Posts by Julia Sherwood

When There’s No Wind, the Sounds of the Past are Audible Over the Danube

On opposite banks of the Danube in Hungary and Slovakia, separated peoples find a way to talk in many languages across the ancient river.

Today we profile a unique literary gathering, AquaPhone Festival, that takes place on both banks of the Danube. It not only features literature from Hungary and Slovakia but also acts as a cultural bridge between the nations that have been isolated from each other’s shared histories by totalitarian rule. It serves as a powerful symbol against the rising tide of xenophobia, as a conversation with Karol Frühauf reveals. 

it could be done by us just shouting
just talking to each other over the water
and not by me going over to you by boat
you going angling? I’d shout into the wind
and your voice would echo across the water
no! I’m going angling! oh, right! I’d shout
all right I thought you’re going angling

— From ‘Modalities of Crossing’ by Dániel Varró, translated from the Hungarian by Peter Sherwood

From the southwestern part of the Danubian Hills, poetry drifts above the waves of the Danube. Lines of verse bounce from one side of the river to the other, hard on each other’s tails yet in accord, dissolving in the air.

lehetne az is hogy csak kiabálunk
hogy csak beszélgetünk a víz fölött
és nem megyek át hozzád ladikon
horgászni mész? kiáltanám a szélbe
és hangod visszaringna a vizen
nem! horgászni megyek! ja! kiabálnám
ja jól van azt hittem horgászni mész!

— From ‘az átkelés módozatai’ by Dániel Varró

Someone is reciting poetry. It takes a while for the words, carried by sound waves, to cross the river. This is how poetry behaves when a poem is recited aloud above a river. The author of this year’s poem, “Modalities of Crossing,” is the wonderful Hungarian poet and children’s writer, Dániel Varró.

dá sa aj tak že si len zakričíme
len si nad vodou pohovoríme
a neprejdem za tebou cez lávku
ideš na rybačku? volal by som do vetra
a tvoj hlas by sa na vode prihojdal
nie! idem na rybačku! aha! volal by som
aha dobre myslel som že na rybačku!

— From ‘možnosti prepravy’ by Dániel Varró, translated from the Hungarian into Slovak by Eva Andrejčáková

Varró’s poem is read out in several languages: first in Hungarian (the poet’s native tongue), then in Slovak, and finally in German. You have to wait patiently for the lines to reach you from the far shore before you can send your version back by the same route. The extraordinary dialogue is accompanied by live cello, saxophone, and clarinet. There is no wind, the June sunshine is reflected in the water, bathing the majestic domes of the basilica in the distance in its soft light. This is what the AquaPhone festival is like.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The international literary news you won't find anywhere else.

It’s Friday and we’re back with the latest news from our Editors-at-Large, providing us with their personal roundups of the most exciting literary developments in their region. We kick off with Jessie Stoolman in Morocco, where there’s never a shortage of intriguing events and publications; Julia Sherwood in Slovakia takes us on a tour of the various cross-cultural literary encounters that have been occurring recently in the Czech Republic; and finally, Omar El Adl gives us some insight into the latest talks, discussions and publications that are taking place right now in Egypt. 

Jessie Stoolman, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Morocco: 

July was filled with literary events throughout Morocco, starting with a conversation between two Moroccan Prix Concourt winners, Leila Slimani and Tahar Ben Jelloun, at the Minzah Hotel, where they discussed “Comment écrire et publier un livre?” (“How to write and publish a book”) Another star Moroccan author (and painter), Mahi Benibine, whose novel Horses of God, inspired by the 2003 suicide attacks in Casablanca, was made into a critically-acclaimed film, presented his newest novel Le fou du roi at Librairie les insolites in Tangier.

Speaking of new publications from major Moroccan authors, Dar Toubkal’s newly released publication of the poet Mohammed Bennis’ الأعمال النثرية (Works of Prose) was just reviewed in Al-Hayat.

Still staying within the Tangier region, the Galerie Delacoix hosted artists, academics, and students for the الجسد الإجتماعي والمحيط الحضري (Espace urbain & corps social) program and internal working week. Among the participants was Moroccan-French artist and co-founder of the Cinémathèque du Tanger, Yto Berrada. Given continued action from the Al-Hoceima-based protest movement (حراك الريف), the geographer William Kurtz’s talk on “La Globalisation de la Région Tangier Al-Hoceima et son impact sur les inégalites sociales et spatiales” (“Globalization of the Tangier Al-Hoceima Region and its impact on social and spatial inequalities”) was particularly timely.

If that was not enough activity in Tangier, Librairie des Colonnes hosted Zahra Al-Khamleshi, who presented her most recent work, الحدود في شمال المغرب: آمال وآلام النساء الحمالات (Borders in Northern Morocco: Hope and Suffering of Women Porters) on the women who carry products between Ceuta (a Spanish enclave/colony in northern Morocco) and Morocco.

Moving further south, in Casablanca, Kabareh Cheikhats was back again. Their travelling show aims to shed light on the history of Cheikhats, who are often mischaracterized as exotic dancers. Historically, Cheikhats throughout the Maghreb were skilled poets, improvising verses on such controversial topics as resistance to colonization, which they sang and set to music at community gatherings.

Lastly, check out the “Lilipad” project, started by young Moroccan activist Sara Arsalane, which aims to collect books and distribute them to underserved schools throughout Morocco.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, with all the latest news from the Czech Republic: 

On August 4, as we go to press, Czech poet and literary historian Petr Hruška and Georgian poet and musician Erekle Deisadze are reading from their works in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Their performance brings to a close a 31-day long marathon tour of five cities, comprising Authors’ Reading Month (Měsíc autorského čtení or MAČ 2017), Central Europe’s largest literary festival. The readings, by two or more authors each day, are broadcast live and the recordings are available online. The festival’s founder Petr Minařík, whose publishing house Větrné mlýny is based in the Czech Republic’s second largest city Brno, has given a wide berth to capital cities, instead locating the festival in four other cities of similar size: Ostrava near the Polish border, Wrocław on the other side of the border in Poland, Košice in eastern Slovakia and, more recently, Lviv in Ukraine.

