Place: Berlin

November News from the Asymptote team

From erotica in translation to magazine launches, no rest for world literature!

Spanish Social Media Manager Arthur Dixon has helped to found Latin American Literature Today, a new online literary journal, with support from World Literature Today! He will serve as its Managing Editor when it launches on January 31, 2017.

Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursać will be part of an evening of readings in translation at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on December 17, 2016, presented by Harlequin Creature. Her translation of Dubravka Ugrešić’s brilliant address on receiving the Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2016 has been published on LitHub.

Slovakia Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood‘s co-translation (with Peter Sherwood) of Uršuľa Kovalyk’s short story “Julia” was published in the latest issue of SAND, Berlin’s English literary journal.

Romania & Moldova Editor-at-Large, Chris Tanasescu, aka MARGENTO, will be launching an anthology of contemporary Romanian erotic poetry in New York together with past Asymptote contributor Martin Woodside.  Another contributor to the project is Ruxandra Cesereanu, the primary editor of Moods & Women & Men & Once Again Moods.

Editor-at-Large for India Poorna Swami‘s poetry reading in Bangalore was featured by The Hindu, Metro Plus. Her poem “River Letters” was published in Prelude, Volume 3. She also wrote a blog piece on the politics of social media friendship for The Huffington Post, India. She has been long-listed for the 2017 Toto Awards for Creative Writing (English).

English Social Media Manager Thea Hawlin‘s ‘five-point guide’ to avant-garde artist Yves Klein was published in AnOther magazine.

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek  placed Second in the Stephen Spender Prize 2016 for poetry in translation, and his translation of Wong Yoon Wah’s poem, ‘Shadow Puppets’, was featured in The Guardian‘s Translation Tuesday series in collaboration with Asymptote. He was also part of recent poetry readings at the Woodstock Poetry Festival and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

Indonesia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao has had two translations and a short story published in BooksActually’s Gold Standard 2016—a “best of” anthology of short fiction by cult writers from East and Southeast Asia that aims to counter the tokenistic way Asian writing is often curated in the West.

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More Dispatches from the Asymptote Team:

What’s New in Translation? October 2016

Asymptote reviews some of the best new books translated from the Arabic, Korean, and Spanish.

the_ninety-ninth_floor_cover

The Ninety-Ninth Floor, by Fawaz Elhassan, tr. Michelle Hartman. Interlink Publishing.

Review: Saba Ahmed, Social Media Manager, UK

Shortlisted last year for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, The Ninety-Ninth Floor is Jana Fawaz Elhassan’s third book: an ambitious, multi-voiced novel, spanning the topographies of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1980s Beirut, and New York in the New Millennium. It is also the first of Elhassan’s works to be translated, by Michelle Hartman, from the Arabic into English.

The plot centers around Maj’d, a successful video-game designer whose life among the dizzying skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the subterranean depths of its subway system, bears a haunting resemblance to the cramped, vertical heights of the refugee camps he has fled where “garbage piled up in alleyways”. Palestine, reflects Maj’d, is “a land that inhabits me that I have never stepped foot on”. It occupies his deepest memories, the walls of the camp where the displaced mark the distance from imagined homelands, and is framed—in the present-day narrative—as a map in Maj’d’s apartment in New York. It is an imagined space where Maj’d’s father obstinately believes his dead wife and Maj’d’s mother is waiting for them with their unborn child.

The spatial dimensions of the novel mirror this hyper-reality. The text is littered with a cast of characters who are attempting to navigate life in the wake of war and political trauma. Consequently, the plot is distended by a lack of closure, permeated with repetitive strains of absence and loss. Maj’d’s relationship with Hilda, a dancer who is also trying to build her life anew, away from her Orthodox Christian family in Lebanon, becomes a battle-space for negotiating distances and originary points from which to examine notions of identity, belonging, and worth. Is the love they share true and authentic, or is there a more complex conflation of the female body and nationhood at play here?

