Posts by Ellen Jones

Section Editors’ Highlights: Spring 2017

Insights from the experts on the Spring 2017 Issue of Asymptote

Looking for new entry points into the latest issue of the journal? The section editors of this behemoth cash of international literature, out just last week, are here to guide you!  

In this spring issue, the drama section features two complementary pieces—one from Catalonia and the other from Poland. Both portray hellish, nightmarish worlds in a distinct, unique theatrical manner. Grzegorz Wroblewski’s The New Colony in translation by Agnieska Pokojska depicts a claustrophobic asylum where patients/citizens live out their days in a state of restless, mocking unease. Wroblewski’s text is typical of what has been deemed “post-dramatic” theatre (in Hans Lehmann’s terms). It is an open text which offers its audience an intentionally disorientating roadmap to a contemporary world that is fractured and broken, where individuals seek wholeness despite all signs that such a search is hopeless.

Written as a proto-feminist cabaret, Beth Escudé i Gallès’s Diabolic Cabaret in translation by Phyllis Zatlin, looks at an elemental Eve, channeling visions of historical female icons throughout history. Is guilt a woman? To whom will society place its blame in times of war? Helen of Troy? Other alluring, bewitching sirens up to no good? Escudé i Gallès teases and cajoles her audience in a piece that through anarchic humor questions the roles we all play to claim concepts of territory, identity, and ownership. Both Wroblewski and Escudé I Gallès are from the same generation, even though they represent different cultures and sensibilities as dramatists. It’s fascinating to see two skilled and provocative playwrights, in fine translations, address states of fear and anxiety all too prevalent in the modern world.

—Drama Editor Caridad Svich

Among three exceptional essays—including one that introduces readers to the brilliant but tortured Swiss writer, Hermann Burger, and another that briefly loiters at the fork in Iran’s contemporary literary scene—I found myself particularly drawn to Noh Anothai‘s generous and intimate reflections on a world turned akimbo, seen through the eyes of Thai poet, Saksiri Meesomsueb. As we follow Anothai through the pages of Meesomsueb’s award-winning collection, That Hand is White, and from north Bangkok to Chicago and back, I’m reminded once more of literature’s gift in transgressing borders, its necessary lucidity, kindness, and prescience; and consequently, its call for response. Only with clean hands can we clean the world, Meesomsueb tells us. Dear Reader, what will you do next?

—Writers on Writers Editor Ah-reum Han

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Highlights from the Asymptote Winter Issue

Our editors recommend their favorite pieces from the latest issue.

First off, we want to thank the five readers who heeded our appeal from our editor-in-chief and signed up to be sustaining members this past week. Welcome to the family, Justin Briggs, Gina Caputo, Monika Cassel, Michaela Jones, and Phillip Kim! For those who are still hesitating, take it from Lloyd Schwartz, who says, “Asymptote is one of the rare cultural enterprises that’s really worth supporting. It’s both a literary and a moral treasure.” If you’ve enjoyed our Winter 2017 issue, why not stand behind our mission by becoming a sustaining member today?

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One week after the launch of our massive Winter 2017 edition, we invited some section editors to talk up their favorite pieces:

Criticism Editor Ellen Jones on her favorite article:

My highlight from the Criticism section this January is Ottilie Mulzet’s review of Evelyn Dueck’s L’étranger intime, the work that gave us the title of this issue: ‘Intimate Strangers’. Mulzet translates from Hungarian and Mongolian, but (being prolifically multilingual) is also able to offer us a detailed, thoughtful, and well-informed review of a hefty work of French translation scholarship. Dueck’s book is a study of French translations of Paul Celan’s poetry from the 1970s to the present day (focussing on André du Bouchet, Michel Deguy, Marthine Broda, and Jean-Pierre Lefebvre) and is, in Mulzet’s estimation, ‘an indispensable map for the practice of the translator’s art’. One of this review’s many strengths is the way it positions Dueck’s book in relationship to its counterparts in Anglophone translation scholarship; another is its close reading of passages from individual poems in order to illustrate differences in approach among the translators; a third is the way Mulzet uses Dueck’s work as a springboard to do her own thinking about translational paratexts, and to offer potential areas for further research. The reviewer describes L’étranger intime as ‘stellar in every way’—the same might be said of the review, too.

