Posts by Beau Lowenstern

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The magazine was being “silenced not by direct attack or overt censorship but [by] the use of the arms of bureaucracy to paralyse its functioning.”

The first stop on our world tour takes us Down Under with Editor-at-Large Beau Lowenstern, who brings us the latest on book awards and the state of the arts industry in Australia. Switching hemispheres, we then join Blog Editor Nina Sparling in the US, where she has the update on must-see, Spanish-language author events and hot new publications. Then we’re off to Nepal where Social Media Manager Sohini Basak reports on everything from the shrinking freedom of the press to poetry slams.

Editor-at-Large Beau Lowenstern brings us the latest in lit from Australia:

Spring in Australia kicked off with the announcement of the winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award on the opening night of the Melbourne Writers Festival. The award, established in 1954, is Australia’s most prestigious literary honor and celebrates uniquely Australian works. A.S. Patrić won for his debut novel Black Rock White City, which explores the immigrant experience amidst the carnage of war and isolation.

The festival offered a full week of incredible events. Maxine Beneba Clarke, known as one of the boldest and most prolific literary voices in Australia today, opened the first night. Her forthcoming memoir, The Hate Race, frames topics like violence and racism in the Australia of her childhood and opens a dialogue much-needed today. The remainder of the festival saw contributions from such names as PJ Harvey, Geoff Dyer, Lionel Shriver, A.C. Grayling, Eimear McBride, and Lev Grossman, with special showcases on identity and feminist writing.

Literary festivals like those that take place each year in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide have increasingly become the backbone of the country’s literary community. Australian arts and literature have been the victims of significant budget cuts in recent years, with 2015 seeing a more than 20 percent reduction in funds to one of the nation’s leading arts organizations. Against this backdrop, it’s even more encouraging to see the positive response to such literary events and the vibrant cultural scene continuing to flourish in new ways.

Blog Editor Nina Sparling has the scoop from the United States:

This week in North America, as we stagger under the heavy weight of this contentious election season, writers, critics, and literary folks are celebrating Banned Books Week. It seems a fitting moment to focus on the voices of those courageous, innovative writers whose work has been censored, and to meditate on the political and cultural moments that produced their repression. In Washington, D.C., the public library system hid hundreds of copies of banned books in bookstores in a citywide scavenger hunt. The New York Public Library kept it digital with a multiple-choice quiz where readers can guess the reason for a book’s prohibition.

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Forthcoming Autumn Translations, in Review

Asymptote’s own review brand new translated literature.

 

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Wayward Heroes, by Halldór Laxness, tr. Philip Roughton. Archipelago Books.

Review: Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-large, Australia

The process of reading literature in translation is to dip into the perennial pool: possible meanings are compounded by language, we splash and struggle and only when we begin to get on our feet do we realise how much deeper and longer the cave goes. Often great writers see only a tiny fraction of their oeuvre translated for a wider audience—as a reader, we must play a game of guessing the size and shape and clarity of the submerged iceberg from only its superficial crown. Not to mention the person we all know who constantly admonishes us that if we had only read the original

Iceland’s Halldór Laxness falls into this lamentable category, with the majority of his collection of stories, essays, novels (including a four-volume memoir), plays and poetry frozen in time to all bar those with a blue tongue. Published in Iceland in 1952 as Gerpla, The Happy Warriors was the title of the original, sparsely recognised English translation, though it contributed to his body of work for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955. 

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What’s New in Translation? February 2016

So many new translations this month!—Here's what you've got to know, from Asymptote's own.

Mario Bellatin, The Large Glass (Eyewear Publishing, February 2016, United Kingdom and Phoneme Media, January 2016, United States). Translated by David Shook—review by Alice Inggs, Editor-at-large, South Africa

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Can a life be expressed in a single narrative, or a single form; can it be confined to a single genre? Mario Bellatin’s experimental autobiography (or is it autobiographies?), The Large Glass, employs three different ways of writing a life, challenging the accepted idea of what constitutes biography, and therefore self-expression.

This is not the first time Bellatin has engaged with the genre. His 2013 novel, Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction, is a satirical biography of a fictional Japanese author, which includes excerpts, photographs and a bibliography. As critic Diana Palaversich explains, “With Bellatin you are never on solid ground”.

The Large Glass is non-linear, and at times almost nonsensical, rendering memory as character. Bellatin’s style has been described as hewing closer to that of avant-garde filmmakers—Lynch, Cronenberg —than anything literary. This brand of inscrutability or opacity—inherent in all three sections of The Large Glass—means that to distil meaning from Bellatin’s work it is necessary to rely on aspects of the author’s “objective” biography. This has something of a Lazarus Effect on Barthes’s dead author. But to what end?

The Large Glass magnifies those fundamental philosophical questions: Are we the same person throughout our lives? How do experiences and the manner in which we experience them and remember experiencing them shape our understanding of ourselves? How do these memories fit into the narrative of a life? Does a life have a single narrative? Bellatin seems determined to “reach that point where only language acts, ‘performs,’ and not ‘me.’” READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation? December 2015

So many new translations this month! Here's what you've got to know—from Asymptote's own.

Mark Kongstad, Am I Cold (Serpent’s Tail, November 2015). Translated by Martin Aitkenreview by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia

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Am I Cold throws you into a world of hedonism and extravagance. It is Danish author Martin Kongstad’s first novel to appear in English, and his second body of fiction after 2009’s  short story collection Han Danser På Sin Søns Grav (He Dances on his Son’s Grave). The story follows Mikkel Vallin, a recently-divorced, recently-unemployed writer who—toeing the line between unreliable narrator and protagonist—takes the reader through the moonlit halls of Copenhagen’s artistic elite as he attempts to find existential clarity through a lens of sex, alcohol and debauchery. Loosely held together through Mikkel’s polemic, endeavoring to destroy “coupledom” and the trappings of monogamy, the novel endures in a pre-2008 micro bubble of Denmark and seductively draws you into a chilling, often hilarious world that somehow exists in spite of itself.

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What’s New in Translation? October 2015

So many new translations this month! Here's what you need to know—from Asymptote's own.

Eugene Vodolazkin, Laurus (Oneworld Publishers, October 2015). Translated by Lisa C. Haydenreview by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia

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Laurus, the second novel by Russian writer Eugene Vodolazkin (after Solovyov and Larionov, due to appear in English in 2016), is in one breath, a timeless epic, trekking the well-trodden fields of faith, love, and the infinite depth of loss and search for meaning. In another, it is pointed, touching, and at times humorous, unpredictably straying from the path and leading readers along a wild chase through time, language, and medieval Europe. Winner of both the National Big Book Prize (Russia) and the Yasnaya Polyana Award, Vodolazkin’s experimental style envelopes the reader, drawing them into a world far from their own, yet indescribably intimate.

Spanning late fifteenth-century Russia to early twentieth-century Italy, the novel recounts the multiple lives (or stages of life) of a saint and the story of his becoming. Born Arseny in 1440, he is raised by his grandfather after his parents die from the plague that torments much of Russia and Europe. Recognising the boy’s gift for healing, his grandfather instills in him knowledge of healing and herbalism. Arseny aids the pestilence-stricken villagers, yet his powers of healing are overshadowed by his helplessness in preventing his grandfather’s death, as well as the passing of his beloved Ustina. Abandoning his village, past and namesake, Arseny begins a voyage that will transcend country and identity. Kaleidoscopic in his language and reach, Vodolazkin takes us on a journey of discovery and absolution, threaded together through the various, often mystical lives of Arseny as a healer, husband, holy fool, pilgrim and hermit. READ MORE…