taiwan)

Spanish Contributing Editor: Soledad Marambio (Chile/USA)

Commissioning Editor: J.S. Tennant (UK)

Blog Editors: Hanna Heiskanen (Blog Editor), Madeline Jones (Blog Editor) and Nina Sparling (USA)

Translation Tuesdays Editor: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Interview Features Editor: Ryan Mihaly (USA)

Podcast Editor: Layla Benitez-James (USA/Spain)

Art Director: Lee Yew Leong

Assistant Director, Educational Arm: Lindsay Semel (USA)

Educational Arm Assistants: Anna Aresi and Leela Levitt

Editor-at-large, Australia: Beau Lowenstern
Editor-at-large, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mirza Puric
Editor-at-large, Canada: Marc Charron
Editor-at-large, Egypt: Omar El Adl
Editor-at-large, Hong Kong: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editors-at-large, India: Naheed Patel and Poorna Swami
Editor-at-large, Indonesia: Tiffany Tsao
Editor-at-large, Iran: Poupeh Missaghi
Editor-at-large, Poland: Beatrice Smigasiewicz
Editor-at-large, Romania and Moldova: MARGENTO
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-large, South Africa: Alice Inggs
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, UK: Megan Bradshaw

Masthead for Issue October 2016

Fiction: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Writers on Writers: Lori Feathers
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Henry Ace Knight
Illustrations and Cover: Florinda Pamungkas
Chief Executive Assistant: Theophilus Kwek

Executive Assistants: Sarah Ahmad, Laura Garmeson, and Nozomi Saito

Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan

Proofreaders: Ellen Elias-Bursac, Nozomi Saito, Thea Hawlin, Naheed Patel, Arthur Dixon, and Lori Feathers

Technical Manager: József Szabó

Director of Outreach: Ryan Celley

Marketing Manager: David Maclean

Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan

English Social Media: Sohini Basak, Hannah Berk, Thea Hawlin, Nolan MacGregor, and Hannah Vose

Spanish Social Media: Arthur Dixon

Chinese Social Media: Zhang Zhuxin and Zhang Lingyu

Incoming: Talia Behrend-Wilcox (Newsletter Editor).

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: National Arts Council (Singapore), Rahul Soni, Daniel Hahn, Deborah Smith, Laura Barber, Adam Freudenheim, and Jonathan Ruppin.

For their generous donations, our heartfelt thanks go too to Anna Aresi, Tanjil Rashid, Teng Qian Xi, Mark Cohen, Miriam Bidenne, Sandra Valnes Quammen, Anne Berk, Geoffrey Howes, Nathaniel Jones, Rachel Dixon, and Gao Wei.



Halldór Laxness, from Wayward Heroes

Translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton

“It astonishes me,” said she, “that such a young man should foist verses on us women, against which we have little recourse.

Su Qing, from Ten Years of Marriage

Translated from the Chinese by Amanda Lee Koe

Amidst the pandemonium I held only one query close to my heart: Where was my groom?

Maïssa Bey, Cafés Morts

Translated from the French by Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg

For a long time, those two places were intimately linked in my mind. Men went to dead cafés and women went to cemeteries, and that was that.

Emmanuela Carbé, High Tide

Translated from the Italian by Isabella Livorni

People who have tried BATI report having seen sea monsters, enchanted castles, devils with tails, glowing disco balls and even God.

Lídia Jorge, The Bird Hypothesis

Translated from the Portuguese by Sinead Crehan, Christine Fernandes, Margaret Jull Costa, and Hazel Robins

The girl let out a cry. “Birds, professor!”

Jung Young Su, Aficionados

Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit surprised. Korean humanities programs may bend over backwards for foreign credentials, but to actually give this pipsqueak . . . a professorship was just too ridiculous to contemplate.


Hsia Yü, from First Person

Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury

And that wilderness from which I hear a faraway echo is my body, is it not?

Roberto Echavarren, The Lady from Shanghai

Translated from the Spanish by Donald Wellman

you make from the luminous Adam’s apple / citronella at the edge of the mirror, phosphorescent,

Dimitris Lyacos, from Z213: EXIT

Translated from the Greek by Shorsha Sullivan

Without voice m ind ifthereis music that covers.

Serhiy Zhadan, Pennsylvanian Readings

Translated from the Ukrainian by Alan Zhukovski

lively bicycles roll through the open landscape / military aircraft hang very close to sleepers’ dreams

Claude Ber, Four Cutouts

Translated from the French by Elodie Olson-Coons

Luxury of purposeless ascension. Neither sky nor fall. The metaphysical innocence of the elevator.

