Editor's Note

Welcome to our spectacular Fall 2019 edition gathering never-before-published work from a record-breaking 36 countries, including, for the first time, Azerbaijan via our spotlight on International Microfiction. Uncontained, this issue’s theme, may refer to escape either from literal prisons—the setting of some of these pieces—or from other acts of containment: A pair of texts by Czech author Radka Denemarková and Hong Kong essayist Stuart Lau tackle the timely subject of Chinese authoritarianism. In “The Container,” Thomas Boberg performs the literary equivalent of “unboxing” so popular on YouTube these days, itemizing a list of things in a container shipped from Denmark to the Gambia—all in a withering critique of global capitalism. 

The container lends itself to several metaphors but none as poignant or as on point as—you guessed it, dear Asymptote reader—the container of language itself, as suggested by London-based photographer Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee’s brilliant cover highlighting the symbolism of the humble rice grain. This commodity has, like language, been exported, exchanged, enhanced, and expressed in various forms from its various origins across the planet. Even when a state attempts to erase language, resistance remains possible, as poet Fabián Severo—the only Uruguayan writing in Portuñol, the language of the country's frontier with Brazil—demonstrates: “This language of mine sticks out its tongue at the / dictionary,” he sings, “dances a cumbia on top of the maps / and from the school tunic and bow tie / makes a kite / that flies / loose and free through the sky.” In one of Argentine writer Sylvia Molloy’s many profound riffs on the bilingual condition, Molloy claims that “one must always be bilingual from one language, the heimlich one, if only for a moment, since heim or home can change.”

As long as Asymptote exists, the container that is our Fall 2019 edition will continue to host gems like our exclusive interview with Puerto Rican activist Raquel Salas Rivera, fiction by SJ Naudé and Kalina Maleska, poetry by superstars Osip Mandelstam and Monchoachi, drama by Alejandro Ricaño, visual works by installation artist Roya Amigh and experimental biographist Chang Wen-Hsuan, a delightful Writers on Writers essay by Luis Chitarroni on Benjamin Constant, along with in-depth reviews of the latest in world literature. Step right in, poke around, stay as long as you like. And, if you’re so moved, help us spread the word on Facebook and Twitter, or better yet, pledge your support as a sustaining, or even masthead, member. Our nine years have been something of a miracle—especially since we do not receive ongoing support from any institution—so thank you for being with us as we enter our tenth year.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue October 2019

Editor-in-Chief: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Senior Editor: Sam Carter (USA)

Assistant Managing Editors: Janani Ganesan (India), Josefina Massot (Argentina), Rachael Pennington (Spain/UK), Garrett Phelps (UK/USA), and Lou Sarabadzic (UK/France)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Ellen Jones (UK)
Varun Nayar (India)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Ah-reum Han (USA/South Korea)
Victoria Livingstone (USA)
Eva Heisler (USA)
Henry Ace Knight (USA)
Sarah Timmer Harvey (USA/The Netherlands)

Editor of Special Feature on International Microfiction: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Assistant Editors: Alyea Canada (USA), Ben Dreith (Canada), Helena Fornells (UK), Barbara Halla (France), Marina Martino (UK), Erik Noonan (USA), Chris Power (USA), Andreea Scridon (UK/Romania), Lindsay Semel (Portugal/USA), P. T. Smith (USA), and Lin Chia-wei (Taiwan)

Contributing Editors: Ellen Elias-Bursac (USA), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore), Dylan Suher (USA), and Adrian West (USA)

Translation Tuesdays Editor: Ben Dreith (Canada)

Art Director: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Assistant Director, Educational Arm: Barbara Thimm (USA/Germany)

Editors-at-large, Argentina: Allison Braden and Sarah Moses
Editor-at-large, Brazil: Daniel Persia
Editor-at-large, El Salvador: Nestor Gomez
Editor-at-large, Guatemala: José García
Editors-at-large, Hong Kong: Jacqueline Leung and Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, Iran: Poupeh Missaghi
Editor-at-large, Lebanon: Ruba Abughaida
Editor-at-large, Mexico: Paul Worley 
Editor-at-large, Morocco: Hodna Nuernberg
Editor-at-large, Romania and Moldova: MARGENTO
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, Tibet: Shelly Bhoil

Masthead for Issue October 2019

Fiction and Poetry: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Varun Nayar
Drama: Caridad Svich
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Writers on Writers: Ah-reum Han and Victoria Livingstone
Special Feature on International Microfiction: Lee Yew Leong
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Henry Ace Knight and Sarah Timmer Harvey
Illustrations and Cover: Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee