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek, who stepped in to edit our Writers on Writers section for the current issue, had this to say: 

When asked to pick a highlight from this issue’s Writers on Writers feature, I was torn between Victoria Livingstone’s intimate exploration of Xánath Caraza’s fascinating oeuvre and Philip Holden’s searching essay on Singapore’s multilingual—even multivocal—literary history, but the latter finally won out for its sheer depth and detail. Moving from day-to-day encounters with language to literary landmarks of the page and stage, Holden surveys the city’s shifting tonalities with cinematic ease, achieving what he himself claims is impossible: representing a ‘polylingual lived reality’ to the unfamiliar reader. And as a Singaporean abroad myself, Holden’s conclusion sums it up perfectly: the piece is ‘a return to that language of the body, of the heart’.

Visual Editor Eva Heisler’s recommendation:

Indian artist Shilpa Gupta addresses issues of nationhood, cultural identity, diaspora, and globalization in complex inquiry-based and site-specific installations.  The experience of Gupta’s work is explored by Poorna Swami in her essay ‘Possessing Skies’, the title of which alludes to a work in which large LED light structures, installed across Bombay beaches, announce, in both English and Hindi, ‘I live under your sky too.’  Gupta’s work, Swami writes, ‘positions her spectator in an irresolvable conversation between the abstracted artwork and a tangible sense of the so-called real world, with all its ideologies, idiosyncrasies, and fragilities’.

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Dig Deeper into Our Fall 2016 Issue

Selected highlights in the new issue from Asymptote section editors!

Last week, we launched “Verisimilitude,” our star-studded Fall 2016 edition. Since then, we’ve been overwhelmed by the critical reception: A Public Space called the issue “a gold mine of work from 31 countries” while The Chicago Review of Books proclaimed it “f**ing gorgeous.” Among the never-before-published work by both well known and emerging translators, writers, and visual artists we presented in this quarterly issue, Anita Raja’s essay on translation made The Literary Hub‘s Best of the Week roundup. Thank you so much and do please keep spreading the word so we can connect our authors with even more readers! This week, to guide your exploration of the new issue, some of our editors contribute highlights from their respective sections. Follow them from Ireland to Iraq to Mexico to Korea and back again.

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Tactile Translations, Stefana McClure. Review: Eva Heisler, Visual Editor.

Using sources as various as a Japanese translation of The Little Prince, Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, or a U.S. government redacted report on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” artist Stefana McClure slivers printed matter and re-employs it as material with which to construct her enigmatic objects: stones wrapped in paper; a ball wound of the paper shreds of a novel; a nearly black “drawing” knit from redacted texts. Carmen Hermo’s conversation with McClure delves into the thinking and process behind the artist’s “tactile translations.”

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Plunge into the Multilingual Writing Feature from the July 2016 Issue

Readers must ask themselves whether they are entitled to a full understanding —or indeed if such a thing is ever possible.

The past two Mondays here at the Asymptote Blog, we’ve brought you highlights from the July 2016 issue, THE DIVE. This week we’re back with Ellen Jones, editor of the vibrant and provocative multilingual writing section.

The Asymptote July issue special feature on multilingual writing is the second of its kind. The more than two hundred pieces of original poetry and fiction received in response to last year’s call for submissions—many, many more than we were able to publish—opened our eyes to the wealth of new writers who are experimenting with language mixing, and persuaded us that it was necessary to run the feature again.

What I love most about this work is its variety. There are seven contributions, from writers as far afield as Peru, South Africa, and India that, between them, incorporate English, German, Spanish, French, Romanian, Sanskrit, Afrikaans, Italian, Nahuatl, and Arabic. But more importantly, they also make use of the spaces in between these languages: unique cross-lingual sound combinations and associations, and spoken varieties that are thriving but have yet to be documented. There is some poetry, some prose. Some written by well-established literary figures and some by poets who are only just finding their voices. Some pieces for readers of only English, others best left to the true polyglots among us.