There are certainly echoes of recent political fiction from the Middle East in The Ninety-Ninth Floor, such as of the spare, Kafkaesque political allegory The Silence and the Roar by Syrian writer Nihad Sirees. Yet, Elhassan is less interested in form, and more invested in dissecting the emotional vicissitudes of love. There is a certain sagginess to the novel which gestures to the so-called ninety-nine floors or levels of the book. When Hilda returns to Lebanon, to the home she has left behind, she thinks back to the home she has created with Maj’d. “Perhaps,” she considers, “I also came back to occupy this memory, to tell it that we can arrive at some kind of settlement: to expand into all places and be done with our enmity toward our roots”. It is hard not to read these words without a degree of skepticism, to wonder whether this resolution papers over the allegorical implications of difference and attachment. But perhaps it is more fitting to hear these closing lines echo like the one-note sonic beeps of an Atari or PlayStation video game, like the kind designed by Maj’d. In this simulated fantasy, Elhassan suggests, love is creative and imaginative work in a world where our collective national consciousness consigns us to love and live in very specific ways.

 

a_greater_music_cover

A Greater Music, by Bae Suah, tr. Deborah Smith. Open Letter Books.

Review: Theophilus Kwek, Chief Executive Assistant, UK/Singapore

It is perhaps inevitable that Deborah Smith’s new translation of Bae Suah’s novel A Greater Music—forthcoming this October from Open Letter Books—will be compared to her recent prizewinning translations of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Human Acts, both of which are suffused with Han’s unique voice and vision. But Bae is a compelling, inventive, and significant author in her own right, and Smith’s ability to match these qualities with a stylish and highly readable translation leaves no doubt about her contribution to the growing canon of Korean literature available in English.

A Greater Music, which records the experiences of a young Korean narrator’s relocation to Berlin through her relationships with Joachim, her boyfriend, and M, her first German language teacher, draws at least in part from its author’s own journey. Bae Suah, a former civil servant with a degree in Chemistry who made her literary debut in 1988, lived in Germany for 11 months in 2001, learning the language there. Though she has since moved back to Seoul, she has also previously translated various works by Sebald and Kafka into Korean.

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Translation Tuesday: An Excerpt of “Good People” by Nir Baram

Frau Stein had been stabbed in every part of her body. She lay face down, her head cradled in her folded arm.

Good People is a globe spanning, wide-canvass novel that probes the depths of one of history’s darkest hours; its heroes are those members of the educated middle classes who sit behind office desks. With riveting narrative force, based on thorough historical research, this extraordinary novel spans World-War II Europe across time and space, boldly sketching an unflinching portrait of men and women and their times. In the extract presented below, our protagonist, Thomas Heiselberg, a Berlin adman, discovers a Jewish woman violently murdered in his home.

***

That night he returned home into a white cloud of feathers. He heard glass splinters grinding under his shoes. The windowpanes, china bowls, lamps, mirrors—almost nothing was intact after the visit by Hermann and his friends. Even the door hinges had been jimmied off. Wooden cabinets and dressers were smashed with hammers, the gas and electricity lines ripped out. At least a dozen jars of fruit preserves had been hurled against the bathroom wall, and flour mixed with soap powder and blood was strewn all over the sink and lavatory.

Frau Stein had been stabbed in every part of her body. She lay face down, her head cradled in her folded arm. He leaned down and turned her over. When he saw her face, coated with a layer of blood-soaked flour, he realised that after stabbing her they had smothered her in the sink with a mixture of flour and soap powder. She looked like a sad clown in the circus. They hadn’t even let her die with that stern expression of hers, well versed in suffering, that had always aroused people’s respect. He gathered some feathers and covered her face with them.

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My 2015 as a BTBA Judge, and Reading Resolutions for 2016

Asked to review my year in reading and from it form reading resolutions, my immediate response is something I need to call an excited sigh.

Asked to review my year in reading and from it form reading resolutions, my immediate response is something I need to call an excited sigh. For months now, as a judge for the Best Translated Book Award, all I’ve read are eligible books, books published in the US translated for the first time this year. Yet, there were a few months before that reading took over. For years now, I’ve taken pleasure in not being partway through any books when the new year begins, so as to open each year fresh. This year, Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov’s The Golden Calf (trans. Helen Anderson and Konstantin Gurevich) made for a great New Year’s Day read. (To call it fitting, however, would be a lie.) The novel is hysterical, absurd, and clever, fueled by ambitious and clueless characters, fleeing and bumbling in pursuit of fortune.

Taking advantage of a bitter winter, I read the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy from Javier Marias (trans. Margaret Jull Costa). It is rare for a project so vast to also be unflagging in both its entertainment and ability to find new shades and twists for its ideas: of cultural memories, of what it is to read another human being, of violence and intimacy. But this trilogy accomplishes it. From it alone, I could pluck a number of examples of one of my favorite narrative tricks: to make a scene continue endlessly through digression after digression. Unlike any other art form, the novel is thus able to manipulate the experience of time, both of the readers’ and the characters’.

