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.
The Asymptote world tour this time begins in Pakistan, with an update on the Punjabi literary scene from Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor. Then, we fly north, where Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large in Slovakia, shares the latest publications and literary events in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Our last stop takes us southwest to Argentina, where Assistant Editor Alexis Almeida talks poetry festivals, feminism, and politics. Welcome aboard, and enjoy the ride.
Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor, with news from Pakistan:
It’s been 250 years since one of the most famous renderings of the Punjabi tragic romance came into being—Heer by Waris Shah, which remains an influence on Punjabi literature and folk traditions. But Punjabi has suffered as a consequence of marginalization during the colonial rule (when Urdu was patronized) as well as the 1947 Partition between India and Pakistan, when (Punjabi-speaking) Sikhs were forced to leave their homeland in Pakistani Punjab (while Urdu and Muslims were expunged from India).
Amidst a growing Punjabi literary movement to correct this historical wrong, Asymptote encountered a reading club in Lahore dedicated to and named after this legendary text—the Heer Study Circle.
Ghulam Ali Sher, co-founder of the group, shares its purpose with Asymptote: “to inculcate an interest for Punjabi reading among university youth; to do away with the religiously-oriented sufistic reading of such Punjabi folktales for a more pluralistic and people-oriented interpretation; and to trace the socio-economic patterns of pre-colonial Punjab through popular historical sources, like this folktale, against the biases of mainstream historiography.”
The action of the novel takes place in one day (as in Joyce’s Ulysses and Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway). The main character is Simon Blef, a man who has emigrated to Holland, where he met his future wife, a Mexican-Dutch girl named Estrella. As he waits for Estrella, who is returning from Spain, Simon wanders into the Amsterdam pubs and starts drinking. As time passes, all kinds of memories surface from the past. There is no striking action in the novel; it is rather an impressionistic reverie with glimpses of humour and a mordant commentary on the main character’s ambition to become a writer. This novel was shortlisted for Slovakia’s most prestigious literary award, Anasoft Litera Prize, in 2011.
1. There’s somebody
whose refuge is a pub like this, neither filthy nor speckless, but the sort of place where a passer-by does not stay too long. Battered, creaky chairs, dust-coated wooden panelling, a slot machine. For somebody refuge means a bar counter, subdued conversation, light music, world-famous glances from bronzed faces. For someone, again, it’s a woman willing to hear the cycled effusions of pain, morning and evening. Hear them, care for them, cultivate and protect them. Fantasies of alleged wrongs and menaces. For Simon Blef, whom no misery is tormenting today and therefore he claims no concern, refuge means this Amsterdam pub, neither filthy nor speckless, scrunched at the corner of Gravensstraat and Nieuwe Zijdsvoorburgwal. From there Simon Blef gazes at the world, observes passers-by, how they borrow and steal gestures, each in a way that is both unique and custom-worn. Not quite half an hour ago he was boring through the crowds that came hurtling out from the platforms of Centraal Station and wondering whether to go left and find some quiet boozer in the Red Light District sidestreets, or if he ought to go right and cast anchor as ever in this unprepossessing drinking shop, which basically serves as an entrance hall for a hotel and restaurant on the first floor.
Simon has picked his spot by the window so as to be able to see the doings not only on the street but also by the bar counter. Encompassing with one’s gaze the largest possible segment of the world currently served up: then he feels in a place of refuge. READ MORE…