The guest country of this year’s festival, which kicked off in Brno on 1st July, is Georgia. This country in the Caucasus is fast becoming a trendy tourist destination, yet its literary riches are not all that well known in Central Europe. Thirty-one Georgian writers joined the tour, accompanied by acclaimed Czech authors, among them Ivan Klíma, Arnošt Goldflam, Ivan Binar, Marek Šindelka, Martin Reiner, Michal Viewegh and Jáchym Topol (whose 1995 novel Angel Station, just out from Dalkey Archive Press in Alex Zucker’s English translation, was reviewed by James Hopkin in last week’s Times Literary Supplement). A traditionally strong Slovak contingent was represented by poets Peter Repka and Ivan Štrpka, and fiction writers Balla, Monika Kompaníková, Ondrej Štefánik, Michal Havran, and Silvester Lavrík. Several Ukrainian and Polish writers and poets also took part in some of the readings.

One of the Polish festival participants, Zośka Papużanka, arrived in Brno fresh from another appearance, in Prague, with Czech writer Ivana Myšková. The two women read from their works at the (A)VOID Floating Gallery, a boat moored on the Vltava Riverbank, which serves as an art gallery and a venue for music, theatre and literary readings. Other writers reading there this summer include Ben Aaronovitch and Czech horror story writer Miloš Urban. The gallery provided a more than fitting venue for the launch of a bilingual Czech and English anthology, A Giant Barrel of Rotgut, that “celebrates the Vltava as a river of slain crocodiles, viziers and rotgut.” If that sounds intriguing, you can find out more in this interview with poet Sylva Fischerová on Radio Prague.

And, finally, emerging translators from the Czech (and Slovak) will be interested to hear that Underpass.co, an online journal for modern literature in translation, is seeking submissions specifically from these two languages. The journal aims to offer English-speaking readers a window into new countries, neighbourhoods, cultures, perspectives, and they are especially interested in stories with a strong sense of place.

Omar El Adl, Editor-at-Large, giving us the latest scoop from Egypt: 

Alia Mossallam presented a talk on August 3 in the Townhouse gallery in Downtown Cairo. The talk featured her text RAWI which deals with motherhood, writing, and revolutionary politics, according to Mada Masr. Mossallam has collected oral history testimonies in Nubia, Alexandria and Port Said, has been involved in alternative pedagogical structures in Cairo, and her dissertation focused on a popular history of Nasserist Egypt through stories and songs by people behind the 1952 revolution. The text was created as part of a long form essay workshop held in Cairo by 60pages, which describes itself as an international network of writers, artists, thinkers and scientists, based in Berlin. Other texts produced for 60pages include Arab Porn by Youssef Rakha (which will be published as a book featuring Rakha’s photography by Matthes and Seitz Berlin), Migrating the Feminine by Nora Amin and a forthcoming text by Amr Ezzat. The talk was held in Arabic, with a reading of the text in English.

Youssef Rakha is also to write a column as the central character from his Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Mustafa Çorbacı, according to his bimonthly newsletter. Rakha describes this development on his newsletter as follows:

“First, that mad newspaperman Mustafa Çorbacı has resolved to write a column. You may be familiar with Çorbacı from a certain, overrated Book of the Sultan’s Seal. In hopeless pursuit of the same meme, he has named his ephemeral effusions, “Postmuslim.” Raising vaguely relevant questions only to leave them grossly un-dealt with would not be untypical. But if mildly psychotic speculation on being in Cairo today holds some promise of amusement, do humour the unfortunate lunatic by reading and sharing his 400 words.”

According to Rakha, the column will appear printed in Al-Ahram Weekly as well as on this site every Friday starting from July 7.

****

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

A trip around the literary world, from USA to Latin America to the Czech Republic.

The weekend is upon us—here’s a detailed look at the week that was by our editors-at-large. In the United States, Madeline Jones reports directly from the trenches of the Book Expo in New York City. A gathering of publishers, booksellers, agents, librarians, and authors, the event is the largest of its kind in North America. We also have Sarah Moses filling us in with tidings from Colombia and Argentina, and updates on the Bogotá39, a group of thirty-nine Latin American writers considered to be the finest of their generation. Finally, Julia Sherwood brings us some hot off the press literary news from the Czech Republic. Settle in and get reading.

Madeline Jones, Editor-at-Large, reports from the United States:

Last week in New York City, Book Expo (formerly Book Expo America) set up shop at the famously-disliked Javits Center on western edge of Midtown Manhattan. Publishers, literary agencies, scouts, booksellers, and readers gathered for discussions about the future of publishing, meetings about foreign rights deals, publicity and media “speed-dating” sessions, and more. Authors and editors spoke about their latest books for audiences of industry insiders, and lines trailed from various publisher booths for galley signings.

Though the floor was noticeably quieter than previous years, and certainly nothing compared to the busy hub of foreign rights negotiations that the London and Frankfurt book fairs are, Asymptote readers will be pleased to hear that multiple panel discussions and presentations were dedicated to foreign publishers, the viability of selling translations in the U.S., and indie books (which more often tend to be translations than major trade publishers’ books). READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your one-stop spot for all you want to know about world literature

This week we bring you news from Spain, Slovakia, and Brazil. We will begin our journey with Editor-at-Large Carmen Morawski who captures the excitement leading up to the Madrid Book Fair. We will land next in Slovakia where Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood updates us about the buzz surrounding the country’s most prestigious literary prize, Anasoft Litera. We will finish our journey across the world in Brazil to read Maíra Mendes Galvão’s report of writers’ protests against the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. 