Assistant Managing Editor (Issue Production): Lou Sarabadzic

Assistant Managing Editors (supervising Assistant Editors): Josefina Massot and Garrett Phelps

Assistant Managing Editors (supervising Editors-at-Large): Janani Ganesan and Rachael Pennington

Communications Director: Samuel Kahler

Director of Outreach: Alessandro Mondelli

Chief Executive Assistant: Lucy Morgan

Executive Assistants: Zane Lilley and Bernice Seow

Assistant Blog Editors: Sarah Moore and Xiao Yue Shan

Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan

Co-Chief Copy Editors: Steven Teref and James Shrieve

Copy Editors: Anna Aresi, Andrea Blatz, Devarati Chakrabarti, Choo Suet Fun, Angela Glindemann, Clayton McKee, and Lara Zammit

Technical Manager: József Szabó

English Social Media: May Huang, Leah Scott, and Ananya Sriram

Spanish Social Media: Sergio Serrano

French Social Media: Filip Noubel 

Chinese Social Media: Jiaoyang Li and Jessica Wang

Marketing Manager: Lauren Chamberlain

Marketing Analyst: Nicolás Llano Linares

Graphic Designer: Anna Wang

Communications Manager: Alexander Dickow

Assistant Director, Educational Arm: Barbara Thimm

Educational Arm Assistants: Kasia Bartoszyńska and Mary Hillis

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support especially of: Astrid Alben, Martin Orwin, and Nick Chapman.

For their generous donations, our heartfelt thanks go too to Anna Aresi, Anne Berk, Christopher Stout, Daniel Hahn, Danielle Farnbaugh, Ellen Elias-Bursac, Geoffrey Howes, Il Park, Jeffrey Boyle, Joachim Redner, Lara Norgaard, Mallory Truckenmiller, Mark Cohen, Martha Collins, Martin Ingebrigtsen, Matthew Mazowita, Monty Reid, Nancy Relaford, Pavlos Stavropoulos, Ruth Diver, Siobhan Mei, Theresa Henderson, and Velina Manolova. We welcome new supporters and members of the Asymptote family Alejandra Ramirez Olvera, Darcy Hurford, David Burnett, Deewang Bhamidipati, Harry Leeds, Genia Blum, Michelle Quay, Rachelle Chinnery, and Sona Van.



Radka Denemarková, from Hours of Lead

Translated from the Czech by Julia and Peter Sherwood

The Chinese Girl grew up in a country of joy, obedience, and achievement; all of a sudden, she saw her homeland through the eyes of a foreigner.

SJ Naudé, Lost In Malaysia

Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns

His life—so delicately balanced between two countries, he thinks, makes it possible to approach South Africa as a stranger.

Arelis Uribe, City Unknown

Translated from the Spanish by Allison Braden

If South America was a neighborhood, Chile would be the upstart neighbor that buys a big car and a tiny dog and always uses a checkbook and credit card.

Paola Presciuttini, from Trotula

Translated from the Italian by Deborah Cannarella and Speranza Migliore

What is love if not the voyage that is taken to know the other?

Luisa Castro, My Mother in the Window

Translated from the Spanish by Jacob Rogers

These things I’ve realized about my mother, this particular way of taking me seriously and even turning me into the police if necessary . . . still make me tremble to this day.

Kalina Maleska, The Master of the Mahala

Translated from the Macedonian by Kalina Maleska

“Look at what your son did to my son,” I complained, pointing at my son’s bleeding mouth.


Alberto Pucheu, from Poem to be Read on Inauguration Day

Translated from the Portuguese by Robert Smith

We were born / without language, open to whatever jargon / that wanted to unfold in us

Rula Jurdi, from Coaxial Cables

Translated from the Arabic by Rula Jurdi

We are familiar, enormously, / with distant bodies, / licking the monitor’s glass.

Paula Abramo, from In the Maria Zélia Political Prison, 1935

Translated from the Spanish by Dick Cluster

Meanwhile, the door bolts / croak / the only word they know: who?

Fabián Severo, from Night in the North

Translated from the Portunhol by Laura Cesarco Eglin and Jesse Lee Kercheval

This language of mine sticks out its tongue at the dictionary / dances a cumbia on top of the maps

Sun Tzu-Ping, from Three Poems

Translated from the Chinese by Nicholas Wong

I neatly take out a little bit of my body / As if it were the thickest yet unfinished confession letter

Monchoachi, Four Poems

Translated from the French and Antillean Creole by Eric Fishman

The Caribbean could be considered a workshop for the modern world: with its deportations, its exterminations, and also its “wildly multiple” side, its “ubiquity of voices and sounds.”