But yes, this year has been a culmination of reading more and more books the year they’re published. The best way I can think about it is by describing the books that stand out in little, meaningful ways. Starting with where I live, in Vermont, so close to Montreal, Quebec literature has had much of my affection this year. Not just the translations, like the Raymond Bock and Samuel Archibald story collections Atavisms (trans. Pablo Strauss) and Arvida (trans. Donald Winkler)­—so similar in their arc as collections and interest in familial depths but with different approaches and destinations—but also classics like the narratively unsettled Kamouraska (trans. Norman Shapiro). Anne Hébert’s novel is as much a story of a women trapped by culture and time, and her murder plot, as it is a stylistic achievement, melding aesthetic with the narrator’s psychology. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Multilingual Poems by Ann Cotten

In honor of our July Issue, a super-special multilingual Translation Tuesday—Ann Cotten translates Ann Cotten, and back again!

Ann Cotten is a multilingual poet based in Berlin. These poems hail from Fremdwörterbuchsonette, her first book of poems. Inextricably multilingual, maddeningly compelling, borderline cantankerous—her poems are all unique valences of self-translations that interrogate place and language in way that evokes both the familiar and the jarringly new.

Select translation:

nonesuch I (from Fremdwörterbuchsonette)

 

The ghost entered me like a kind of shirt.

It hung next to the dancefloor and was opposite

to all. That sounds a bit odd, not quite

credible, certainly I cannot say it right.

 

Something was backward in the whole construction

of what I happened to be working on.

Time seemed to have some purpose further on

with me, wrung me and couldn’t work it out.

 

And so I leant against the wall and smoked,

and watched the Russendisko on and on and smoked

too much. And I was much too bored to write.

Still not at all ill at ease, squandering my light

I thought of never going home to better-lighted dirt

and suddenly began to see the ghost in the shirt.

 

“O ghost,” spake I, “please understand my wonder!

I didn’t know that ghosts would deign to wander

casting their eyes perplexingly asunder,

in shirts, our fears and echoings to pander.”

 

The ghost just stared at me. A girl came over

and asked me for a light. My boyfriend came

and told me he was going home. It was the same

to me. I nodded, quite the midnight rover,

 

knowing myself to have become rather a dud,

my self’s long-empty shell, and how my words

rustled and shifted, like rice in gourds,

vague and conceited like smoke from a cigarette,

cold and precise like condensation.

 

And I awoke, as cold as ash, in my own tub.

***

nonesuch II (from Fremdwörterbuchsonette)

 

In my own tub I lay and dreamt of girls

who come around and ask you for a light.

Their little souls rotate inside their eyes

as my lighter renders them closer than the night

 

which is the reason why I love these rituals

in which the incomparables and I unite.

And all the while I know my cigarettes are all

exactly the same length, and they seem to invite

 

their and my own interconfoundability,

white, lightweight, full of discontent,

rattling and wheezing when they’re full of tea

and, taken, all desire just to be spent,

as air races through them, they wake the ghosts

and attract minutes, posted between the lips’ red boasts.

 

The ash upon the water forms a brittle film.

Mein Liebling, erklärst du dich zu meiner Giraffe,

verspreche ich, dass ich dich immer lachen mache.

The past has risen and is lapping at my chin.

Die Biber haben alle Bäume abgenagt, mein Lieber, sieh,

noch während wir hier stehen, beknabbern sie meine Knie.

 

The tap presses a lullaby into my nape,

the boiler hums a low and dismal tune,

I watch myself scratch myself like an ape,

and fall asleep into the arms of monster rune:

 

It isn’t realistic to be lying here.

In all the fog and damp time seems to override itself.

I cannot reach you, not with beer, nor animals, nor jokes;

everything runs out; the ghost of the night lives to side with itself, but chokes.

nonesuch I (from Fremdwörterbuchsonette)

 

Der Geist betrat mich wie eine Art Hemd.

Es hing am Rand der Tanzfläche und bildete

den Gegenpol zu allem. Das befremdet,

wirkt unerklärlich, wenn ichs schildere.