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Dive Further Into the Summer Issue of Asymptote

Poetry, visual art, criticism, and drama: highlights from the July 2016 Issue

Last week, we recommended readings from Asymptote‘s summer issue, “The Dive”. If you are still uncertain about where to take that first plunge into our jam-packed issue, take guidance in this week’s recommendations from some of our Section Editors. What’s more, definitely don’t miss the coverage of the issue in “This Week in Short Fiction” at The Rumpus!

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“A Man Composing a Self-Portrait out of Objects,” from The Absolute Gravedigger, by Vítězslav Nezval, tr. Stephan Delbos and Tereza Novická. Review: Aditi Machado, Poetry Editor.

I like weird poetry. Poetry that enacts the essential weirdness of trying to figure out stuff. For instance, when language tries to work out what a thought is or what thinking feels like, that’s weird. All of this seemingly abstract, matter-less ​matter turns into an ungainly body of odd parts that keeps connecting and breaking off and turning into other, still odder, parts. That’s what Vítězslav Nezval’s poem, “A Man Composing a Self-Portrait out of Objects,” feels like to me. To paint this internal picture, the man has to handle the external world of solid, but changeable, things:

“Dismantling / A very intricate clock / Assembling from its gears / A seahorse / That could represent him before a tribunal / Where he would be tried / By five uniformed men from the funeral home / For his pathological absent-mindedness.”

Nezval’s translators have done an excellent job of embodying in English the slippery act of cobbling together what can never entirely cohere—a self. I recommend this excellent poem and eagerly await the book in which it will appear, The Absolute Gravedigger. (Twisted Spoon Press, forthcoming in 2016.)​ READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “Bin Bags” by Enrique Winter

No matter whether they were men or women, he had always liked the bad ones.

Every morning Brian is in the habit of washing his arsehole with balsam, the way Eugenio used to like it. The upstairs bathroom is also shared, but it’s kept clean enough, because of the big window and because he’s included in a rota that the girls on that floor had inherited from other girls. He lathers his legs, the hair’s growing back, and he asks himself how something so obvious—that if you love someone you never stop loving them, dead or alive—is mentioned neither by the people giving advice nor by those taking it. When you’ve loved someone, you’ll always love them. That’s all there is to it. He closes his eyes to rinse himself off. You can survive with that, with or without your loved ones. You don’t replace them, you add to them. He dries himself, some parts better shaven than others, and the towel keeps Eugenio at the forefront of his mind: once, Eugenio, wrapped in a towel, said he made people see what they didn’t know they didn’t want to see. Brian then demanded an explanation and Eugenio spoke at length while he got dressed about how he’d manage to provoke people who swore they were as liberal as can be.

Brian could spend a long time sitting with his eyes fixed on the back of Eugenio’s knees, while he stood cooking. They were always the beginning of something and Eugenio let him look—with one foot he could stroke his calf as though itching it, or straighten out his shorts with one hand without taking the other off the frying pan or plate or whatever it was. He would whistle or sing slowly, and Brian heard the tune as though it was coming directly from those knees, bending every now and again, hinting at the thighs beyond, which he wouldn’t see until later. But Brian would always touch them through Eugenio’s shorts without even getting up from the sofa they had in the kitchen. With just his nails or his fingertips, he’d trace the edges of his boxer shorts until he was told to stop. But that didn’t always happen, and sometimes the tap would be left running or the water would evaporate on the hob. When they’d finished fucking, Brian would become quite the chatterbox, and Eugenio would half listen from the kitchen, in his dressing gown. READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation? September 2015

So many translations hit the shelves this month—here's what you need to know, from Asymptote's own.

Mercè Rodoreda, Death in Spring (Open Letter, September 2015). Tr. from the Catalan by Martha Tennant—Review by Ellen Jones, Criticism Editor

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Martha Tennant’s translation of Death in Spring, the (posthumously published) final novel by Mercè Rodoreda, is republished in paperback this month by Open Letter, having been long out of print. Written while in exile from Franco’s Spain during the Civil War, the novel is considered Rodoreda’s most accomplished work, and can be read as an allegory of a repressive regime.