Rasool Yoonan, Six Poems

Translated from the Persian by Siavash Saadlou

I am the human of the 21st century!

Kunwar Narain, An Evening in Golconda

Translated from the Hindi by Apurva Narain

he is indifferent  / to tourists and ruins, for him time is the time that passes / at the rapid pace of a meter

Jan Dammu, Four Poems

Translated from the Arabic by Suneela Mubayi

Here I am with / an apple / and that suffices.

Yury Milorava, Two Poems

Translated from the Russian by Anna Halberstadt

oh fanciful stratagems— / oh stunning adorations . . .

Inuhiko Yomota, A Beggar of Life

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

All stars are just corpses of light.

Daniela Danz, from V

Translated from the German by Monika Cassel

if in the grit your beak / pecks out a binary code: beginning/end

Tan Chee Lay, Myths of the T Century

Translated from the Chinese by Teng Qian Xi

in the straits of postmodernity / there are no so-called stateless waters


Anita Raja, Translation as a Practice of Acceptance

Translated from the Italian by Rebecca Falkoff and Stiliana Milkova

The translator’s greatest resource must be her own inventiveness.

Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Graveyard Clay and The Dirty Dust

Translated from the Irish by Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson

A review by Stephanie Boland

Accuracy is a noble aim, but it is perhaps not always worth the trouble (and this text gives the translator as much trouble as possible).

Scholastique Mukasonga, Cockroaches

Translated from the French by Jordan Stump

A review by M. René Bradshaw

For Mukasonga, staying alive meant the burden of bearing witness to the event and the duty to disclose it.

Publius Vergilius Maro, Aeneid

Translated from the Latin by David Hadbawnik

A review by Daniel C. Remein

Hadbawnik’s Aeneid performs a take-down of translation as a privilege, as “great,” or for the “established.”


Stefan Zweig, To Friends in Foreign Land

Translated from the German by David Kretz

You are far from me these days, and foreign.

Vazha Pshavela, Cosmopolitanism and Patriotism

Translated from the Georgian by Rebecca Gould

Only through cosmopolitanism can we save the world from ethnic hatred and self-destruction.

Guillermo Fadanelli, from In Praise of Vagrancy

Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore

The language that makes a conversation possible is neither a medium of communication nor a mere vehicle that brings us to an agreement. It is, above all, an image of reality.

U Sam Oeur, The Saccamng and the Eisei

Translated from the Khmer by Ken McCullough

Neak Saccamng, “the invisible people,” have existed in Cambodia for aeons, and are still around. I have never had a personal encounter with them, but I know several people who have.


György Spiró, Prah

Translated from the Hungarian by Szilvia Naray-Davey

This shitty little thing is worth that much?

Koffi Kwahulé, from The Recluses

Translated from the French by Patricia Hartland

They’ve got it into their heads that the dead bodies of patriots are tangled up between the roots. That the tree is actually the tombstone of a mass grave.

Special Feature

Viki Holmes on Laksmi Pamuntjak

It begins, as always, with the search for home, both geographical and metaphysical.

Canadian Poetry Feature

Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, Gathering

Translated from the French by Howard Scott

I know how to track down
blueberries and apricots

Marie-Célie Agnant, from Balafres

Translated from the French by Siobhan Marie Meï

I do want to say something
about those countries
of unending

Marcel Labine, The Correct Version

Translated from the French by John Gilmore

Unbeknownst to us all, we were being subjected to decalcomania.

Gwen Benaway, Two Poems

Bilingual poems in Anishinaabemowin and English

let me be hers,
daughter of everything

Duncan Mercredi, Two Poems

Partially translated into the Cree by Joe Mercredi

we could name many Indians
ninanaw ni ki ininkatewak michet ininiwak
but we could not speak their voices

Rokhl Korn, This Wrist of Mine

Translated from the Yiddish by Tanjil Rashid

My fingers, like ten forgotten commandments
from the burnt bush of our love

Alejandro Saravia, Two Poems

Translated from the Spanish by María José Giménez

we will burn the logs of childhood
to warm a Montreal afternoon


An interview with László Krasznahorkai

Translated from the Hungarian by Eszter Krakkó

Reality is like God: “we are convinced that He exists,” but He has never appeared in . . . certainty.

An interview with David Hadbawnik

It’s fun to imagine Aeneas texting out the whole story of the fall of Troy, using all-caps for the repeated admonition to “RUN!” to underscore the urgency.

An interview with Alfian Sa'at

Poetry has a different kind of genesis for me. It often begins as an image . . . or a sensation of time speeding up or slowing down.