 

Es war etwas verkehrt an dem Gebilde,

an dem ich zu der Zeit gerade arbeitete;

die Zeit führte mit mir etwas im Schild,

wrang mein Gebein und kriegte es nicht raus.

 

Und so lehnte ich rauchend an der Wand,

schaute der Russendisko zu und rauchte

zu viel. Zum Schreiben war mir viel zu fad.

Ich war trotzdem nicht unzufrieden, dachte

entfernt daran, eher nicht heimzugehen,

plötzlich begann ich diesen Geist im Hemd zu sehen.

 

“O Geist,” sprach ich, “verstehe mein Befremden:

Ich wusste nicht, dass Geister auch in Hemden,

die großen Augen gegenteilig wendend,

Widerhall, Trost und Unbehagen spenden.”

 

Der Geist indessen starrte mich nur an.

Ein Mädchen kam zu mir und bat um Feuer.

Meine Begleitung kam und sagte, dass er heimgeht.

Ich nickte nur, als ging es mich nichts an:

 

Ich war schon lange nur mehr eine Panne,

die Schale meiner selbst, und ausgehöhlt

klimperten geistermäßig meine Worte,

vag und geziert wie Zigarettenrauch,

kalt und präzise wie Kondensation.

 

Ich wachte auf, wie Asche kalt, in meiner Badewanne.

***

nonesuch II (from Fremdwörterbuchsonette)

 

Ich badete und träumte von den Mädchen,

die herkommen und mich um Feuer bitten.

In ihren Augen rotiern ihre Seelchen

in meinem Feuerschein in kurzen Augenblicken.

 

Deswegen liebe ich ja diese Sitten,

in denen unvergleichlich sich vereinen

jene und ich. Und meine Zigaretten

sind glatt und alle gleich lang. Bescheinigen

 

sie ihre und meine Vertauschbarkeit,

weiß, leicht und voller Unzufriedenheit,

klappernd und rauschend, wenn sie altern,

und jung voller Verlangen, wenn der Atem

sie schnell durchzieht, so wecken sie die Geister,

binden künstelnd Minuten, an Lippen gekleistert.

 

Die Asche auf dem Wasser bildet einen Film.

My darling, if you will be my giraffe,

I’ll promise to do things to make you laugh.

Mir reicht Vergangenheit bis an mein Kinn.

The beavers, dear, have gnawed off all the trees,

and as you look at me they’re working on my knees.

 

Der Hahn drückt mir ein Schlaflied in den Nacken,

der Boiler summt den Bass betrübt und wüst,

ich schaue mir beim Dösen selbstgesprächig zu,

gleich wird das Brainmap mich mit den Tentakeln packen:

 

Es ist nicht realistisch, hier zu sitzen

im Dunst, im Nass hebt Zeit sich aus den Angeln.

Erreich dich nicht mit Tieren, nicht mit Witzen, es läuft aus und

der Geist der Nacht sitzt tief im letzten Gurgeln.

Ann Cotten, born 1982 in Iowa, U.S., grew up in Vienna, Austria and moved to Berlin in 2006. Her first book of poems—excerpted here—consisted of 78 double-sonnets and made waves in the German poetry scene. She then published her diploma thesis on concrete poetry (Nach der Welt, Klever Verlag 2008), a second book of poetry and prose ostensibly written by a palette of characters (Florida-Rooms, Suhrkamp 2010), a 1-Euro elegy (Das Pferd, SuKultur 2007), part of an underground-bibliophile "Schock" edition (Pflock in der Landschaft, 2011), and a book in English: I, Coleoptile (Broken Dimanche Press, 2011). In 2013, she published The Quivering Fan, a collection of short stories with erotic, philosophical and political content. In 2014, she started a project on mnemotechnical poetry working with Japanese Kanji. This year will see her second English-language publication, Lather in Heaven (Broken Dimanche Press).

Publisher Profile: Berlinica

On the trail of a one-woman publishing house

Berlin native Eva Schweitzer learned a lot about the publishing industry from her years of work as a writer and New York correspondent for German newspapers. In 2011, she decided to open her own publishing house, focusing on books related to the city of Berlin. Eva runs Berlinica between New York City and Berlin. I spoke to her via Skype after one of her frequent trans-Atlantic flights.

Frances Riddle: How was Berlinica born?

Eva Schweitzer: I’m an author and nowadays it’s becoming easier to break into the market, even if you’re small. You don’t need so much overhead anymore. You can do print-on-demand and e-books, you can distribute them internationally with Amazon; and I thought why not try and publish books myself? I know how to write a book. How hard can it be to publish a book?

