Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Postcolonial Kitchen: Vietnamese Recipes from Marguerite Duras’ Childhood

Duras’ recipes illustrate how cooking—like literature, like memory—is a subjective experience in a continual state of being perfected.

The prolific French writer and filmmaker Marguerite Duras is perhaps best known for her novel The Lover, winner of the 1984 Prix Goncourt, as well as for her 1959 Oscar-nominated screenplay Hiroshima mon amour. In 1987, she published a collection of texts entitled La vie matérielle (Practicalities), in which she relates “everything and nothing” relating to her life, from her work to everyday thoughts. Duras was an avid cook and had intended to include some of her recipes in the collection, too. Ultimately, though, while some recipes made it into La vie matérielle, most did not. After Duras’s death in 1996, her son Jean Mascolo sought to rectify this by publishing the slim volume La Cuisine de Marguerite (Benoît Jacob), a collection of his mother’s recipes as recorded in her handwritten notebook. After a false start in 1999 when Duras’s literary executor blocked its sale, the book was finally republished and circulated in 2014.

The recipes in La Cuisine de Marguerite are a captivating mix of flavors and influences. This can be expected from any collection of recipes curated over a lifetime. However, given her international experiences, Duras’s collection ranges wider than many others. Traditional French fare is sparsely represented in her recipe book, with leek soup, vichyssoise, and chicken liver pâté scattered here and there among the more plentiful offerings of further-off origins: nasi goreng from Indonesia, rougail sauce from Réunion, spare ribs from the U.S. The recipes are mostly brief, though some are characterized by spirited notes, such as her instructions for Dublin coddle (“The Irish will tell you: add more wine […] Don’t listen to them.”) and gazpacho (“The Spanish use broth in the place of water. They’re wrong.”). In the preface to the book, Jean Mascolo writes that the book “has no other pretense than to evoke Marguerite Duras in a daily activity that she did not hesitate, with a smile, to make as creative as her writing.”

Among the most personal recipes in the book are those originating from the place of Duras’s birth in 1914: the Gia Định province in French Indochina, near what is now known as Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Duras was the middle child and only daughter of two schoolteachers who had answered the French colonial government’s call for volunteers. Her father died early on, plunging the family into poverty, after which her mother allowed the children near-complete freedom. Unlike the other colonists, the siblings were allowed to play with Vietnamese children, and Duras spoke fluent Vietnamese. She had no taste for French foods—the Normandy apples and the meat that her mother occasionally served the family—preferring rice, soups from street vendors, and fresh fish cooked in nuoc-mâm, Vietnamese fish sauce.

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Meet the Publisher: Simon Dardick, Co-Publisher of Véhicule Press, on Publishing Translations of Francophone Literature and Social History

It’s wonderful working with translators. I love the whole complex process and appreciate how translators must have a foot in two cultures.

Véhicule Press is a Canadian publisher of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Located in the city of Montréal, where French is predominantly spoken, Véhicule has been publishing francophone authors in translation since 1980. In recent years, half their catalog has been dedicated to works translated from the French. Véhicule started out in 1973 on the site of the artist-run gallery Véhicule Art Inc. with a printing press and equipment inherited from one of its members. In 1975, they became the only cooperatively owned printing and publishing company in the province of Québec. Nowadays, the press is run by Simon Dardick, who stayed on when the coop broke up in 1981, and archivist Nancy Marrelli. From the beginning, Véhicule has focused on titles that celebrate and examine Canadian culture and society. Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina, Sarah Moses, stopped by Véhicule’s office in Montréal to chat with Simon Dardick about publishing francophone literature in translation and some of the titles he’s excited about. 

Sarah Moses (SM): I’d like to begin by asking you about the origins of Véhicule Press.

Simon Dardick (SD): It grew out of an art gallery called Véhicule Art. It was at a time when artists were renting large spaces—for performance art and for large-scale colour field paintings. Véhicule Art was an artist-run gallery—the second one in Canada; the first was in Vancouver.The artwork was interesting—it was very international but also showed work from local people from Montréal and Québec. The press was situated at the back of the gallery. One of the artists had bought a huge printing press and printed, I think, one or two copies of a magazine called Beaux-Arts. The apocryphal story is that the printer got his hand caught in the press and it stood silent for many months until some people gravitated around it and decided to learn how to use it.