Carmen Morawski, Editor-at-Large from Spain, reports:

In its seventy-sixth year, the Madrid Book Fair (Feria del Libro de Madrid) has yet again marked the transition from spring to summer for Spanish book lovers. Taking place in the Buen Retiro Park in Madrid from May 26 to June 11, this year’s fair will open with a lecture by Eduardo Lourenco, the Portuguese essayist and philosopher, in the Pabellón Bankia de Actividades Culturales.

Although a detailed schedule for this year’s fair isn’t available yet, a glance through last year’s schedule should give Asymptote readers a flavor for the lectures, readings, and other events typical to the fair. Whether on the look out for children’s literature, YA or adult fiction, non-fiction reportage, essay collections, philosophy, specialty and minority literatures, visitors to the fair can browse a wide array of contemporary offerings from the Spanish publishing scene, take advantage of special discounts, and even meet a favorite author at one of the many book signing sessions. If you want to learn more about the  history of the fair and are interested in sampling previous years’ fairs, you may enjoy this brief video of the 2014 fair.

Asymptote readers interested in more historical literary fare might prefer to visit the Spanish National Library’s (Biblioteca Nacional de España) special exhibition, Scripta: Tesoros manuscritos de la Universidad de Salamanca. Intended to commemorate the 800-year anniversary of Alfonso IX’s order to create ‘Schools in Salamanca,’ that in turn led to the founding of the first universities in Europe, the exhibition showcases 23 pieces spanning the history of the manuscript in Europe, from medieval Visigoth codexes belonging from the eleventh and twelfth centuries through the sixteenth century. The exhibition is on loan from the University of Salamanca and is divided into four main sections. It includes a section devoted to Humanism and the Vulgate languages, thereby acknowledging the prominent role of romance languages derived from Latin as vehicles for literature and scientific works. The exhibition runs from May 4 to June 4.

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Translation Tuesday: “Icelanders” by Vanda Rozenbergová

But it’s wintertime, it’s been snowing a lot and as long as the weather stays like this the sky will be the same every day.

Shortlisted for Slovakia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Anasoft Litera, it will not be unfair to say that Vanda Rozenbergová is a master of the short story form. In this story, she explores domestic tensions and dashed dreams through the skillful use of a child narrator.

I was in my room playing with my toy cars but Becko kept taking my black sports car away so I had to give him a slap on the hand, Stop it, Becko! I said. I’d been working on a racetrack for my lorries but because it was a Sunday I had to listen to my mum cursing ‘cause the kitchen is next to my room. “Bloody Sundays,” she said, then I heard a pot lid bang on the floor and a knife strike a chopping board. I used to think she was crying but she was just moaning aloud about having to cook. “I’m as lonely as little orphan Annie,” she kept shouting but Daddy and I had no idea who little orphan Annie was. And there’s another thing I don’t get: why does my mum keep doing stuff she hates, why does she keep roasting meat, peeling potatoes, grating carrots, baking and frying, and why does she always clean up afterwards but never sit down with us to eat and instead say she’s had her fill, having breathed in all the cooking smells. And then in the morning she pulls my trousers up to my ears, bundles me into the car and starts doing her hair as we’re driving and tells me with hairpins in her mouth to eat all my sandwiches at school ‘cause she made them for me even though she didn’t feel like it, she hates making sandwiches, as if I didn’t know she hates making them. I’m sure by next year I’ll be making my own sandwiches. But why does she keep on doing stuff she hates? Why doesn’t she just stay in bed and rest and receive visitors, why doesn’t she give me, Daddy, and Becko a hug and ask us to bring her a cup of tea?

When I ask her about it she blames it all on Daddy, but he’s totally not like her, he loves to lounge around and crack jokes, never in a hurry to go anywhere, not even to work. All my friends like him, and sometimes they go to see him for a chat ‘cause he works in the kebab shop next to our school. He doesn’t serve people at the counter, he’s at the back prepping vegetables. He brings home kebabs and doughnuts but Mum doesn’t eat that kind of stuff so it never makes her happy. Becko is not my real brother, I’ve made him up. I told Dad about him and he said that it was OK, that there was this other world and Becko does exist there. When he said that he was lying on a rug under the window looking at the sky, and then he told me a secret, which is that sometimes on his way home from work he stops by the hospital to see his friend who’s sick. I didn’t know what to say so I asked if at least his friend had a nice room, if it had a telly and stuff like that. Of course there’s a telly, said Daddy, and went over to the next room to put some Icelanders on the stereo. Because my Dad loves Icelanders. He loves Icelandic music and Icelandic people.

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A Lexicon Like No Other

“The crushing of the Prague Spring was followed by another communist party crackdown. Dozens of translations...were banned."

Oľga Kovačičová, PhD is a Slovak literature scholar and specialist in old Russian literature and translation studies. She works at the Institute for Literary Studies at the Slovak Academy of Sciences where for the past few years she has been the driving force behind a unique project, “The Lexicon of 20th century Slovak translators,“ which she co-edited and contributed some 80 of the total 400 entries. She has agreed to share some reflections on the special role literary translation played in shaping Slovak language and culture with Asymptote’s Editor-at-large Julia Sherwood, who then translated her insights into English.

Translated literature necessarily plays a more important role in smaller countries compared with bigger nations where much of the reading public’s literary and general cultural needs are met by local literary output. When it comes to a really small country like Slovakia, even without citing statistical data it is obvious that the ratio of translated to domestic literary production is roughly the converse of that in Western Europe, where translations represent 12% (Germany) or 20% (Italy) of book publishing overall, let alone English speaking countries with the notorious 3-4% of translated books.

