Language: Persian

Monthly Update from the Asymptote Team

The first month of 2017 has been a big one for the folks here at Asymptote!

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado read with fellow poet Kea Wilson at Washington University in St Louis on 26 January. Her recent translation of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia was reviewed in Europe Now by Asymptote‘s Editor-at-Large for Iran, Poupeh Missaghi.

Spanish Social Media Manager Arthur Dixon launched Latin American Literature Today, a new bilingual journal affiliated to World Literature Today. He serves as Managing Editor and principal translator.

Contributing Editor (Chinese) Francis Li Zhuoxiong’s recent memoir looking back on his 20 illustrious years as a Chinese lyricist was announced as a top ten finalist for the nonfiction category by the organizers of the Taipei International Book Exhibition.

Assistant Managing Editor Lori Feathers is opening Interabang Books in Dallas, Texas. The independent bookstore is expected to open in May. In addition to being a co-owner, Lori will be the store’s book buyer. For more information about the store visit interabangbooks.com.

India Editor-at-Large Poorna Swami spoke at a panel on South Asian books in translation at Jaipur Bookmark, part of the Jaipur Literature Festival. On another panel, she and Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan presented on Asymptote‘s Indian Languages Special Feature. The Indian online news publication The Wire ran a selection of poems from this Feature in a week-long series titled The Republic of Verse.

Social Media Manager Sohini Basak has received the inaugural Beverly Series manuscript prize. Her debut poetry collection We Live in the Newness of Small Differences will be published by Eyewear Publishing in early 2018. She has also received a Toto Funds the Arts award for her poetry.

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek‘s latest chapbook, The First Five Storms, which won the 2016 New Poets’ Prize, was released this month by smith | doorstop press. His also launched ‘Words of Welcome’, a new fortnightly series dedicated to spotlighting the literary voices of refugees in Oxford and writers who work directly with them.

*****

Read More Dispatches from the Asymptote Team:

Translation Tuesday: “Made in Denmark” by Mohammad Tolouei

We lived in a world in which people followed certain ideologies even for how to grip a racket.

On the subject of the travel ban, much of the rhetoric coming out of Trump’s administration has focused on the dangers posed by immigrants. This devastating but ultimately heartwarming story by Iranian writer Mohammed Tolouei, told from the point of view of a four-year-old, conveys to us what it is like from the other side, that may not be so readily apparent to those who’ve never been forced to flee their countries. To be reckoned with, above all, in any decision to migrate, is the pain of uprooting from one’s homeland.

This short story marks the first of many in an extensive showcase we hope to bring you, spotlighting new writing—and new translations—from the seven countries Trump intends to ban. If you’d like to see more of this showcase, there’s still a week left to pitch in to our fundraiser here. If you are an author who identifies as being from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen (or someone who translates such authors)—and would like to submit work for consideration, please get in touch at editors@asymptotejournal.com.

We lived in a house of closed doors. The door to the veranda was closed. The third room’s door was closed. The bifolding doors to the hall were closed–we had placed an American sofa in front of them. The door of the big bathroom was closed. The basement’s door was closed. The door of the toilet in the yard was closed. The door opening to the ridge roof was closed. And so was the door of the large hall all over the springs and falls and winters because we never had enough oil to heat up the whole place. Only in summers the doors opened and I could play ping pong with my mother with the ping pong table in there. She put a bedstead below my feet so that I could reach up the table and then she tried not to strike hard returns. My mother was Iranian Girls’ Schools Champion and fond of penhold grip of the racket, while I favored shakehand. We lived in a world in which people followed certain ideologies even for how to grip a racket, and from the very beginning I sided with the Western party.

Our styles were totally different. My mother used to hit short, tight topspins while my hits were rather long and loose. I was more at ease with sidespins while my mother made better topspins. Yet in spite of all the trophy cups Mother had received, I won because of my playing style—the victorious western style. Mother still followed Eastern methods, yet Father wanted to take us to Denmark, a place in the West that ironically paid living subsidies, unemployment compensation and allowance for the children like most socialist countries. And in order to convince my mother to leave, each day he locked up more and more doors of our house.