That was six months before I arrived in 1973. I became typesetter and general manager. We were all middle class kids, lots of long hair, who were involved in literary stuff. We were painters, writers, dancers, and video artists who came together. There was at various times seven or eight of us. We were incorporated in Québec as a cooperative printing and publishing company. We really wanted just to publish, but we would print our books on offcuts, the paper left over from jobs we had printed for other folks. We were the popular grassroots printer in town. We printed posters and invitations for artists and flyers for demonstrations and community groups. So essentially we started publishing more and more books of our own although near the end we still did jobs printing for people. The end was really 1980, 1981. The technology was changing—printing was becoming more electronic, rather than lithographic. We did low-end printing, except for our own books. We didn’t envision committing to a life of commercial printing. So we dissolved the printing company and my wife, Nancy, and I continued the publishing end of things. In 1981, we moved to a greystone in central Montréal—we live above the office—and immediately eliminated tremendous overhead in terms of rent.

Our approach has been very much influenced by visual arts—I was a painter. So for me the look of a book is important: the cover art and the text of the book has to work together. To this day I still typeset all our books, with the odd exception. We’ve been doing it here since 1981. We have a poetry editor and a fiction editor. My wife and I do the non-fiction.

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Translation Tuesday: The Judgement of Richard Richter by Igor Štiks

An excerpt from acclaimed writer Igor Štiks' soon-to-be-published novel, in translation.

Igor Štiks is no stranger to Asymptote. As his April 2012 interview with us states, he was born in Bosnia, wrote his books in Croatia, and now divides his time between Edinburgh and Belgrade. The title character of Štiks’ soon-to-be-published novel, The Judgement of Richard Richter, is a Viennese writer and journalist who retreats from Paris and a painful divorce to his childhood home of Vienna just as he’s turning fifty, in 1992. In the midst of remodeling the apartment where he’d been raised by his aunt Ingrid, he stumbles on a letter written by his late mother, hidden in a blue notebook, tucked behind a bookcase in a wall he’d been demolishing.

From the unsent letter, he learns that his father was a man Richard had never heard of—someone called Jakob Schneider, a leftist Jewish antiwar activist from Sarajevo. Just then, in April of 1992, the war is breaking out in Bosnia. Moved by this unexpected information about his parentage and the mounting hostilities in Bosnia, Richter decides to go to Sarajevo to report from there as a war correspondent and, while he’s there, to search for more information about his father.

Once he arrives he is quickly caught up in the reality of the war and, at first, he sets aside his search for his father. Instead he finds a student, Ivor, to serve as his guide and translator, and he and Ivor decide to shoot a film about a play which is being rehearsed, amid the terrifying conditions of the siege, by a Sarajevo theater, based on a script adapted from the novel, Homo Faber, by Max Frisch. While working on the play he falls in love with Alma, the play’s leading actress. It is from this love affair and the outcome of the search for his father that he flees with such shame and horror, as described in the opening sentences of the excerpt, which we’re thrilled to present to you today in contributing editor Ellen Elias-Bursac’s excellent translation.

When the United Nations transport aircraft took off from Sarajevo on the morning of July 7, I was convinced that shame would strike me dead right there if I looked back once more at the city. I stayed in the seat I’d been assigned and fended off the desire to gaze one last time through the window at Sarajevo as I fled. I held my face in my hands, dropped my head to my knees, and didn’t even rise to lift a hand and wave to the besieged city I’d arrived in as a journalist in mid-May—only to desert it that day like a coward running from my own personal catastrophe, which had intertwined so strangely with the city’s calamity. Coward-like, I repeat, with no word of farewell. Or better, like a beggar in disguise, because there was nothing left of the old Richard Richter but, perhaps, the name on the accreditation ID that allowed him to board the aircraft as simply and painlessly as if hailing a cab to whisk him away from a war he had no tie to whatsoever.

And the tears that dripped onto the grimy iron deck of the aircraft, finding their way through his tightly squeezed fingers, might be perceived as nothing more than a perfectly reasonable human response to what he’d been through, a reaction to the stress that is invariably a part of the work of a journalist, a release of emotions now that the danger had finally passed, after our famous writer, valiant correspondent, and shrewd analyst of this tragic European war at the century’s end had chosen to withdraw. Perhaps to write a fat new book about his experiences and the bravery it took to be there, on the spot, before anybody else could, to open the eyes of Europe—as long as the honorarium was generous enough. No one knew that the man they took pains to extract from the plane that hot day in Split when the plane had landed was no longer the man listed on the ID attached to his shirt. No longer did he answer to that name.