Lexicon cover

Another big difference is that while the major European cultures have had access to the great works of world literature in their own language for many centuries, in Slovakia the process of reception was basically condensed into the 20th century, since Slovak as a literary language was only constituted in the second half of the 1840s.  Volume I of the Lexicon of Slovak 20th century Literary Translators (Slovník slovenských prekladateľov umeleckej literatúry 20. storočia), published in 2015 by the Slovak Academy of Sciences (volume II is almost complete), provides a fascinating glimpse of this frantic catching up process.

There are lexicons and then there are lexicons. Unlike pragmatic manuals of the “Who’s Who” type, the profiles of some 400 translators featured in The Lexicon aim to chart the trajectory of literary translation in the 20th century and through this, the history of reception of world literature in Slovakia. Individual entries are between three and five pages long, and apart from basic biographical details and each translator’s bibliography, they look at the works each of them translated and how he/she translated them.  The fruit of the painstaking labour of over 30 linguists and translation studies scholars, the book includes Katarína Bednárová’s comprehensive introductory essay on the history of literary translation in Slovakia and its international context, a bibliography of secondary sources, and an index. Volume II will feature an illustrated supplement, showcasing a selection of around 200 book covers, which doubles as a comprehensive survey of the evolution of Slovak book design, as well as lists of translators by source country.

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Noah Birksted-Breen on Contemporary Russian Theatre

The conditions are very tough for a young playwright; you can only hope that you get picked up by a really good TV series

Noah Birksted-Breen is a theatre director, writer and translator. After doing a Modern Languages degree at Oxford University, including one year at the St. Petersburg State University, he completed an MA in Playwriting at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. In 2005 he co-founded Sputnik Theatre Company, which is dedicated to bringing contemporary Russian plays to the UK, and has so far produced five plays for his company. Sputnik also launched the first Russian Theatre Festival in the UK in 2010 with four new Russian-language plays translated into English and premiered at the Soho Theatre.  In 2006 Noah won the ITV Theatre Directors’ Award, working for a year and a half as resident director at Hampstead Theatre. He has translated plays by, among others, Oleg Bogaev, Yelena Gremina, Natalia Kolyada, Natalia Moshina, Yuri Klavdiev, and Yaroslava Pulinovich. 

Julia Sherwood, Asymptote’s editor-at-large for Slovakia, caught up with Noah in the middle of his commute between Oxford, where he’s in the final stages of his doctoral dissertation, and London, where he lives with his family.

JS: I first came across Sputnik back in 2005 or 2006, when I saw your brilliant production of Russian National Mail at the Old Red Lion theatre. How did you discover this play, what sparked your interest in contemporary Russian drama and how did Sputnik Theatre start? 

NBB: I started hearing that new Russian playwriting was vibrant and began to actively look into it. I was travelling to Russia a lot at that time in my job as a project manager for an NGO that was working in that region, so I could also attend plays.  Then, in 2005 I co-founded Sputnik with Leila Gray and started producing new Russian plays. Russian National Mail by Oleg Bogaev was our first production. Right now Sputnik consists of me and then different collaborators for each project. I also have a Board of Trustees—people who are quite big in the industry and they help out. Ideally, I’d like to have a Russian set designer to work with on a permanent basis, and money to commission Russian playwrights, but funding is a problem.

Over the past 3 or 4 years I haven’t produced any plays as I’ve been working on my doctorate—on contemporary Russian playwriting between 2000 and 2014, focusing on four specific theatre companies and their programming of new plays. However, it is a practice-based doctorate, and it includes a non-academic part, in cooperation with Plymouth’s Theatre Royal, so I was able to continue the work I’ve been doing with Sputnik and bring it to a larger theatre. In consultation with the artistic director, Simon Stokes, we identified four plays, which I translated. As it is very difficult to sell a new Russian play in the UK in general and even more so to a regional audience, rather than doing full productions we decided to do them as rehearsed readings at the Frontline Club in London. This was January 2016. The first play was Dr. by Yelena Isaeva, one of the longest running productions of teatr.doc, the renowned studio theatre in Moscow. It’s a surprising, sometimes shocking, often funny and moving play about contemporary medicine in rural Russia. Then we did Joan, by Yaroslava Pulinovich, which is a play about a self-made businesswoman who has made it to the top for all the wrong reasons, and about the ruthless business practices of 1990s Russia and its gangster capitalism. For the third play, Grandchildren: The Second Act, Alexandra Polivanova and Mikhail Kaluzhsky interviewed the grandchildren of prominent Stalinists, whose testimonies bear witness to the very human desire to forgive those we love, even when we know their worst crimes. And last but not least, Mikhail Durnenkov’s The War Has Not Yet Started depicts the dehumanising effects of living in a society on the brink of an all-out war. (videos of post-performance discussions can be viewed here, here, here and here).

JS: I managed to catch two of the plays at the Frontline Club: Joan and Grandchildren; both were excellent and very different.  Are you planning to publish these four plays and can we expect to see full productions of any of them?

NBB: I published two of the plays, Dr. and Grandchildren, in a bilingual edition, and have included all the footnotes so you can get a full experience of the text, if you’re interested. I published them through Sputnik, funded by the Translation Institute (Institut perevoda) in Moscow. As for full productions, the rehearsed readings were very well received and Simon Stokes really liked one of the plays, The War Has Not Yet Started. He decided to do a full production at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth in May 2016, directed by Michael Fentiman. He is more of an auteur director, adding his own images, rather than a typical new play director, where you’re tend to be quite faithful to the script. The result worked extremely successful—very theatrical and enjoyable—though it felt rather eclectic in places.  It’s very hard to get attention for a new Russian play so it was covered mostly by the local press, and by the Stage, the industry paper.