READ MORE…

Postmarked from Iran: An Open Letter to the American People

It was only after President Ahmadinejad that we became grateful for what we had, like, for example, ice water.

Dear Americans,

Hi guys. How are you? Accept my condolences on the ending of President Obama’s presidency. I’m sorry that I must also send my condolences that it’s the beginning of President Trump’s era. It’s as if spring has immediately been replaced by winter. Or as if you’re in the passenger seat of a Ferrari, the driver suddenly falls asleep, the car goes crashing in a valley; then you are brought out of the Ferrari, escorted to a horse-drawn carriage whose coachman is one who has just gotten his license. But don’t worry. I totally feel for you. My country’s president during the Eight Years Reform era was a Ferrari driver and we had so much fun. Then, well, for the eight years after him, we rode in a carriage and I really need to thank the president who rode in that carriage, because at the end of his term, he turned the rules of physics upside down and set new Guinness World Records.

You ask how? This is how: he rode the carriage forward but we kept going backward. If Einstein were alive, he would probably die of a stroke trying to solve that problem.

Anyway, don’t be too worried. This President Trump of yours will make you want to emigrate. This will be very good for you, because until now you have always seen immigrants but never been immigrants yourselves. We Iranians have widely emigrated to the U.S. ourselves. So you are more than welcome here; if you have it too hard, move here. Whatever the conditions are here, they are better than being known with Trump after Obama. Think about it: so far, we Iranians have imagined American life to be like the film The Matrix; it is truly a pity to see it as American Pie now, or something even stupider than that.

Can you believe it? Under President Ahmadinejad, we sympathized with Japan when the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Since the inauguration of President Trump, perhaps you have been sympathizing with the universe during the Big Bang.

But be glad, because Mr. Trump is going to make you all grateful later. It was only after President Ahmadinejad that we became grateful for what we had, like, for example, ice water. No pill is going to cure your headache when you are furious about your president’s speeches; you’d do better to take an ice-cold shower and try to forget.

Believe me, there is no reason to panic. These days the medical field has improved a lot, and it can cure any cancerous tumor, even President Trump.

That said, one needs to be fair. President Trump might have a thousand and one vices, but he will have one great virtue. Rest assured that no matter how bad President Trump’s time in office is for everyone, it is going to be amazing for your satirists. They will have so much material they’ll be able to export half of it outside the U.S.

But President Trump has another virtue, as well: You will become so anxious that you will stop gaining weight. The Iranian people were each sixty-three kilos overweight, on average, before President Ahmadinejad. You won’t believe it, but by the day he left office, not only had we lost the extra weight, we almost disappeared. And if you get really lucky, your country will lose its extra weight, too. Our country was, for example, several thousand billions of rials and dollars thinner, and a few oil towers and gold bullion and foreign currency trailers lighter. The nation even lost millions of tons of its weight as a result of the decimation of buildings, forests, and lakes.

By the way, President Trump’s slogans are similar to President Ahmadinejad’s in that he keeps making promises to workers. I suggest that, no matter what your job, always hide a thousand dollars under your pillow, because these politicians, whenever they say they want to do a good job and benefit us, the first thing they do is take our jobs from us.

Truth is, if I were you, I would exchange all my dollars to rials. Why? Because if President Trump does to your economy what President Ahmadinejad did to ours, you will suddenly find yourselves able to buy only one can of Pepsi with one thousand dollars.

Also, why are you so troubled by President Trump’s anti-women talk? You should not forget President Clinton, who cheated on his wife and, of course, on you, while in the White House. Psychologists believe that people who appear to be nice are more likely to do bad things in their own homes and in the White House. Let’s hope that President Trump is all talk and no action. If President Clinton, who did not talk of such things at all, carried such acts, imagine what President Trump, who already talks of them, could do; if he is to act, you need to worry about the White House’s female cats and birds.