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In Review: Once There Was a City Named Dilli by Intizar Hussain

Delhi is in a perpetual cycle of becoming and being unmade.

After our feature on studying language in South Asia on the eve of the seventieth anniversary of Indian Independence, we focus once again on the complex social and linguistic landscape of the subcontinent. Sneha Khaund reviews Man Booker Prize shortlisted author and Ordre des Arts et des Lettres awardee Initizar’s Hussain’s loving, nostalgic account of Delhi that has been recently translated by Ghazala Jamil and Faiz Ullah and published by Yoda Press. The Pakistani author (1923-2016) is widely recognized as a great Urdu writer and was a regular literary columnist for Pakistan’s leading English-language daily Dawn. He migrated to Pakistan in 1947 after it was created by partitioning colonial era India into the two nations of India and Pakistan. Hussain’s acclaimed novel Basti, published in 1979 and later translated into English, addressed the history of Pakistan and the subcontinent. As this review argues, the issues of secularism and language politics are as important in contemporary times as they were during the Partition. 

As I reflect on the themes of the book I wish to dwell on in this review, my attention is interrupted by bits of information pouring in through news channels and the internet. A self-styled godman has been convicted of raping two of his former disciples. His followers are spread across Haryana and Punjab, neighbouring states of Delhi where I am writing from. The judgement has come fifteen years after the charges were made, during which period he has cultivated a flamboyant personal image, complete with movies and music videos. On Friday, the time leading up to the verdict was fraught with tension as the media speculated whether his followers would riot if he was convicted. The police had emergency preparations on stand-by, including three stadiums to hold people after arrests. Violence erupted after the verdict, as feared, and at last count, thirty people have died. Curfew has been imposed on parts of northern India and there has been an internet block-out in certain parts so that rumours don’t spread and incite fresh violence.

The deafening silence in the wake of violence in the modern state—whether it is Darjeeling, Kashmir, Punjab, or Haryana—is with what Intizar Hussain begins Once There Was a City Named Dilli. Hussain starts the first chapter by saying that he had arrived in Delhi “two and a half or three years after Partition” (3) and had headed to the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin where he was taken aback by the silence that greeted him instead of the usual hustle and bustle. His surprise will be relatable to modern day readers familiar with the shrine of the Sufi saint in the heart of Delhi that draws throngs of devotees and tourists alike and is located close to one of the busiest railway stations in India. We wonder if a hush has fallen over the city in the aftermath of the violence of Partition, but Hussain draws a larger arc of history.

As he searches in vain for the nineteenth century Urdu poet Ghalib’s grave while the melancholy scream of a lonely peacock tears through the “dusk of that sad evening” (6), he is struck with amazement at how many times the city has been plundered and resettled. Thus begins Hussain’s quest to write the history of Delhi as a series of plunders, conquests, settlements. “Who were the settlers, who were settled?”, he writes. As scholars such as Romila Thapar have shown, these are complex questions because they carry within them the issue of who is the legitimate citizen of India. Both colonialist and nationalist historiography have been guilty of perpetuating the perception that Islam came to India by way of the sword, through figures such as Nadir Shah and Timur. Hussain then proceeds to draw up a historical narrative of the city from the time of the mythical Pandavas of Mahabharat, the period of Islamic dynasties, the colonial era where India’s capital was shifted to Delhi from Calcutta in 1911, ending finally with the nationalist movement in the early twentieth century that eventually led to the creation of two nation states—India and Pakistan.

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Asymptote Podcast: Our First Interactions with New Languages

Discover funny stories about linguistic misunderstandings in our latest podcast episode!

Before we translate with a language, we have to pick it up. In this episode of the Asymptote Podcast, learn about people’s first interactions with new languages. Discover the funny stories about linguistic misunderstandings unearthed by Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle as he stands on a bridge between two countries. Plus, hear what’s in store for the podcast this fall.

Podcast Editor and Host: Dominick Boyle

Music by Podington Bear, used under a Creative Commons License from the Free Music Archive.