It was good to see how well Durnenkov’s play worked in Plymouth as artistic directors often assume that a contemporary Russian play can only be staged in a niche theatre like the Royal Court, or The Bush, or the Gate or some other theatre that specializes in contemporary plays. In fact, a play like Joan is actually quite a crowd pleaser and the Royal Court would not necessarily be interested whereas—I may be hopelessly idealistic here—I feel that it could actually be staged in a more mainstream theatre. It’s a sort of revenge drama, which asks big questions but at the same time it’s a very entertaining piece with a great deal of situational comedy. The problem is how to convince theatre managers—I spoke to a couple of directors and they felt it could only be staged if there was a star actor in the main role, because otherwise no-one is going to come and see a new Russian play. But if you got Helen McCrory it could be put on at the Old Vic, or the Young Vic [laughs].

READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The international literary news you won't find anywhere else.

It’s Friday and we’re back with the latest news from our Editors-at-Large, providing us with their personal roundups of the most exciting literary developments in their region. We kick off with Jessie Stoolman in Morocco, where there’s never a shortage of intriguing events and publications; Julia Sherwood in Slovakia takes us on a tour of the various cross-cultural literary encounters that have been occurring recently in the Czech Republic; and finally, Omar El Adl gives us some insight into the latest talks, discussions and publications that are taking place right now in Egypt. 

Jessie Stoolman, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Morocco: 

July was filled with literary events throughout Morocco, starting with a conversation between two Moroccan Prix Concourt winners, Leila Slimani and Tahar Ben Jelloun, at the Minzah Hotel, where they discussed “Comment écrire et publier un livre?” (“How to write and publish a book”) Another star Moroccan author (and painter), Mahi Benibine, whose novel Horses of God, inspired by the 2003 suicide attacks in Casablanca, was made into a critically-acclaimed film, presented his newest novel Le fou du roi at Librairie les insolites in Tangier.

Speaking of new publications from major Moroccan authors, Dar Toubkal’s newly released publication of the poet Mohammed Bennis’ الأعمال النثرية (Works of Prose) was just reviewed in Al-Hayat.

Still staying within the Tangier region, the Galerie Delacoix hosted artists, academics, and students for the الجسد الإجتماعي والمحيط الحضري (Espace urbain & corps social) program and internal working week. Among the participants was Moroccan-French artist and co-founder of the Cinémathèque du Tanger, Yto Berrada. Given continued action from the Al-Hoceima-based protest movement (حراك الريف), the geographer William Kurtz’s talk on “La Globalisation de la Région Tangier Al-Hoceima et son impact sur les inégalites sociales et spatiales” (“Globalization of the Tangier Al-Hoceima Region and its impact on social and spatial inequalities”) was particularly timely.

If that was not enough activity in Tangier, Librairie des Colonnes hosted Zahra Al-Khamleshi, who presented her most recent work, الحدود في شمال المغرب: آمال وآلام النساء الحمالات (Borders in Northern Morocco: Hope and Suffering of Women Porters) on the women who carry products between Ceuta (a Spanish enclave/colony in northern Morocco) and Morocco.

Moving further south, in Casablanca, Kabareh Cheikhats was back again. Their travelling show aims to shed light on the history of Cheikhats, who are often mischaracterized as exotic dancers. Historically, Cheikhats throughout the Maghreb were skilled poets, improvising verses on such controversial topics as resistance to colonization, which they sang and set to music at community gatherings.

Lastly, check out the “Lilipad” project, started by young Moroccan activist Sara Arsalane, which aims to collect books and distribute them to underserved schools throughout Morocco.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, with all the latest news from the Czech Republic: 

On August 4, as we go to press, Czech poet and literary historian Petr Hruška and Georgian poet and musician Erekle Deisadze are reading from their works in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Their performance brings to a close a 31-day long marathon tour of five cities, comprising Authors’ Reading Month (Měsíc autorského čtení or MAČ 2017), Central Europe’s largest literary festival. The readings, by two or more authors each day, are broadcast live and the recordings are available online. The festival’s founder Petr Minařík, whose publishing house Větrné mlýny is based in the Czech Republic’s second largest city Brno, has given a wide berth to capital cities, instead locating the festival in four other cities of similar size: Ostrava near the Polish border, Wrocław on the other side of the border in Poland, Košice in eastern Slovakia and, more recently, Lviv in Ukraine.

The guest country of this year’s festival, which kicked off in Brno on 1st July, is Georgia. This country in the Caucasus is fast becoming a trendy tourist destination, yet its literary riches are not all that well known in Central Europe. Thirty-one Georgian writers joined the tour, accompanied by acclaimed Czech authors, among them Ivan Klíma, Arnošt Goldflam, Ivan Binar, Marek Šindelka, Martin Reiner, Michal Viewegh and Jáchym Topol (whose 1995 novel Angel Station, just out from Dalkey Archive Press in Alex Zucker’s English translation, was reviewed by James Hopkin in last week’s Times Literary Supplement). A traditionally strong Slovak contingent was represented by poets Peter Repka and Ivan Štrpka, and fiction writers Balla, Monika Kompaníková, Ondrej Štefánik, Michal Havran, and Silvester Lavrík. Several Ukrainian and Polish writers and poets also took part in some of the readings.

One of the Polish festival participants, Zośka Papużanka, arrived in Brno fresh from another appearance, in Prague, with Czech writer Ivana Myšková. The two women read from their works at the (A)VOID Floating Gallery, a boat moored on the Vltava Riverbank, which serves as an art gallery and a venue for music, theatre and literary readings. Other writers reading there this summer include Ben Aaronovitch and Czech horror story writer Miloš Urban. The gallery provided a more than fitting venue for the launch of a bilingual Czech and English anthology, A Giant Barrel of Rotgut, that “celebrates the Vltava as a river of slain crocodiles, viziers and rotgut.” If that sounds intriguing, you can find out more in this interview with poet Sylva Fischerová on Radio Prague.