Anyway, as Americans would say, God bless you.

And, as Iranians would say, God bestow upon you real patience.

Yours truly,
Pouria Alami

Translated from the Persian by Poupeh Missaghi. This piece was originally published in Persian in two installments in Shargh newspaper on January 22nd and 23rd, 2017

Pouria Alami is a thirty-five-year-old satirist, journalist, and writer, based in Tehran, Iran. He has a daily sociopolitical satire column in Shargh newspaper, the largest independent newspaper in the country. He is the author of eleven books and teaches journalism, satire, and creative writing, as extracurricular classes in various universities. His work has also appeared in English in World Literature Today.

*****

Read More Translations:

Joshua Freeman talks Uyghur Poetry, Part II

The endless choices confronting a translator constitute a great deal of creative freedom.

Our latest issue features three poems by the Uyghur writer Tahir Hamut. Here, the Asymptote Interview Features Editor Ryan Mihaly talks to the translator, Joshua Freeman.

When we first spoke in October 2015, you mentioned your excitement about translating Tahir Hamut. It’s wonderful to see these poems now. How long have you been working with Hamut? Have you worked with him on translation issues?

Tahir Hamut was actually one of the first poets I translated, almost ten years ago. I met him soon after I started translating his work, since I was also living in Ürümchi, capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, at the time. He’s a terrific conversationalist with wide-ranging interests, and I’ve enjoyed exchanging ideas with him on all manner of subjects over the years. I used to ask him occasionally why he didn’t write much poetry anymore, since I regard him as one of the most talented living poets writing in Uyghur. (His poem “Returning to Kashgar” is perhaps my favorite.) Over the last couple years it’s been exciting for me that he’s suddenly reemerged with a torrent of new work, every bit as good as his work from the nineties.

When I translate work by a living poet—and most poets I translate are still around—I usually produce a semi-final draft of my translation, and then get in touch with the poet about any lingering questions of meaning or interpretation. Those conversations can be quite lengthy, and in fact I really enjoy them; as a non-poet myself, it’s a unique chance to have some access to the literary thought processes of poets I admire. Speaking with Tahir about his work, we’ll sometimes slip briefly from Uyghur into Chinese to discuss a word or a line from the “meta” level of a second language.

Interesting that you call yourself a non-poet. I wonder if you are of the camp that considers a translated poem a new poem all its own? Or do you think it is strictly a translation?

There’s lots of interesting theory on the subject by people who’ve thought about it longer than I have, so I’ll just share my own sense of it. A translated poem is not exactly a new poem, but it’s definitely distinct from the original work. The endless choices confronting a translator constitute a great deal of creative freedom, but the starting point of each choice is still the original poem, and in that sense translating poetry differs fundamentally from writing it. One analogy that comes to mind is music: different musicians will interpret a composer’s work differently, but their performance will still be guided by the same notes on the page. READ MORE…

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.

READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Spain, England, and Iran

Holidays are nearly upon us, but there is no rest in the world of literature. This Friday, Asymptote staff brings you dispatches from Spain, The United Kingdom, and Iran. Spain mourns the death of poet Adolfo Cueto, says Editor-at-Large Layla Benitez-James, while her colleague M. René Bradshaw has plenty of awards news from the UK. To wrap up, Editor-at-Large for Iran Poupeh Missaghi writes about the recent scandal involving the late poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad. 

Layla Benitez-James, our Podcast Editor, gives us the rundown on literary awards and new publications:  

Many in Spain’s creative community are mourning the death of Spanish poet Adolfo Cueto who passed away unexpectedly in Madrid on Sunday, December 4 at the young age of 47. His collection of poetry, Dragados y Construcciones, won him the Premio Alarcos de Poesía in 2010, followed by the Ciudad de Burgos de Poesía in 2013 for Diverso.es, and the Manuel Alcántara Prize in 2016.