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest in literary news around the globe, all in one place.

If, like us, you can’t start the weekend without knowing what the literary world’s been up to this past week, we’ve got your back. We have dispatches from Central America, the United States and Indonesia with a real tasting board of talks, events and new publications. Wherever you’re based, we’re here to provide you with news that stays news. 

Editor-At-Large for Guatemala, José García, reports on events in Central America: 

Today Costa Rica’s book fair, the twentieth Feria del Libro 2017, kicked off in San José. During its nine days, CR’s fair will offer concerts, book readings, release events, and seminars. This year’s Feria will have the participation of writers like Juan Villoro (Mexico), Carlos Fonseca (Costa Rica), Pulitzer Prize for Poetry winner Rita Dove (United States), Horacio Castellanos Moya (El Salvador), and Mayra Santos-Febres (Puerto Rico), among others.

Some of the books to be presented or discussed during the fair are Larisa Quesada’s En Piel de Cuervos, Alfonso Chase’s Piélagos, Carlos Francisco Monge’s Nada de todo aquello, Isidora Chacón’s Yo Bruja, and Luis ChávesVamos a tocar el agua. Also, the renown Costa Rican writer Carlos Fonseca, famous for his first novel Coronel Lágrimas that was translated into English by Megan McDowell and published by Restless Books, will talk about his sophomore book, Museo Animal on September 2.

In Guatemala, the indie press Magna Terra continued the promotion of many of its titles released during this year’s Guatemalan Book Fair. On August 17 they officially presented Pablo Sigüenza Ramírez’s Ana es la luna y otros cuentos cotidianos. Also, they continue to push Pedro Pablo Palma’s Habana Hilton, about the most personal side of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, during his time in Guatemala and his early years in Cuba.

Fellow Guatemalan indie press, Catafixia Editorial recently finished a local tour that included their participation in FILGUA, the international poetry festival of Quetzaltenango FIPQ, and a quick visit to Comalapa, for the presentation of Oyonïk, by the twenty-two-year-old poet, Julio Cúmez. Additionally, Catafixia is preparing for their participation in the IV Encuentro de Pensamiento y Creación Joven en las Américas in Habana Cuba next month. And recently they announced the inclusion of writer, poet, and guerrilla leader Mario Payeras to their already impressive roster; they have yet to share which of Mario’s books they will republish.

Finally, Guatemalan writer, Eduardo Halfon, has a new book coming out August 28 titled Duelo (Libros Asteroide).

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In Review: Mr. Fix-It by Richard Ali A Mutu

A review of the first novel translated from Lingala, an African language spoken by between 7 and 10 million people.

Richard Ali A Mutu’s Mr. Fix-It begins curiously enough with a list of items that its protagonist, Ebamba, and his family must procure as a bride price to obtain the hand of his girlfriend, Eyenga. Over the opening pages, the goods range from the mundane (three bags of rice), to the supposedly traditional (baskets of kola nuts), and the extravagant (two three-piece Versace suits). As negotiations carry on and break down, with the would-be bride questioning the need for this process altogether, a rain-storm recalling the one that wipes Gabriel García Márquez’s Macondo off the map in Cien años de soledad forces everyone inside to conduct business inside the house. Everyone decides to pause for a while as due to the leaky roof “people [run] out of dry places to sit” and “The rain is coming down as if someone had opened a giant faucet and the family is frantically putting out more and more buckets to protect the carpet” (12).

Despite the optimism one may glean from this inauspicious opening’s relation to the work’s title (Mr. Fix-It being a stylized translation of Ebamba’s name, which literally means “mender” in Lingala), the rain stands in for the larger structural problems faced by the people of Kinshasa at home and within the world economy. For example, “the Chinese” paved the now flooded street and put in the stopped-up sewers, and the residents themselves are at a loss to explain the failed development project. Some blame poor Chinese workmanship, others the neighborhood’s witches. Whatever the explanation, the roads are flooded and the sewers broken. And what about that roof? The astute reader of African literature will thus find the novel taking up colonialism’s inescapable structuring of the present as found in novels such as Chinua Achebe’s often overlooked No Longer at Ease (1960). As with the main character of Achebe’s novel, the orphaned Ebamba obtains an education but enters a broader economy where power relations, colonial and otherwise, shape one’s destiny regardless of one’s talents or intents. The mayor, the president, and the director of a company where Ebamba applies for a job all lack names, suggesting the utter dehumanization connected to dealing with them. Yet the novel reminds us that, these difficulties aside, Ebamba, the mender, remains the master of his own fate, and the choices that lead to his destruction are his alone.