Told through the eyes of a nameless boy who seems perpetually on the cusp of manhood, the novel recounts the cruel, bewildering traditions of a village community constantly under threat of being washed away by the river that runs underneath it. The villagers’ brutalism is bizarre and often casual—they pour cement down people’s throats as they lie dying to prevent their souls from escaping, then bury them in hollowed out trees. A thief is imprisoned in a tiny cage until he begins to behave like an animal; children are locked in cupboards until they half-suffocate; and every year a young man is forced to swim underneath the village and endure inevitable mutilation or death.

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Translation Tuesday: “Mal Paso” by Hugo López Araiza Bravo

Spanish/French/English—a multilingual Translation Tuesday, translated by criticism editor Ellen Jones



Select translation:

“But why do you want to go to Haiti?” they asked her in Santo Domingo. “You crazy?”

She only smiled like a naïve foreigner, mumbled something about a sociolinguistic interest in the borderlands, and went out of the department with her Lotman under her arm. While she waited for the bus to the coach station she looked over the timetable that her classmates had reluctantly given her. It was going to take the whole day. The first thing she had to do was leave the city by the Carretera Sánchez.

“I’m only going as far as Barahona,” the driver warned her when he heard where she was going. “From there, you’re on your own.”

She didn’t mind. She sat on the left hand side so she could say goodbye to the sea; she fixed her eyes on the waves while the vehicle moved over the concrete. The blue was giving way little by little to green. When nothing but mountains was visible, she fell asleep. She woke up just in time to see the Arco del Triunfo.

She had a hard time finding someone to take her the rest of the way. Finally she ended up with a lorry driver whose job was to supply sugar cane to the city’s sugar factory. He was loading his vehicle with big water bottles.

“There’s not enough water over there,” he explained. “I’m going to make more on this trip than I make in a month going back and forth like crazy.”

They set off when the driver was sure that he’d made use of every cubic metre of his hold. They left the city behind and went into the sugar plantations. The lorry’s cabin shook with a wave of vituperation against the sugar industry. How they were worked from sun up to sun down. How bateyes still existed. How people were dying from machete wounds. How even after everything slavery still persisted, it’s just that now they called it minimum wage. Then the Laguna del Rincón appeared, and the criticism was directed towards uncontrolled fishing and the loss of heritage as a result of greed.

“They extract gypsum from that mountain,” he concluded signaling towards the other side. “Don’t get me started on the mines.”

She didn’t. She wasn’t about to get involved in ethical debates with a man who was trying to sell water at the price of mercury to the victims of an earthquake. Besides, enough people had confided in her their misfortunes for her to know that all of Latin America was singing from the same song sheet: each country had its own versions of the same general ills.

They stopped in Duvergé for something to eat: rice and pigeon peas. As soon as their plates were clean her companion stood up.

“We’ve got to get to Jimaní before nightfall: it’ll be hard to find somewhere to spend the night.”

They could barely make out the city when it became clear that something was out of the ordinairy. It was seething. For the second biggest cité in the municipalité, there were too many people. And people in the streets. They had to réduice their speed to avoid running someone over. They soon understood that they were principalment refugees. They stopped in front of a house d’aspect humble.

“They’re distant relatives” her guide excused himself. “Tomorrow you can go to the border. It’s only two kilometres away.”

She passéd the nuit on a pallet in the cuisine.

She sortied early, with only a piece of manioc in her estomac. She calculated that she’d have to marche for three quarts of an hour. The streets were as full as the précéding nuit. The soldats from the Fortaleza looked suspicieusely at the people going past. She commenced to move between the multitudes, parfaitly aware that she was swimming à countercurrent. Quand she left the last houses behind, the route became more sauvage. Elle décida to walk on one side so it would be more facile to mouve. Those who were coming in the opposée direction looked like they hadn’t eaten in days. They came with almost zéro, with seulely the robes they were wearing quand tout had se passé. On her right était the Étang Saumâtre, et elle imagina that if the dominicain gouvernment had not permetted the réfugiés to entrer, these waters would now be full de illegaux swimming pour their survie.