As Spanish writers come to terms with losing one of their literary greats, they are also celebrating the accomplishments of Eduardo Mendoza, who has just won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize. The award celebrates an author’s entire career, and for Mendoza, the honor comes on the heels of the Premio Ciudad de Barcelona, Premio al “Libro del Año,” Premio de Novela Fundación José Manuel Lara Premio de la Cultura de Catalunya, and the Premio Franz Kafka, among many others. Mendoza was born in Barcelona in 1943, and his win has been especially heartwarming to the city. A group of young writers born after the invention of the prize in 1976 were inspired to get together and talk about the modern state of writing in Spain and Barcelona’s role as a key literary city.

The work of twelve important writers is about to debut in a new collection, Mujer, lenguaje y poesía, which will be forthcoming early in the New Year. Poets Alicia García Núñez, Lola Nieto, Laia López Manrique, Miriam Reyes, Chus Pato, Flavia Company, and Elena Medel, among others, will appear in this new anthology which hopes to expand the contemporary conversation of poetry in the country.

Further discussion and promotion of modern verse took place at the event “Displaced Verses: Nomadic Poetry Recital,” part of the recent Encuentro euroMediterráneo, a meeting of creative people showing solidarity with refugees. Participants hailed from eighteen Euro-Mediterranean countries: Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. The conference continued the trend of poets and writers in Spain taking an active role in advocating for human rights, highlighting the overlap of the poetic and the political.

In a similar spirit, María Isabel Quiñones, also known as Martirio, dedicated her recent Premio Nacional de Músicas Actuales 2016 to “young people who are ready to fight.”

READ MORE…

In Review: Yaghoub Yadali’s Rituals of Restlessness

Simple. Engineer Kamran Khosravi would die in a car accident. Easy, done.

Navid Hamzavi and Asymptote’s long-standing Contributing Editor Aamer Hussein review Yaghoub Yadali’s Rituals of Restlessness, translated from the Persian by Sara Khalili (Phoneme Media, 2016).

Nihilism in the Nietzschean sense is “one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!”

Rituals of Restlessness by Yaghoub Yadali seems to have a nihilistic outlook on life. Kamran Khosravi, the protagonist, wants to get rid of his real life in a fake accident in order to construct a new life in unknown territory. He chooses an Afghan migrant to replace him in a car crash down in the canyon. Spiking his tea, he makes his victim unconscious, puts his own clothes on him, sets his car on fire and pushes it down the canyon to make others believe that Kamran Khosravi is dead. We never know whether he is just imagining doing all this or, as the narrative suggests, actually goes through with it and later regrets it; whether he makes an unsuccessful suicide attempt, or whether he’s just on his way back to his wife who has left him. Much of the book is taken up with these three lines of interwoven plot, without shaping either a solid character, or identifying a cultural or philosophical issue.

Whether Rituals of Restlessness even comes close to addressing that crisis in Nietzsche’s quote, whether it recovers from its dull narrative to explore this question in greater depth, whether it comes anywhere near reflecting on philosophical or ontological aspects of life is open to debate.  The shallow characters, the superficial reading of folk culture in contrast to urban culture, and the lack of depth of social understanding, render the novel tedious and shut down a critical approach to it. The novel even fails to portray the roots of that restlessness so as to convey a better understanding of the antagonist’s logic for his (attempted) suicide, which in itself could have opened it up for broader interpretation. READ MORE…

Asymptote’s Pushcart Prize Nominations

It's that time of year, and we're proud to recognize six wonderful pieces of literature!

We are thrilled to nominate the following six articles published during the past year for the Pushcart Prize. Please join us in giving a round of applause to both the authors and translators behind these incredible pieces.

At 997 words, Pedro Novoa’s devastating short story, “The Dive”, won Peru’s “Story of 1,000 Words” contest. Translating this nautical thriller cum family saga into English, George Henson made it an Oulipian exercise by keeping the English text under 1,000 words as well. Shimmering with poignancy, the multi-layered story delivers a powerful allegory about the blood ties that bind even when broken—the concatenation of islands we will nevertheless always be.