And, finally, emerging translators from the Czech (and Slovak) will be interested to hear that Underpass.co, an online journal for modern literature in translation, is seeking submissions specifically from these two languages. The journal aims to offer English-speaking readers a window into new countries, neighbourhoods, cultures, perspectives, and they are especially interested in stories with a strong sense of place.

Omar El Adl, Editor-at-Large, giving us the latest scoop from Egypt: 

Alia Mossallam presented a talk on August 3 in the Townhouse gallery in Downtown Cairo. The talk featured her text RAWI which deals with motherhood, writing, and revolutionary politics, according to Mada Masr. Mossallam has collected oral history testimonies in Nubia, Alexandria and Port Said, has been involved in alternative pedagogical structures in Cairo, and her dissertation focused on a popular history of Nasserist Egypt through stories and songs by people behind the 1952 revolution. The text was created as part of a long form essay workshop held in Cairo by 60pages, which describes itself as an international network of writers, artists, thinkers and scientists, based in Berlin. Other texts produced for 60pages include Arab Porn by Youssef Rakha (which will be published as a book featuring Rakha’s photography by Matthes and Seitz Berlin), Migrating the Feminine by Nora Amin and a forthcoming text by Amr Ezzat. The talk was held in Arabic, with a reading of the text in English.

Youssef Rakha is also to write a column as the central character from his Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Mustafa Çorbacı, according to his bimonthly newsletter. Rakha describes this development on his newsletter as follows:

“First, that mad newspaperman Mustafa Çorbacı has resolved to write a column. You may be familiar with Çorbacı from a certain, overrated Book of the Sultan’s Seal. In hopeless pursuit of the same meme, he has named his ephemeral effusions, “Postmuslim.” Raising vaguely relevant questions only to leave them grossly un-dealt with would not be untypical. But if mildly psychotic speculation on being in Cairo today holds some promise of amusement, do humour the unfortunate lunatic by reading and sharing his 400 words.”

According to Rakha, the column will appear printed in Al-Ahram Weekly as well as on this site every Friday starting from July 7.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Brazil, Singapore, the Czech Republic, and Spain!

We have a busy schedule this week, Readers, so pack light and wear comfy shoes! First stop is Brazil, where we’ll board book-selling buses and more. Then we’re off to Singapore to check out a nation-wide, month-long poetry project before visiting a new cultural hub in the Czech Republic. And final destination: the vibrant literary scene in Spain! 

Maíra Mendes Galvão, Editor-at-Large for Brazil, gives us the latest:

Brazilian writer João Gilberto Noll passed away at age 70 on March 29 in his house in Porto Alegre, in the State of Rio Grande do Sul. Noll stood out among his contemporaries in the 1980s for his language-driven writing at a time when Brazilian literature favored narrative and plot. His novels Quiet Creature in the Corner and Hotel Atlântico were translated into English by Adam Morris, and Harmada was translated by David Treece.

Rizoma Livros is an itinerant bookstore on a bus that tours the city of São Paulo, Brazil, offering books by independent publishers such as n-1 and elefante. It will be parked in front of Middle-Eastern food restaurant Al Janiah, owned by Palestinian refugees and Brazilian friends, in the Bixiga neighborhood of São Paulo until the end of April.

Another book bus is touring the Northeast State of Ceará as part of the project “Ceará Leitor” [Ceará Reader], aimed at encouraging the population of smaller towns such as Baturité, Aquiraz, Maracanaú and Horizonte to read more by offering discounted books by publishing houses from Ceará. The will also donate book baskets to the visited municipalities’ book collections for public and school libraries, and offer an orientation on how to start book clubs. Organized by the Viva Brasil institute and the Ceará Book Chamber, with the support of SEBRAE, the Secretariat of Culture of the State of Ceará, and the Government of the State of Ceará, the project hopes to open up, for as many people as possible, the possibility of acquiring the habit of reading as a form of entertainment and education.

The Brazilian Academy of Letters has elected writer and diplomat João Almino as a new member, taking up its 22nd Chair, previously occupied by the recently deceased physician and academic Ivo Pitanguy. Some of Almino’s fiction work has been translated into English, French, Spanish and Italian, and he’s also written non-fiction books about historical and political philosophy.

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In Conversation: Ottilie Mulzet on Multilingualism, Translation, and Contemporary Literary Culture: Part II

But his was a mind that never stopped questioning and was exquisitely attuned to the pain of the world.

Here to relieve the unbearable suspense we left you in after part I are Julia Sherwood and Ottilie Mulzet, picking up where they left off in their chat about Mulzet’s translations from Hungarian and Mongolian, and more! 

JS: Not all translators take on both fiction and poetry, but you have also translated Szilárd Borbély’s poetry for Asymptote, and your revised and expanded collection of his Berlin-Hamlet came out in the US last year. In what ways is your approach different when translating poetry and prose?  And given that in Hungary, Szilárd Borbély was primarily known as a poet, there is a whole treasure trove out there waiting for the English reader—are you planning to tackle any more of his poetry?

OM: I’ve actually already translated two other volumes by Borbély: Final Matters: Sequences, and To the Body: Odes and Legends. Final Matters has been described as a monument to his mother, who was murdered by thugs who broke into her home in a tiny village on the night before Christmas Eve, 1999. She was murdered brutally in her bed, Borbély’s father was left for dead but survived. (He passed away in 2006.) Borbély was the one who found them, and well, I don’t think it takes too much imagination to picture the unspeakably deep trauma this must have occasioned.