Elle could déjà see Mal Paso. Le nom was apt: négliged constructions that spat out misérables, infernal portes. She made her way à travers the réfugiés et entréed a totalement chaótique square. There were pleine de gens en the mouve, here et là camions could be seen, still trying to continuer with their commerce. Among them were the improviséd campements for those who still pensaient que they pourraient retourn. Elle parcrossed le perimetre lentement, completely submergéed. Vraiment Mallepasse. Elle vint more proche à la frontière. Un point de contrôle de Casques Bleus garded le passage.

“Eh! La fille!”, lui hurla l’un des soldats. “Tu peux pas passer! Rien que de l’aide internationale y peut traverser! C’est pas du tourisme, une catastrophe pareille!”

Elle resta immobile. De l’autre côté, elle vit l’Ayiti. Tout te sanble diferan de lót bò a.

 

–¿Pero por qué tú quieres ir a Haití? –le preguntaron en Santo Domingo–. ¿Estarás tú loca?

Ella sólo sonrió cual extranjera ingenua, balbució algo sobre el interés sociolingüístico de la frontera y salió de la facultad con su Lotman bajo el brazo. Mientras esperaba la guagua hacia la central de autobuses repasó el itinerario que a regañadientes le habían dado sus compañeros. Le iba a ocupar todo el día. Lo primero que tenía que hacer era salir de la ciudad por la Carretera Sánchez.

–Yo voy sólo hasta Barahona –le advirtió el conductor cuando se enteró de su destino–. A partir de ahí, se ampara sola.

No le importó. Se sentó del lado izquierdo para poder despedirse del mar; clavó los ojos en las olas mientras la máquina avanzaba por el concreto. El azul fue cediendo poco a poco al verde. Cuando no se distinguía más que monte, cayó dormida. Despertó justo a tiempo para ver el Arco del Triunfo.

Le costó trabajo encontrar quién la llevara el resto del camino. Finalmente dio con un camionero encargado de abastecer de caña al ingenio de la ciudad. Estaba cargando su vehículo con garrafones.

–Allá hace falta el agua –explicó–. Voy a hacer más con este viaje de lo que gano en un mes dando vueltas como loco.

Partieron cuando el conductor estuvo seguro de que cada metro cúbico de su caja estaba aprovechado. Dejaron detrás la ciudad y se adentraron en los cañaverales. La cabina del camión se removió con un vendaval de vituperios al sistema azucarero. Que se trabajaba de sol a sol. Que seguía existiendo la raya. Que la gente moría de una herida de machete. Que después de todo se mantenía la esclavitud, aunque ahora le dijeran salario mínimo. Entonces emergió la Laguna del Rincón, y la queja se dirigió hacia la pesca indiscriminada y la pérdida del patrimonio por culpa de la avaricia.

–De ese monte sacan yeso –concluyó señalando hacia el otro lado–. No me haga comenzar con las minas.

No lo hizo. No estaba para meterse en debates éticos con un hombre que pretendía venderles agua a precio de mercurio a los damnificados de un terremoto. Además, ya había protagonizado suficientes confidencias de desgracias como para saber que toda Latinoamérica cojea del mismo pie: cada país tiene sus propias versiones de los males generales.

Pararon en Duvergé por algo de comida: arroz con guandules. En cuanto limpiaron el plato su compañero se paró.

–Hay que llegar a Jimaní antes que anochezca: nos va a costar trabajo encontrar dónde pasar la noche.

Apenas divisaron la ciudad se dio cuenta de que algo había fuera de lo commún. Bullía. Para ser la segunda ciutat más grande del municipio, le sobraba gent. Y gent en las calles. Tuvieron que diminuir la velocidad para evitar atropellar a alguien. Pronto comprendió que se trataba en su majoría de refugiados. Se detuvieron frente a una casa d’aspecto humilde.

–Son parientes lejanos –se excusó su guía–. Mañana tú podrás ir a la frontera. Está apenas a dos kilómetros.

Passó la noche en un catre en la cuisina.