“To translate means, therefore, not only to exercise extreme vigilance over the movements of the original text, but above all to scrutinize the limits of one’s own language, as it creeps up to the original.” Via co-translators Rebecca Falkoff and Stiliana Milkova, Anita Raja’s magnificent essay frames “Translation as a Practice of Acceptance ” and argues that the translator’s greatest resource must be her own inventiveness.

READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Love in the Footnotes” by Mahsa Mohebali

My lover and I are sitting in our apartment, smoking gloomily. Depression, like ivy, ties us together.

Published in 2004 in Tehran, Iran, Love in the Footnotes is Mahsa Mohebali’s second short story collection. Within a year of its publication, the book was in its third print and reaping national prizes before it was banned by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The titular short story, presented here, is concerned with love and its ensuing ennui. The theme of this story is by no means novel. What sets Love in the Footnotes apart from all other “love” stories is its unique development, with most of the story being told in the elaborate intertextual footnotes which weave together an intricate web of films, songs, paintings, and novels from different cultures, at the crossroads of which the protagonist locates herself. 

Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam, translator

In this story, Love happens. Like ivy, love wraps around my lover and me in the lines of this story. My lover and I and several films and stories get so tightly tangled that we become indistinguishable from one another.

I have short auburn hair that falls across my forehead and temples. I weigh 99 lbs. and with heels on, I’m 5’ 5”. I got a BA in literature from The Islamic Azad University. I had been a homebody for a few years before I met my lover at a relative’s Sizde Bedar garden party. My lover has drunk eyes and is a clerk at the Central Bank. He’s tall and very amiable. He has no other remarkable features except that he tends to constantly stroke his mustache. In a corner of the garden, my lover looks at me with his languishing, entreating, and piercing eyes. I avert my eyes from him, look down coyly, and move away. My lover follows me and extends a glass to me. Our eyes meet for a moment. My lover draws me close very gently and fills my glass with a wine-like drink.1

1 See the miniature painting by Mohammad Tajvidi in Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, Hafiz Diwan, Ed. Ghasem Ghani and Allameh Ghazvini, twenty-third edition, Tehran: Asatir Publication, 1995, p. 23, where the man in the miniature painting, with his beseeching eyes, clings to the girl’s robe, offers her a glass of wine while she turns the upper part of her body away from him and avoids his gaze as much as possible. In spite of her apparent apathy, she burns with a latent desire, evident as she watches the man stealthily out of the corner of her eyes. It seems as though the girl in the miniature painting has been looking forward to this moment for years and now that she finally has the opportunity to seduce, despite all the blood running to her cheeks, she tries to appear composed and indifferent. However, the man in the miniature painting doesn’t seem to be concerned at all. As in Hafez’s poem, “Curls disheveled, sweating, laughing, and drunk / shirt torn, singing ghazals, flask in hand,” he just gawks at the girl. He only thinks of getting together with his beloved and isn’t afraid of going down in history as a fool.

My lover and I are sitting in front of the TV, watching Medicopter 117, in our four-hundred-and-thirty-square-foot rental apartment on Hafez Street. At the most critical moment of the episode, I get up, go to my bedroom, put on my red nightgown and stand in front of the TV set, brushing my hair. In response to my lover’s protests, I look at him seductively. He smiles but still follows what’s happening on TV. I unplug it.2

2 See Graham Greene, Quiet American, Trans. Ezatollah Fooladvand, first edition, Tehran: Kharazmi Publications, 1984, p. 143, where Paul asks Fowler, the professional British journalist, what his most profound sexual encounter had been.

Fowler answers the quiet, young American, “Lying in bed early one morning and watching a woman in a red dressing-gown brush her hair.”

The middle-aged Briton had impregnated the scene with all the eroticism he could muster; a scene which he had most likely never experienced with any of his mistresses. But then, this was the only image that came to his exhausted and agitated mind while spending the night in the fortress, with the Vietnamese soldiers and the quiet American, anticipating the Viet Cong skirmishes. Probably, Fowler was not thinking about any of his mistresses in particular, not about Phuong, his Vietnamese phoenix, and not about his English mistress. That image was the culmination of his whole love life.

