Editor's Note

On March 13th this year, frequent Asymptote contributor Jonas Hassen Khemiri wrote an open letter to Sweden's Minister of Justice, asking her to switch skins with him (Khemiri is of Swedish/Tunesian descent). It started a social-media shitstorm in Sweden, shared enough times to make it the most-linked-to text in Swedish history, reaching every single Swede online. No wonder: The letter, whose English translation is published here for the first time ever, presents an intimate, first-person account of feeling 'other' in an oppressive sea of same.

As a champion of diversity in letters, Asymptote's core mission is to showcase as many 'others' as it takes to break the mold. Pere Calders's Catalan everyman (ventriloquized here by Lawrence Venuti!) is sure he has encountered a Japanese—except he cannot say why. In Lo Kwai Cheung's "Northbound 101" otherness is personified in the three young men from Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Philippines driving down an American highway—watch for the psychological legerdemain at the end. Elsewhere, in our Writers on Writers section, otherness features in Natalya Din-Kariuki's discussion of British Nigerian author Helen Oyeyemi, who negates the idea that a "postcolonial" African writer works from any singular vantage point.

Our first ever Africa Feature gathers just such variegated viewpoints, presenting thrilling new voices from Sudan and Ghana, as well as 2012's Nigeria Prize winner Chika Unigwe. In taking our first exploratory look at a continent heretofore underrepresented on our pages, we have not stopped at fiction: we also have excerpts from Poems for the Millennium Volume Four, a groundbreaking anthology of North African poetry by Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour, accompanied by a critical overview by African Art and Cinema critic Beatriz Leal Riesco, as well as lyrical reflections by Christian Dumoux on a Madagascan childhood. Perhaps the most heartbreaking piece we're publishing from Africa, however, is Will McGrath's intimate English language non-fiction about South Africa's ongoing AIDS crisis (with an especially commissioned translation by new Chinese contributing editor Francis Li Zhuoxiong.)

In poetry, the 10 assorted voices drawn together in one section speak from rage, from love, from despair; each builds from a complex of systems (country, body, gender, race, language, and so on) to form a unique literary presence. Though distinct, these voices are united in their resistance to some form of oppression, looming or insidious, and in the linguistic, poetic experiments which unearth and explore the ambiguities of these resistances: for example, Juan Gelman and Francisco "Paco" Urondo are major poets of witness and of exile from Argentina; Kim Hyesoon embodies a formidable feminist poetics and is translated from the Korean by the award-winning Choi Don Mee; Avianti Armand, another important feminist voice, brings us a reimagining of the story of Adam and Eve as well as Asymptote's first work of literature from the Bahasa Indonesia; and from Morocco and Western Sahara (via Cuba), we have, respectively, Mohammed Bennis and Limam Boicha, whose poetry complements our Africa Feature.

In what we hope is not a sign of the endtimes, this Spring issue is overrun with soldiers, in The Writer, by Yasmina Khadra (also the subject of a taut and illuminating essay by Geoff Wisner) and in the Latvian play Colonel Pilate. This issue's other play, DNA, comes to us from troubled Cyprus and addresses the heritage of violence, also a central theme running through Giorgio Vasta's terrifying tale of preteen terrorists in 1970s Italy, Time on my Hands, reviewed by our own Florian Duijsens. Finally, any translation of Miklós Szentkuthy's astonishingly diverse oeuvre is the rarest of treats (as Rainer J. Hanshe explains magnificently), and we are overjoyed to add his strong voice to those of the Hungarian masters we've featured in previous issues.

Tying it all together are collage illustrations by Dutch artist Ellen Blom, whose cover, with its mimicking swallows, is a perfect example of her delicate style. Delicate too is our reminder that our Indiegogo fundraiser will shortly be expiring on 30 April; please contribute whatever you can to keep Asymptote afloat. As we now enter our third year as a free online magazine, we are finding it difficult to continue delivering the best contemporary writing from around the world while still remaining completely volunteer-based. With our recent expansion (see masthead in About page) we now have more than 30 people on our team, and we urgently need to turn semi-professional so that all our efforts can be coordinated effectively. With our newly fortified team of international experts, we've got some fantastic plans in the pipeline, such as a translation contest (to be judged by Eliot Weinberger and Howard Goldblatt) that will shortly be announced, more journal partnerships, more events in your neighborhood and even, one day, a publishing arm. There's so much more we can still do to stimulate global literature. But we need your help to make it happen. Thank you for your support.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Apr 2013

Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Simon Morley (UK/South Korea)
Adrian West (USA)