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Close Approximations: In Conversation with Poetry Runner-Up Keith Payne

Language is local; for all our travel and world-webbed wideness, we are beasts of habit and most often stay within the same 10 square miles

Today, we continue our spotlight on the winners of Asymptote’s annual Close Approximations translation contest, now into its third edition. (Find the official results and citations by judges David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu here.) From 215 fiction and 128 poetry submissions, these six best emerging translators were awarded 3,000 USD in prize money, in addition to publication in our Summer 2017 editionAfter interviews with fiction winner Suchitra Ramachandran, fiction runners-up Brian Bergstrom and Clarissa Botsford, and poetry runner-up Sarah Timmer Harvey, today we have poetry runner-up Keith Payne in conversation with Asymptote Assistant Interviews Editor, Claire Jacobson. 

Keith Payne is the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Award winner 2015–2016. His collection Broken Hill (Lapwing Publications, Belfast, 2015) was followed by Six Galician Poets (Arc Publications, 2016). Forthcoming from Francis Boutle Publishers is Diary of Crosses Green, from the Galician of Martín Veiga. Keith is director of the La Malinche Readings between Ireland and Galicia and the PoemaRia International Poetry Festival, Vigo. His translation of Welcome to Sing Sing, by Galician poet Elvira Ribeiro Tobío, was a runner-up in Asymptote’s Close Approximations contest. A poet in addition to being a translator, he shares his time between Dublin and Vigo with the musician Su Garrido Pombo.

CJ: The motif of imprisonment strongly undergirds these poems, from Bob Dylan to Ethel Rosenberg and everything in between, with Rosenberg’s Sing Sing prison providing the title and backdrop for these reflections. Where does this theme come from, and what was the significance of writing (and now translating) these famous imprisoned women in verse? 

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Translation Tuesday: Archilochus on the Solar Eclipse, 648 BC

All that we human beings have assumed will be in doubt

In tribute to the total solar eclipse that was visible across the United States on Monday, we’re excited to present a poem written nearly 2500 years ago on April 6, 648 BC by Archilochus, a Greek lyric poet from the island of Paros who was well-known for composing poems based on his emotions and experiences. What remains of the poem Archilochus composed is a fragment that recounts a solar eclipse, where, needless to say, things get very weird very quickly. Translated by Aaron Poochigan. 

Nothing’s unreasonable, nothing too much, nothing stunning,

now that Zeus the Father of the Gods has cloaked the light

to make it night at noontime, even though the sun was shining.

Terrible dread has fallen upon men. From here on out

all that we human beings have assumed will be in doubt,

and no one should be shocked to see, in briny acres, land

animals, walking creatures, having sex with dolphins, when

their four legs come to love the sounding waves more than the sand,

and dolphins with their flippers come to love a mountain glen.

*****

Aaron Poochigan is the author of the thriller in verse Mr. Either/Or (www.mreitheror.com) and the poetry collection Manhattanite (www.aaronpoochigian.com).

*****

Read More Translations:

Self-Translation and the Multilingual Writer

The act of self-translation is for many, including Beckett himself, an experiment in agony.

Samuel Beckett self-translated a great many of his texts from French to English and vice-versa, and does not seem to have unequivocally favored one language over the other. For Beckett, choosing to write in French came from “un désir de m’appauvrir encore plus” (a desire to impoverish myself even further). Evidently, he viewed French as a more minimal language.[1] Beckett sparsely commented on his decision―or compulsion―to write in both languages, but in all events, such choices appear to be largely affective and difficult to justify rationally. All the more so when the act of self-translation is for many, including Beckett himself, an experiment in agony. For a minority, self-translation instead liberates the writer, at once from the risk of servility to an original, and from the effort of wrenching a brand new work from one’s mental background noise. One need neither give birth to a new text, nor obey an existing one.