My lover and I are sitting in a beach café, sipping our cappuccinos. My lover’s wearing a white t-shirt, stuck to his damp body. I’m in a light-green manteau and have put a big white magnolia in one of its buttonholes. The fragrance of the magnolia and that of the cappuccino wafting out from my cup blend with the sea breeze and make me dizzy. I put my fingers on my temples and take a deep breath. My lover looks at me with worried eyes. I ask my lover to tell me the story of the drowning of the young couple again. He says that he has told me the story five times since yesterday and doesn’t feel like telling it any more.3

3 See Marguerite Duras, Moderato Cantabile, Trans. Reza Seyed-Hosseini, first edition, Tehran: Zaman Publications, 1973, p. 89, where Anne Desbaresdes is wearing a décolleté dress and has pinned a big magnolia to her chest. She gets up from the dinner party table quickly and is anxious to go to the beach bar and drink another glass of wine with Chauvin and ask him, for the last time, to tell the story of the young couple. It’s then that, for the first time, she discovers the magical power of magnolia and wine and the incredible and undeniable similarity of wine, magnolia, love, and exasperation. Anne Desbaresdes realizes that, just like when you drink a little wine, the fragrance of magnolia seems to be very innocent at the beginning, but, after some time, it overwhelms your mind and leaves no room for any other feelings or thoughts. This is how she feels at that moment: Intoxicated with wine and the strong scent of magnolia, she can think of nothing but love. Just like the scent of magnolia, love has inundated her mind, which is soon to be overcome by exasperation.

My lover and I are in our four-hundred-and-thirty-square-foot apartment. My lover is lying on the couch, a glass of ice on his chest and a cigarette to his lips. He’s staring at the ceiling and gives curt, nonsensical answers to all my questions. I’m sitting on the sofa and hanging my legs from its arm and thumbing through Art and Decoration magazine irately. I tell my lover not to ash his cigarette on the floor. He ignores me. He looks at the ceiling and flicks his cigarette ash on the floor again. I go stand at the head of the couch, my arms crossed, and look at him resentfully. He smirks while still looking at the ceiling. I yell at him and say that I’m sick and tired of him and the glass he’s always carrying in his hand. My lover puts on his pants, while cursing me under his breath, and buckles his belt. I’m standing in front of the door to block him, telling him that enough is enough; that he’d better stop pretending to be the hero of an American movie who is fed up with his mistress. He shoves me aside abruptly and slams the door.4

4 Don’t refer to happy-ending American movies. Because, unlike Jane Fonda or Julia Roberts, I’m not going to chase down my lover, find him in a park or a bar and bring him back home. As soon as he leaves, I put the opera Salome by Richard Strauss in my player and lie down on the couch and page through Oscar Wilde’s Salome and when Herodias asks Salome to dance for the propitious night, I join her with The Dance of Seven Veils. In the end, when Salome embraces John’s severed head, kissing the lips she couldn’t touch in his life, I take my lover’s photo off the TV set and kiss him on the lips. My sadism and vengefulness at that moment are no less than Salome’s toward John.

My lover and I are lying in the bathtub and are basking in the mild warmth of the water, slowly smoking our cigarettes. My lover rambles constantly and I respond with a dull smile and a duller voice. My eyes are closed and I’m still reminiscing about the previous hours, thinking to myself how my lover would feel if he knew what I was remembering. It gives me chills to even think about it. My lover says I’d better leave the bathtub because I might catch a cold.5

5 See Unfaithful, directed by Adrian Lyne—the scene in which the girl is lying in the tub and suddenly sees the words her naughty lover has written on her belly while she was sleeping. This is definitely the most critical moment in determining her relationship with her husband. Up to that point, it had all been just mischief or even a joke. However, when she gets the sponge and wipes off the heart and dagger sign and her own name, she realizes the magical power of concealment. She has now entered a new phase in her game. Before that, she could confess everything to her husband in a trance or frenzy. But then, she sees the joy and excitement of cheating. That her husband could’ve seen the sign but didn’t awakens the snake of risk-taking that had been lurking dormant in her heart and makes her repeat the dangerous game over and over again.