FR: So was it as easy as you thought it would be to open your own publishing house?

ES: No, it turns out it’s a great deal more time-consuming and complicated than you can imagine. READ MORE…

Exposing Kafka’s Hustler

Translating a story out of the closet

It’s a truism to say that translators are an author’s closest readers. They read so closely that they find patterns hidden underneath the text in a manner akin only to psychoanalysis—perhaps more adeptly than a critic or an academic. Coupled with a need to study up on translation craft, this attractive prospect spurred me to sign up for “Kafka in Translation,” a course offered by The Reader and taught by translator Bill Martin in the back of St. George’s bookstore in Berlin.

In our first class, we looked around the folding table curiously as enthusiasts and translators at various professional stages introduced themselves. Some were lucky-ass native speakers, others relative newcomers to the German language, but all of us shared an attraction to the Kafkaesque. Going around the group to share our thoughts, it was strange to be thrown back into a student state so many years after graduating, and I annoyingly immediately found myself in wise-ass mode, ceaselessly sub-clausing and cracking gay jokes. READ MORE…

Sports and Literature: an interview with Philipp Schönthaler

Plumbing the depths of human endeavor

Last night, at an intimate jazz bar hidden away on one of Berlin’s many courtyards, Readux books presented its gorgeous second set of books. Hardly larger than the next generation of cell phones, these little books are designed for brief escapes, mini-breathers away from your screen (although they’re of course also available as ebooks, who are we kidding?).

There were readings, short discussions, and delicious and plentiful vodka tonics, spring was very much in the air—it’s no coincidence that these books do well on lunch-break benches underneath Berlin’s tender first blossomings. READ MORE…

Asymptote’s 3rd Anniversary Celebrations in March and April (Plus: our New Events Page, with Multimedia!)

Check out highlights from our past celebrations in London and New York, and don't miss our upcoming events!

We’re thrilled to announce that Asymptote’s globetrotting third anniversary party, which kicked off in London and New York in January, will continue across five continents over the next month—watch our brand-new video trailer below for a taste, and don’t forget to RSVP at our Shanghai (March 29), Philadelphia (March 29), Berlin (April 3), and Sydney (April 11) Facebook Event pages, already live.

In case you can’t make it, don’t fret: we’ve launched a new Events page, where you can find photos, podcasts, videos, and dispatches of all the events we’ve ever organized, as well as an up-to-date pulse for all upcoming events!

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Five Questions with E.J. van Lanen

The founder of Frisch & Co. talks with Asymptote

Frisch and Co. is an electronic books publisher based in Berlin that focuses on contemporary world literature translated into English. The company has partnered with numerous international publishers and releases its books through traditional ebook marketplaces and in DRM-free format on its website. E.J. van Lanen is the founder of the press.

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Pop Around the World: Alle Morgens Helden

Lou Reed's deathless cool

In the movie version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the gorgeous, tortured teenagers who’ve been guiding the film’s young protagonist  another gorgeous, tortured teenager  in matters of love, identity, and music, decide to take the boy on a special trip through a Pittsburgh tunnel. A song comes on the radio, and the girl climbs out through the back window to emerge standing on the back of the flatbed truck in Leo’s “king of the world” pose at the end of the tunnel. Whereas the book can leave the actual song unnamed and universal, the film has to be specific and actually play the song. In a rare false note for the otherwise entirely truthy film, finding the mysterious song that prompted this liberating escapade becomes a matter of serious concern for our serious young protagonist, even though everybody born before 1990 will have immediately guessed it: David Bowie’s deathlessly cool “Heroes”. READ MORE…

Weekly news round-up, 27th October 2013: Asterix, insolvency, and grand theft antiquarian

Paris / worldwide.  One exciting piece of news this week is the publication of a new installment of a diminutive Gaulish adventurer’s globe-trotting escapades. Published last Thursday in France, Astérix chez les Pictes also appeared on the very same day in twenty-five languages, which in itself is cause for celebration. Along with the usual suspects (English, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch) it’s good to see a fair slew of minority languages too. Readers on the Iberian peninsula have been particularly lucky, with no fewer than six editions catering to the various language communities therePortuguese and Castilian, of course, but also Asturian, Basque, Catalan, and Galician. READ MORE…