Osip Mandelstam, from Voronezh Notebook

Translated from the Russian by John High and Matvei Yankelevich

To see breath’s winter confession: / I am I, reality—reality. . .

Tomasz Różycki, from Four Poems

Translated from the Polish by Mira Rosenthal

But sometimes in the window opposite // a bearded, crazy composer appeared

Samira Negrouche, from While You Pass By

Translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker

If you knew the time that goes through me / While I go toward you.

Moon Bo Young, Brain and Me

Translated from the Korean by Hedgie Choi

I’m putting thoughts to sleep / the way you spray down a yard with water / during a hot summer


Javier Marias, Berta Isla

Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

A review by Richard M. Cho

I work with a compass rather than with a map.

Elias Khoury, My Name is Adam: Children of the Ghetto Volume 1

Translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davis

A review by Joshua Craze

The whole history of our Nakba is unwritten. Does that mean we don’t have a history?

Adonis, Songs of Mihyar the Damascene

Translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid and Ivan Eubanks

A review by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

Critiques of translations are often centered on meaning, but we felt that it still needs to read like poetry in English.

Chantal Akerman, My Mother Laughs

Translated from the French by Daniella Shrier

A review by Brigette Manion

Everyone laughs. Nobody remembers why. We all have tears in our eyes.


Sylvia Molloy, Living Between Languages

Translated from the Spanish by Sylvia Molloy

Unavoidably, one must always be bilingual from one language, the heimlich one, if only for a moment, since heim or home can change.

Thomas Boberg, The Container

Translated from the Danish by Peter Sean Woltemade

The world either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to admit that right now Africa is the most important place in the world.

Nikola Popović, Tyre, The City of Stone

Translated from the Serbian by Jelena Ćuslović

Modern stories are at a loss for words when describing their sublime beauty.

Catherine Pont-Humbert, Silhouettes

Translated from the French by Frances Pope

The poet Émile Nelligan described Montreal as a “city of silver with a necklace of snow.”

Stuart Lau, The Man Who Lost His Shadow

Translated from the Chinese by Jacqueline Leung

Eyes shut, I soar across the sky along the trajectory of my own flight path.


Julia Lukshina, Nervous

Translated from the Russian by Anne O. Fisher

There was a helicopter waiting for us in Venezuela. To fly us out to the waterfalls.

Alejandro Ricaño, Idiots Contemplating the Snow

Translated from the Spanish by Jacqueline Bixler

When I saw that bathroom, my God, my sphincter contracted.

Special Feature

Alexander Elinson on Yassin Adnan

Marrakech has been described more often by foreign visitors than by its own people.

Kelly Morse on Nhã Thuyên

Her loyalty is to the Vietnamese language, not to cultural and ideological imperatives.

Luis Chitarroni on Benjamin Constant

Translated from the Spanish by Allison A. deFreese

If, as Barthes suggests, only the feeble dwell in language, then Constant’s at times tiresome weakness never ceases being of significance to our half-hearted interest in his life, as viewed through our attention span of a child.

Microfiction Special Feature

Seo Dae-kyung, Autumn Night

Translated from the Korean by Soeun Seo and Jake Levine

One fall night I puked up a monkey.

Yang Dian, from A Contrarian’s Tales

Translated from the Chinese by Jack Hargreaves

Then, without warning, the hem of a qipao appears, protruding from between the glass.

Álvaro Lasso, from United Left

Translated from the Spanish by Kelsi Vanada

That thing about playing bumper cars not only applies to men without visas, but also to countries that have just regained their independence.

Hugo Labravo, from Transfinite Things

Translated from the Spanish by Ellen Jones

He thought about switching to the razor, but she was so engrossed in a magazine that he didn’t dare disturb her.

Md. Fariq Khir, from Fictions

Translated from the Malay by Ali Aiman Mazwin

Seeing his father’s face, a baby crawled back inside his mother’s womb.

Murathan Mungan, from Matchsticks

Translated from the Turkish by Will Washburn

A mystery is just deferred knowledge.

Jung Jidon, Better Not to Be Born

Translated from the Korean by Grace Payer

Kim wanted to ask, of her child and of Earth: Why have you given up on being?


An interview with Raquel Salas Rivera

To translate oneself is to self-other in order to move through a space dominated by another system or code.