My lover and I are coming back from the party arm in arm. I’m wearing a dress with an open neckline and my lover is wearing jeans and a t-shirt as usual. We are both singing “Tonight Is the Moonlit Night” a little too loudly. We sometimes stagger and, to keep our balance, cling to each other’s arms, sometimes bursting out laughing. Whenever my lover gets to the word “my lover” in the song, he draws his eyebrows together and points his finger at me with a serious expression. I accompany him in a lower octave.6

6 See the first scene of the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. In this scene, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton both try to conceal their innermost feelings towards each other. They engage in vigorous banter that might lead to insult and injury if they’re not careful. But oblivion comes to their aid. It helps them change their past memories and sometimes heal their emotional or mental wounds, arising from the death of a child, abortion, or an infidelity that was neither confirmed nor denied.

My lover and I are sitting in our apartment, smoking gloomily. I lie on the couch more wearily and smoke and he lies next to the fireplace more morosely and smokes. Depression, like ivy, ties us together. I say it would be best if one of us left the other because usually in these situations one of the lovers leaves. My lover turns on his side towards me and says he doesn’t feel like wandering the streets and that if I’m tired of the situation, I can leave. I remind my lover that usually men are the ones to leave. Despite my persistence, my lover doesn’t give in and just looks at me with his drunken eyes. I tell my lover that I can no longer smoke, sadly; that I can’t stand his smoking either. My lover takes another puff of his cigarette and says that nothing like smoking exhibits depression so neatly. I go to my bedroom, my upper lip twitching in anger, and play Chopin’s sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, and lie on the bed, thinking about a couple of trivial matters.7

7 Had Wim Wenders begun his Paris, Texas some scenes earlier, where the couple experiences exasperation, you could’ve seen that film. However, right now you’d better refer to Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Frédéric Chopin, where the notes of the harp remind us of the monotonous rain and Chopin’s ennui on Majorca. When he was at his piano in his sixteenth century villa on the cliff, writing the destructive and exasperating notes of this sonnet, he had one thing on his mind: exasperation, exasperation with love; the inevitable exasperation that follows a long period of lovemaking, cheating, indifference, forgetfulness, argument, intoxication, and languor. It left Chopin with no other choice but to—while listening to the repetitive sound of rain and the waves crashing against the rocks, without taking heed of George Sand’s grumpiness—write the dreary notes that carry a devastating tempest within them. Probably, in the next room, George Sand was writing a story about a lover killing the object of their desire out of exasperation. However, I think if George Sand and Chopin had instead gone to Arles, where Van Gogh painted his beautiful sunflowers, before reaching that intolerable boredom that destroyed their relationship, they would’ve gone so mad that one of them would’ve either killed the other or, as Van Gogh did, cut off a piece of their body.

Translated from the Persian by Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam

Explore the rest of Asymptote’s Summer 2016 issue here.

Mahsa Mohebali (b. 1972) is an accomplished Iranian fiction writer and literary critic. Although she is best known for her critically acclaimed novel Don’t Worry (2008), which won both the Golshiri Foundation’s and the Press Critics’ Best Novel award, she has also penned the novel The Grey Spell (2002) and two short story collections, The Voices (1998) and Love in the Footnotes (2004), the latter of which is now banned in Iran despite being the winner of the Golshiri Foundation’s award for best short story collection. Her works are translated into Swedish, Italian, Turkish, and English and are widely circulated in Iran as well as being adapted for the stage.

Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She received her MA in English Literature in 2012 from the University of Tehran where her research focused on black feminist dialogism in the works of Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston. She is particularly interested in women, gender, and sexuality studies and the intersection of religion and feminism. She is currently writing her dissertation on the representations of prostitution in Persian and Arab literature. She also aspires to introduce Iranian women writers to Western audiences through translation and criticism of their works.