Sortió temprano, sólo con un trozo de yuca en el ventre. Calculaba que devía marchar tres quartos de hora. Las calles estaban tan plenas como la noche précédente. Los soldats de the Fortaleza miraban méfiantes las gens que pasaban. Commenzó a moverse entre la multitude, parfaitamente consciente de que nadaba à contrecorriente. Quand dejó atrás las últimas casas, el chemino se devenió más agreste. Décidió andar par un lado, de sorte que le fuera más fácile déplazarse. Los que veníaent en sens contrairio paraîcían no aver mangiado en varios días. Veníaent casi sans nada, seul con las robes que portaban quand tout se avía passado. À su derecha étaiba el Étang Saumâtre, et se immaginó que si el gouverno dominicain no hubiera permis la entrée de refugiés, esas aguas serían ahora pleines de illegaux nageando pour la supervivencia.

Elle veía déjà Mal Paso. Lui iba bien el nom: unos bâtiments négligéados qui escupían misérables, unas portes al enfer. Se ouvrió paso à travers de los réfugiés et entró en une plaza totalement chaótique. Étaiba pleine de gens en mouvemiento, aquí et là se apréciaban los camions que avían todavía essayé continuer con el commerce. Entre eux étaiban les campaments improvisés de los que pensaient todavía que pourraient retournar. Parcourrió le pérímétre lentement, duramente impressionée. Vraiment Mallepasse. Elle vint más proche à la frontière. Un point de contrôle de Casques Bleus vigilait le passage.

«Eh! La fille!», lui hurla l’un des soldats. «Tu peux pas passer! Rien que de l’aide internationale y peut traverser! C’est pas du tourisme, une catastrophe pareille!»

Elle resta immobile. De l’autre côté, elle vit l’Ayiti. Tout te sanble diferan de lót bò a.

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Hugo López Araiza Bravo is a Mexican writer and translator. His first book, Infinitas cosas, won the 4º Virtuality Literario Caza de Letras. His second will be out soon, and he's been shadow-boxing with a novel for over four years. In 2012, he won the Concurso 43 de Punto de Partida in literary translation, with a fragment of a novel by Amélie Nothomb. He's currently studying for a Masters in Translation at El Colegio de México.   Ellen Jones edits the criticism section of Asymptote, and contributes the occasional translation. She has a B.A. in English literature and Spanish, and an M.St. in English Language from the University of Oxford. She is now a Ph.D. candidate at Queen Mary University of London, researching English-Spanish code-switching in contemporary fiction, and the particular challenges associated with reading, publishing, and translating this kind of writing.

What We’re Reading in April

“Full of startling colours, and featuring scenes both disturbing and erotic, The Vegetarian is the most powerful novel I have read this year.”

Ellen Jones (criticism editor): Three of the best things I’ve read this month have been slim, 100-odd-page volumes in translation. The first is Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, translated from Japanese by Eric Selland. The book was recommended by a great lover of cats who insisted I read it in hard copy rather than on my Kindle for the hypnotisingly green feline eyes on the book’s jacket. My family has always had cats, a number of them so embarrassingly rotund—despite years of controlled diets—that we’ve had to wonder whether a well-meaning neighbour wasn’t regularly spoiling them with choice titbits from the table or bowlfuls of cream. So I found much to relate to in this quiet story of a young couple’s relationship with a local cat, whose daily visits revitalise their marriage and ignite an enthusiasm for gardening. Hiraide’s writing (he is primarily a poet) had rarely been translated before, but The Guest Cat has become a bestseller in the United States, France, and now Britain; the ubiquity and inexhaustible popularity of cat photos and videos on social media speak volumes about this book’s potential appeal. But there is so much more to it than a plot summary might suggest—it meditates on the transience of life and beauty, and masterfully maps out a domestic space with the precision of an architect. This is undoubtedly a book for cat people and dog people alike.

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Meeting Our Readers in the Flesh! (Part I/II)

With 18 hours remaining and a mere $2,843 left to raise before we reach our goal, Ellen Jones gives us a dispatch from our recent anniversary event in London

Being an online journal, we at Asymptote rarely get to meet our readers, or even our colleagues. Living in a large city like London makes it slightly easier—I’m lucky to have four or five other contributors and editors currently based here, all of whom have wide networks within magazine publishing, translation and the wider literary world. But nevertheless, the opportunity to have so many Asymptote enthusiasts in one room is a rare privilege.