Final Matters is like a three-part memorial to her, although it doesn’t address her murder directly; instead, Borbély employs allegorical language—he drew his inspiration for the first part from central European Baroque folk poetry about Christ and the Virgin Mary, in particular the poetry of Angelus Silesius—to talk about death and the body. There’s a lot of brutally direct detail and philosophical language at the same time. In reading The Dispossessed, though, you see exactly where this comes from—the little boy is confronted with brutal details all day long, but in his own mind, he is preoccupied with abstraction, his love for prime numbers. In the second part of Final Matters, Borbély turns to the myth of Amor and Psyche to explore questions of physicality and immateriality. And in the third part, he reworks another part of Hungarian religious-poetic culture that’s been largely forgotten: the legends and parables of the Hungarian-speaking Szatmár Hassidic Jews from Hungary’s rural northeast. (Now, of course, the Szatmár region is mostly in Romania, and the Szatmár Hassidim, except for the Yiddish-speaking Satmari in Brooklyn, were almost all murdered in the Holocaust.) And yet through these three sections, which he terms ‘Sequences’, he causes the three great western traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and the world of the ancient Greeks—to confront each other, form a dialogue with each other; they all cause the others to be seen in a different light.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your latest updates from the UK, Argentina, and Canada

In case you missed it, Asymptote has exciting news from the London Book Fair, plus the latest literary gossip from Argentina and Canada this week. Lots of new books to look out for, and many writers making waves in their communities. First stop: LBF! 

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large for Slovakia, sends us her notes from the recently concluded London Book Fair, where Polish literature had a big moment:

Over the past few years, Polish has become the second most widely spoken language in the UK, so it was high time for Londoners to get exposed to a massive dose of Polish literature.  Several years of work by the British Council, the Polish Book Institute and the Polish Cultural Institute in London finally paid off as Poland was the market focus at this year’s London Book Fair, held from 13 to 16 March.

Polish writers kept popping up at readings and discussions—not just at the buzzing maze that is the Olympia conference centre, but also at venues all over London. However, the toast of the town was, without doubt,  leading feminist author Olga Tokarchuk (Tok-ARCH-ook: TOK as in tick-tock, ARCH as in arch, OOK to rhyme with book, stress on the ARCH, to quote from the handy guide to pronouncing Polish writers’ names prepared by translator extraordinaire Antonia Lloyd-Jones).  Apparently unfazed by her relentless schedule, Tokarczuk was always ready to answer probing questions with unfailing grace.  Her conversation with novelist Deborah Levy at the London Review Bookshop sold out weeks in advance, and it must have been a real bonus for the author to be presented, ahead of its scheduled publication, with copies of her own latest book Flights, in Jennifer Croft’s English translation (excerpt here).

credit Elzbieta Piekacz, courtesy of Polish Book Institute

credit Elzbieta Piekacz, courtesy of Polish Book Institute

Discussing the role of history in 21st century Polish fiction, Tokarczuk—whom moderator Rosie Goldsmith introduced as the “Margaret Atwood of Central Europe“—declared: “Objective history doesn’t really exist. What is located in the archives is just a collection of facts; history is a projection, our interpretation.” London-based Libyan author Hisham Matar concurred, suggesting that “all writing about the past is vigorously about the present.”  Science fiction writer Jacek Dukaj pointed out that films and books can shape our own memory of events, while poet, writer, and translator Jacek Dehnel explained that he doesn’t write non-fiction because in literature you often have to lie to make it more true.

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In Conversation: Ottilie Mulzet on Multilingualism, Translation, and Contemporary Literary Culture

"One of the most amazing things about learning Czech is that it has enabled me to study Mongolian..."

Ottilie Mulzet translates from Hungarian and Mongolian. Her translation of László Krasznahorkai’s Seiobo There Below won the Best Translated Book Award in 2014. Her recent translations include Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens by László Krasznahorkai (Seagull Books, 2016); The Dispossessed (HarperCollins, 2016); and Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély (NYRB Poets, 2016); forthcoming is her version of Lazarus by Gábor Schein (Seagull Books, 2017), as well as Krasznahorkai’s The Homecoming of Baron Wenckheim (New Directions). She is also working on an anthology of Mongolian Buddhist legends. In 2016 she served as one of the judges of Asymptote’s Close Approximations translation competition and is on the jury for the 2017 ALTA National Translation Award in Prose.

Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Slovakia, Julia Sherwood, spoke with Mulzet via email. Below is the first part of their enlightening correspondence. Stay tuned for part 2!

Julia Sherwood (JS): You translate from the Hungarian, are doing a PhD in Mongolian and are based in Prague.  Your recent Asymptote review of Richard Weiner’s Game for Real shows that you also have an impressive command of Czech, enabling a close reading of the original and an in-depth review of the translation. How did your involvement with Hungarian begin and what is it like to live between all these languages?

Ottilie Mulzet (OM): Part of the difference is due to my involvement with each of these languages.  I started studying Hungarian because of my family background (two of my grandparents emigrated from Hungary), although I didn’t speak it as a child. I decided to learn it in adulthood as the result of some kind of fatal attraction, I guess, and never even realized I would end up translating. Hungarian grammar struck me as being so strange that I couldn’t wait to get onto the next lesson to see if what followed could possibly be any stranger than what I just learnt. I used a hopelessly out-of-date textbook with pen-and-ink illustrations of women in 1950s coiffures having a cigarette in front of a prefabricated housing estate. They spent their evenings complimenting each other on their clothes, sipping tea and playing match games, all the while making sure they were back at their parents’ houses by 8 pm. In retrospect, this textbook actually encoded, along with Hungarian grammar, a manual to the kind of “petty bourgeois-dom” that was so characteristic of central European socialism in the 1980s.

ottilie

An illustration from my first Hungarian textbook. Here we are introduced to Mr. Comrade Nagy, and his lovely wife, Mrs. Comrade Nagy.