The late novelist Raymond Federman, an émigré from France and a bilingual speaker, offers an example of one writer for whom self-translation was in some sense liberating. Federman wrote for several decades almost entirely in English, and only began to self-translate well into the middle of his career. In fact, English remained his dominant language of initial composition, and he once expressed to me a certain resistance to writing directly in French. Nonetheless, he self-translated extensively from the mid-nineties until his death in 2009. Federman introduces extensive and significant variations between translations and originals, so that his texts exhibit what Sara Kippur calls mouvance (variance), a term borrowed from medievalist Paul Zumthor.[2] Beckett’s own texts exhibit some variation, but in Federman’s case, narrative accounts of a single autobiographical event differ between accounts, whether they occur in different books or in the “same” book’s French and English version. Hence, Federman ties the act of translation directly to issues of autobiographical authenticity, demonstrating that such authenticity is largely illusory―memory is a kind of fiction.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This just in—the hottest news in the literary world from the corners of the globe!

Who said being an armchair traveller is no fun? It’s Friday, which means it’s time for a literary trip around the world with Asymptote! From a digital archive of poetry and innovations in Afrikaans literature to Brazilian literary festivals and summertime opera in Austria—our correspondents have lots to fill you in on!

Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs reports from South Africa:

Badilisha Poetry X-change—an online archive and collective of African poets—has announced a tour aiming to document poets who write and perform their work in languages indigenous to South Africa. A previous tour in 2015 visited cities in Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and South Africa, and recorded material from 186 poets, of which 100 are featured on the Badilisha website. Tour dates will be announced imminently on social media.

Another literary event to look forward to is the Open Book Festival (September 6 to 10, Cape Town). The program list covers topics ranging from small publishers to sci-fi, writing urban spaces, the politics of tertiary institutions, and activating queer spaces in Africa. Top local writers speaking at the event include Achmat Dangor (Bitter Fruit), Etienne van Heerden (30 Nagte in Amsterdam), SJ Naudé (The Alphabet of Birds), Damon Galgut (The Good Doctor), Gabeba Baderoon (A Hundred Silences) and Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese (Loud and Yellow Laughter), as well as award-winning translator Michiel Heyns and playwright Nadia Davids. 2016 Man Booker winner Paul Beatty (The Sellout) will also participate, along with Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Tram 83), European Union Prize winner Carl Frode Tiller, Nigerian author Yewande Omotoso (Bom Boy) and 2017 Caine Prize winner Bushra al-Fadil.

Nthikeng Mohele has been awarded the University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing in English for Pleasure, his fourth novel, while Mohale Mashigo picked up the debut prize for The Yearning. Previous UJ Prize winners include Zakes Mda in 2015 and Ivan Vladislavić in 2011.

Three new publications are making waves in Afrikaans publishing. Acclaimed novelist Eben Venter’s Groen Soos Die Hemel Daarbo (soon to be published in translation) explores modern sexuality and identity. It is the author’s first offering since Wolf, Wolf (2013, translated by Michiel Heyns). Radbraak, a debut poetry collection by Tjieng Tjang Tjerries author Jolyn Phillips, presents a new approach to writing Afrikaans, while Fourie Botha’s second (at times surreal) collection, Krap Uit Die See, addresses masculinity, using the sea as metaphor, and medium—that is, a channel between states of being.

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In Review: “The Impossible Fairy Tale” by Han Yujoo

Emma Holland reviews a disturbing, brilliant, "oddly riveting" novel from South Korea.

Han Yujoo’s debut novel is chilling and surreal, raising questions about deep-seated human violence, and the nature of art-making. A review by Asymptote Executive Assistant Emma Holland.

The Impossible Fairytale pulls readers into its disorienting and brutal world, spinning a dark narrative of the nameless Child and her classmates. Later the perspective shifts into a meta-narrative—questioning and twisting ideas concerning language and the restraints of the novel as a literary form. Korean author Han Yujoo’s debut novel, translated by Janet Hong, The Impossible Fairytale is a wildly gripping page-turner, and ultimately a powerful yet unsettling read.

Through the narrative, Han explores the notion that violence is an ingrained part of society. Speaking at the Free Word Centre in London on July 10 at an author discussion hosted by the UK publisher, Titled Axis Press, Han talked of how “from a young age we are exposed to violence, it becomes normalized, a part of our everyday life…eating away at our minds.”