*****

Read More from Translation Tuesday:

The Persian Edifice of Catch 22

"To rebuild the edifice of Catch 22 in Persian would not have been possible with just one architect."

Written by Ehsan Norouzi[1]

***

I read Catch 22 in high school, completely by accident. I found it in a box of books in an abandoned basement. I read it during my third-year quarterly exams, and it made me fail geometry. My ruined summer was worth my laughter while reading it, though. Amidst the structure of school and the terrifying purgatory of the pre-university year and its entrance exam, Catch 22 (Joseph Heller), The Good Soldier Švejk (Jaroslav Hašek) and other books like them provided a restless teenager like me with some respite. However, the joy of encountering Catch 22 in those teenage years, those dreamlike moments filled with satire that demanded a different kind of laughter, were the result of something else as well.

At the time, literature had not yet become my profession and reading was simply an act of pleasure, with no goal in mind. Later on, there would come a time when I couldn’t read an extraordinary sentence without thinking about how it could be translated into Persian. I lost the joy of reading. READ MORE…

34 Animal Farms: Literary Translation and Copyright in Iran

Our Editor-at-Large Poupeh Missaghi on the peculiarity of copyright and translation in Iran

It’s safe to say that the Iranian book market has a strong interest in translation: it’s easy to find several translations of the same book in a single bookstore. Several reasons fuel this phenomenon, but the most important is rather banal: Iran’s glaring disregard for copyright laws—both internationally and domestically—mean that these kinds of retranslations run rampant.

Most literary publishers enter the translation and publication processes without securing the rights to the original foreign book. Or they can simply translate/publish a title already in print or well into the process of translation/publication by another publishing house.

Iran is not a signatory to the Copyright Treaty of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), though it joined WIPO in 2001. Neither does Iran take part in international conventions on the protection of literary and artistic works. Not legally bound in the way that organizations in other countries—such as many European countries and the United States—are, Iran’s public and/or private literary/artistic organizations do not often behave ethically toward their foreign counterparts. READ MORE…

Live from the NYPL: Tel Aviv and Tehran Noir

Honoring noir writing—and living—in two notoriously conflicted cities

It was a full house at the New York Public Library on Wednesday night, and I learned just how similar Iranians and Israelis are.

Rick Moody moderated a panel event for Live at NYPL, launching two new books from Akashic’s Noir Series: Tel Aviv Noir and Tehran Noir. Akashic Books’ Noir series includes over sixty anthologies of noir stories set in cities around the world. The panel guests included Tel Aviv Noir editors Assaf Gavron and Etgar Keret, Tehran Noir editor Salar Abdoh and Tehran Noir contributor Gina Nahai. Sitting in the audience, listening intently, I felt complicit.

I had translated eleven out of the fourteen stories in Tel Aviv Noir (two others were written originally in English, a third was translated from Spanish). I felt that where the book succeeded or failed, I shared some of the responsibility. I also felt simultaneously in and out of place: I’ve lived in Tel Aviv most of my life, but have never been to Tehran, though when I see pictures of its mountains I get that belly ache of longing.

These two facts are connected: as an Israeli Jew, much of that world is closed to me. READ MORE…

The Spell Chanted by Lambs by Reza Ghasemi

A book that began on a blog

Reza Ghasemi’s third novel, The Spell Chanted by Lambs, was initially published in installments under the title of Madman and the Moonpars Tower on the author’s personal blog in 2002 as a reaction to censorship, making Ghasemi the first Iranian writer to turn to the Internet in the face of artistic suppression. It took six years to be traditionally printed by the Paris-based Khavaran Publications, and still five more years to be translated into English by novice translator Erfan Mojib. Says Mojib:  “Ghasemi admits that he’s not aware of the existence of [online narrative] in other languages and is sure of [its] nonexistence in Persian literature, as he calls it the first Iranian ‘online novel’ and sarcastically labels the term as one of his own bastardizations.”

READ MORE…