I learned Czech more for practical reasons, because of living in Prague, but there are many aspects of the language I’ve come to love, not least its humour and slang. I try to keep up with what’s going on in Czech literature, although I don’t translate from it.  One of the most amazing things about learning Czech is that it has enabled me to study Mongolian—at Charles University, an institution with extraordinary language pedagogy with roots in the pre-war Prague Linguistic Circle, and an astonishing array of languages on offer—from Manchurian and Jagnobi (a descendant of Sogdian) to Jakut and Bengali. One can only hope, given the current trend toward mindless rationalisation, i.e. shutting down whatever seems too impractical or exotic, that the university will stay that way. It’s impossible to understand anything really essential about another culture without knowing something about the language: and the more you know about the language, the better off you are.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your Friday update from Spain, Morocco, and Slovakia!

This week, we begin our world tour on the Iberian Peninsula in the midst of political unrest—Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James is on the ground in Spain with the full report. Then south to Morocco: we’ll catch up with Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman about the latest book fairs and literary trends. And finally, we’ll wrap up in Slovakia with Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood, who has the scoop on the latest Slovak poetry available to English readers and more.

Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James reports from Spain:

Political actions and gestures have been more overtly woven through the Spanish literary scene as writers seek to speak back against increasingly divisive governments. Writers called for remembrance of fifteen people killed in Tarajal on the two year anniversary of their deaths on February 6, 2014; a documentary about the tragedy was made to both inform the public and denounce such instances of institutional racism in the country.

Amidst celebrations of women’s roles in science, Bellver, the cultural journal of the Diario de Mallorca, highlighted three recent anthologies written by women: Poesía soy yo, 20 con 20,  and (Tras)lúcidas.

Another recent book has been getting a lot of attention not for its political weight, but because of the strange circumstances under which it’s being published. Michi Panero, who came from a very literary family but died young in 2004 has had his first book, Funerales vikingos, published by Bartelby Editores. La Movida madrileña called him the writer without books, as he had famously shunned the writing life. He wrote in secret, however, and eventually entrusted the work to his stepson, Javier Mendoza, who has finally sought to publish the unedited stories, together with his own work narrating his relationship with Panero. The product is bound to be an interesting read.

Similarly mysterious and posthumously discovered is a recent gift to the Madrid art world: drawings and sketches by the painter Francis Bacon that were previously unascertained. Bacon had also famously declared that he did not sketch or plan in this way, but some nearly 800 drawings were given to Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino, the journalist and a partner of Bacon’s for some years. The works will be on display in the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid until May 21.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary updates from the Czech Republic, Iran, and England

This Friday, we present three very distinct reports from the world of literature. Slovakian Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood looks back at what was a great year of Czech literature in translation and gives us a sneak peek at what to look forward to this year. Her Iranian colleague Poupeh Missaghi reports on language-related issues in a human rights Twitter campaign. And finally, the UK Editor-at-Large M. René Bradshaw tells us where to head for great readings in London this month and next.

Julia Sherwood, our Editor-at-Large for Slovakia, has good news from the publishing world:

Last year proved to be a big year for Czech literature in English translation, with no fewer than eighteen publications from eight different presses at the latest count. They include, to mention just a few, Worm-Eaten Time, poet Pavel Šrut’s elegy for his homeland after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, translated by Deborah Garfinkle, and symbolist poet Jaroslav Durych‘s (1886-1962) 1956 novella God’s Rainbow on the expulsion of the German-speaking population from Bohemia after World War II. First published in censored form in 1969, it is now available in full in David Short’s translation as part of Karolínum Press’s Modern Classics series, which also features Eva M. Kandler’s translation of the World War II literary horror The Cremator by Ladislav Fuks, a study of the totalitarian mindset that still resonates today (extract in BODY Literature), and served as the basis for one of the key films of the Czech new wave, directed by Juraj Herz.

Stoppard_and_Bajaja,_photo_by_Pavel_Stojar

On 30 November, a packed audience at the launch of Antonín Bajaja’s Burying the Season (also translated by David Short) at Waterstones Piccadilly in the heart of London included the playwright Tom Stoppard. Stoppard’s father came from the town of Zlín, the setting for this novel depicting the early years of communism in Czechoslovakia. Czech literature scholar Rajendra Chitnis introduces the book as part of an Istros Conversations podcast on Audioboom, while Michael Tate of Jantar Publishing discusses on Czech radio the challenges of bringing Central European literature to English readers.

World Literature Today picked Czech writer Magdaléna Platzová’s The Attempt as one of its Notable translations of 2016, characterizing it as “historical fiction at its best”. In an interview with the Czech cultural bi-weekly A2, the novel’s translator Alex Zucker points out that while more books by Czech authors are now being published than ever before, they don’t necessarily reach many more readers since—like translated literature in general—quite a few are brought out by small independent presses and are therefore not visible in major bookshops and rarely reviewed.

In 2017, we can look forward to Zucker’s translations of two the most acclaimed contemporary Czech writers: Jáchym Topol’s Angel Station is due from Dalkey Archive in May, and Petra Hůlová’s taboo-breaking Plastic Three Rooms will be brought out by Jantar Publishing. Budding UK translators keen to be part of this unprecedented boom in Czech literature in English can participate in the fourth annual international competition for young translators, who this year are asked to tackle an excerpt from Bianca Bellová’s The Lake by 31 March (see their call for submissions). Budding Czech-to-English translators can also dip into the treasure trove of tricky issues, complete with solutions generously shared by Melvyn Clarke, in his blog post Translating Hrdý Budžes.

Acclaimed writer Zuzana Brabcová, who sadly passed away in 2015, was posthumously awarded the Josef Škvorecký prize for her haunting last novel Voliéry [Aviaries]. And as the year drew to a close, scores of students and literature lovers mourned the loss of the legendary Fišer bookstore in Kaprova Street near Prague’s Old Town Square, which closed its doors after selling books since the 1930s.

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