Our reasons for hosting anniversary events each year are the same reasons why we continue to publish the magazine for free every quarter: our aim is to spur the transmission of literature to and from all corners of the world; to counter a lack of diversity in literature, and promote a global conversation.

This year’s London event went a long way to help us achieve those aims. For the second year running, the Free Word Centre in Farringdon generously hosted our celebration, and we were pleased to see a full house despite the cold weather. Stefan Tobler, translator from Portuguese and German as well as Founder of And Other Stories—a young publishing house with a majority of translated titles—kindly agreed to chair the evening’s discussion. He was joined by Adam Thirlwell, twice one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists; Daniel Hahn, a writer, editor and translator (from Portuguese, Spanish and French) with over forty books to his name; and Deborah Smith, translator from Korean, who is setting up a non-profit publishing company to promote titles originally written in Asian and African languages.

The model for the evening’s discussion was that each speaker would “praise” a favourite translated book, reading from it and explaining their admiration. These books were not the speakers’ own, nor were they even from a language they could read. This, I believe, is Asymptote’s forte: encouraging people to think and talk about books they would probably never have come across before.

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What We’re Reading in October

Ghost noir, death in Mexico, and what artists do after they’ve found success (and a lot of it): reading recommendations from Asymptote!

Ellen Jones (criticism editor): For my birthday this year I was given Outlaws (Las Leyes de la Frontera) by Spanish author Javier Cercas, translated by Anne McLean. I immediately broke that fundamental rule and judged it by its cover—the Bloomsbury hardback has one of the most exquisite jacket designs I’ve seen in a long time. Fortunately I wasn’t disappointed by what was inside. Inspired by the life of Juan José Moreno Cuenca, a notorious criminal known as “El Vaquilla,” the narrative follows a gang of teenagers led by a soon-to-be famous juvenile delinquent styling himself “Zarco.” At the novel’s core is the relationship between Zarco, the media persona, and Antonio Gamallo, the real person behind bars. In post-dictatorship Catalonia where the after-effects of Franco’s rule are still being felt, the gang members are divided by class and their fates apportioned accordingly. The novel is narrated entirely through reported speech, allowing Cercas to explore the unreliability of memory through a series of voices that are always measured and deliberate (The Telegraph’s description of it as a “rip-roaring crime romp” seriously misses the mark).

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Dispatch: International Translation Day 2014

Our criticism editor goes to UK’s annual celebration of translation

International Translation Day is the UK’s annual event for its translation community. Now in its fifth year, it is an opportunity for translators, writers, publishers, students, booksellers, librarians, and critics to gather and debate significant issues, developments in the industry, to network, learn, and exchange ideas. This year it was held in the conference centre at the British Library in London—quite the upgrade from Farringdon’s Free Word Centre—meaning more guests can benefit from the seminars on offer.

The day kicked off with a panel discussion on continuing professional development, chaired by the nervily impatient Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN. On the panel were non-fiction translator Michael Cunningham, who specialises in translating social policy documents; Lucille Desblache, Director of the Centre for Research in Translation and Transcultural Studies at the University of Roehampton; and Daniel Hahn, tireless champion of all things translation-related, newly elected chair of the Society of Authors, and recent translator of Paulo Scott’s wonderful novel Nowhere People (of note: Hahn somehow found the patience to greet a growing queue of acquaintances and admirers after the panel discussion, before dashing off to catch a flight to Dublin).  READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “The Imaginary Pet,” “On Dragons”

Surreal tales from Mexican author Cecilia Eudave, translated by criticism editor Ellen Jones

The Imaginary Pet

As I was drinking my tea and noting the unique colour of the jacaranda tree, I was struck suddenly by a sad, painful memory: my first pet. She wasn’t cruel or aggressive, quite the opposite, she was a sweet creature, delicate and extremely intelligent (she taught me to read), with a slender body the colour of a jacaranda, so skinny she could have passed for a bookmark. She was my best friend, she went with me everywhere, slept in my bed, came out with me in my bag, played games with me, sang me to sleep. She always kept watch over my dreams, and with her by my side no nightmare ever dared enter my head.

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