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Close Approximations: In Conversation With Poetry Runner-up Sarah Timmer Harvey

"I spent less time in my head or researching, and more time translating purely from instinct, from the body."

Today, we continue our spotlight on the winners of Asymptote’s annual Close Approximations translation contest, now into its 3rd edition. (Find the official results and citations by judges David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu here.) From 215 fiction and 128 poetry submissions, these six best emerging translators were awarded 3,000 USD in prize money, in addition to publication in our Summer 2017 editionAfter interviews with fiction winner Suchitra Ramachandran and fiction runners-up Brian Bergstrom and Clarissa Botsford, today we have poetry runner-up Sarah Timmer Harvey in conversation with Asymptote Assistant Interviews Editor, Claire Jacobson. 

Sarah Timmer Harvey is a writer and translator currently based in New York, where she is completing her MFA in Writing and Translation at Columbia University. Her excerpted translation of Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s poetry collection Kalfsvlies (Calf’s Caul) was a runner-up in Asymptote’s Close Approximations contest. Poetry judge Sawako Nakayasu wrote, “The tumbling syntax of this poetry could not have been easy to translate, but it works so very well here—carrying the reader along the dark swerves of this youthful, yet not-so-innocent series of mini-narratives with a touch of the surreal.”

Claire Jacobson (CJ): I loved reading your translation of several of Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s poems from her collection Kalfsvlies (Calf’s Caul). What was it that drew you to this text and motivated you to translate it?

Sarah Timmer Harvey (STH): I first became aware of Rijneveld’s work through Dutch literary magazines and blogs in 2015, when Kalfsvlies was first published in the Netherlands by Atlas Contact, who have a great reputation for attracting and fostering exceptional writers. Both readers and critics seemed completely bowled over by Kalfsvlies, something rather unusual in the Netherlands, given the genre and Rijneveld’s youth, but once I read the collection, I understood why everyone was raving. The first line of the first poem in Kalfsvlies (Calf’s Caul) reads “How do you go to bed when you have just run over a sheep?” Now, that is an opening! I found it so incredibly brutal and compelling. I read the entire collection in one sitting and then, the next day, I began translating, purely for the pleasure of it. A little while later, I contacted Marieke Lucas to discuss doing something with my translations.

To me, Rijneveld’s work feels quite rebellious—the narrative voice in Kalfsvlies is unfiltered and entirely unconcerned with establishing its authority. Rather, it is blatantly vulnerable and at times incredibly naïve considering the deeper themes at play: the death of a sibling, alcoholism, struggles with gender and sexuality, the confines of a rural upbringing. But Rijneveld’s youthful eye is also her strength, it draws the reader into a world that feels spontaneous, wildly intimate and full of unexpected wisdom. I can’t wait to read her debut novel, which will be published in the Netherlands (also by Atlas Contact) in October.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Lost” by Jan Čep

“Quite a detour,” said the old man shaking his head. “You must have gotten lost.”

Today we’re thrilled to present a story by Jan Čep, a Catholic Modernist whose stories depict characters lost both spiritually and geographically. Weaving together deep mysticism and delicate realism, his style of writing has earned him a reputation as one of the most distinctive voices in twentieth century Czech prose.

That afternoon the house emptied out, the voices in the neighboring rooms fell silent, the wagon of a child stood overturned in the yard, and inside the half-open gate peeked someone’s goat. Clouds covered the sky and hills encircled the ravaged and vindictive countryside; the trails led nowhere and the steel surface of the pond shimmered with hostility.

Petr Kleofáš left the house and set out on the first trail he found without meeting a single soul. On a marshy meadow with dry grass, stumps of old willows stood over black pools. Grey groves, blasted by the breath of age and death, bit maliciously into the barren hillsides. Past the pond on the other side, crooked roofs from the village hunched beneath the dismal sky.

Petr Kleofáš found himself in a grassy ditch below an empty stubble field with two stunted pine trees. A bit further stood a forest, full of dry needles and fallen cones. The only sounds were the rustle of dry grass and the bloodless whisper, like fire consuming paper, inside Petr Kleofáš. He half-knelt, half-lay on the cold earth; eyes closed, he silently counted the beat of his slowing heart. The sense of sheer nothingness and the proximity of death caused a poisonous and grotesque sweetness to spring inside him. Damp and cooling colors flowed before his eyes…

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