Contributing Editors:
Howard Goldblatt (USA), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Sylvia Lin (Taiwan/USA), Sayuri Okamoto (Japan/Italy),
Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore), Dylan Suher (USA) and Adrian West (USA)

Chinese Contributing Editor: Francis Li Zhuoxiong (Hong Kong/Taiwan)

Assistant Editors:
Megan Berkobien (USA), Leonard Ng (Singapore), Julia Sanches (Brazil/Spain), Jacob Silkstone (UK/Norway)

Editor-at-large, Argentina: Maureen Shaughnessy
Editor-at-large, Berlin: Florian Duijsens
Editor-at-large, Central Asia: Alex Cigale
Editor-at-large, Hong Kong: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, Hungary: Ágnes Orzóy
Editor-at-large, India: Rahul Soni
Editor-at-large, Kenya: Natalya Din-Kariuki
Editor-at-large, Paris: Daniel Medin

Masthead for Issue Apr 2013

Interview: Lee Yew Leong
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Visual: Simon Morley
Africa English Fiction Feature: Adrian West
Illustrations and Cover: Ellen Blom
Guest Artist Liaison: Florian Duijsens
Interns: Joan Hua, Dolan Morgan and Sharon Wang
Design: Lee Yew Leong and fFurious
Publicity (Chinese): Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan (Hong Kong/UK)
Correspondent (Pakistan): Mushtaq ur Rasool Bilal
Legal Counsel: Lindy Poh

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Balkenende Chew & Chia (Advocates & Solicitors), Nazry Bahrawi, Sarah Stanton, Yasmine Seale, Tariq Adely, Jeffrey Waxman, Lisa Jing, Geoff Wisner, Kasia Pilat, Nora Bojar, Rohan Kamicheril, Alvin Pang, Choo Lip Sin, David Mitchell, Charisma Lee, Nicole Idar, Bradley Schmidt, Anke Grahl, Pilar Lafuente, Chelsea Hogue, Rakesh Khanna, Ziv Lewis, Marcia Lynx Qualey, Reif Larsen, Thomas Flynn, Darryl Sterk, Steve Bradbury, Gray Tan, Anna Holmwood, Nicholas Skidmore, Sanela Bilal, MARGENTO, Rachel Hui-Yu Tang, Dominic Pettman, Joan Ramon Resina and Lin Chia Wei.

Thanks go too to Forrest Gander, Tan Bee Thiam, Beatriz Bastos, Adam Sorkin, Adria Bernardi, Ruth Ahmedzai, Alvin Pang, Peter Sherwood, Daniella Gitlin, Nicholas Costa, John Hanlon, Chui Hua Tan, Mira L Bartok, Jeffrey Waxman, Wah-Ming Chang, Kevin Hyde, Memming Park, Mona Rugou, Conte Guzman, Jessica E. Malitoris, Matthew Wiggin, Scott Beauchamp, Scott Cheshire, Germán Sierra, Andrew Washauer, Gabriel Cahn, Raphael Pope-Sussman, Colin Shepherd, Arjun Rajendran, Shameel Ahmad, Meera Sethi, Lingyi Chong, Antonia Clark, Mohammad N Bahrawi, Wei Fen Lee, Anthony Luebbert, Maria Verloo, MISS D E A SMITH, Celina Su, Nicky Harman, Sarah Robinson, Erica Hunt, Rachel Worsley, Toets Zwitserlood, Michelle Loh, Nicolas Marceau, Collin Anthony, Lauren Koh, Desmond Kon, Wee Shu Ting, Ariana Reines, Paolo Iovene, Calvin Ho and Karel Caals for their generous donations.



Pere Calders, Subtle Invasion

Translated from the Catalan by Lawrence Venuti

I thought he must have been a sales rep or dealer of digital cameras or computer chips—who also happened to know about cultured pearls.

Lo Kwai Cheung, Me and Him and Chris on Northbound 101

Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury

We were among the California aliens who had grown up in colonial societies deeply influenced by Western culture.

Miklós Szentkuthy, from Towards the One and Only Metaphor

Translated from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson

Two nonsenses: to over-contemplate a flower needlessly and to over-garden a flower needlessly.


Avianti Armand, Eve

Translated from the Indonesian by Eliza Vitri Handayani

'mustn't'/ casts an enchanting spell and God has rolled/ the dice.

Juan Gelman, from Oxen Rage

Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Rose Bradford

giddy up gelman on i say/ go gelmaning on to meet the most beautiful ones/ those who launched victories in their great defeat

Mohammed Bennis, from Seven Birds

Translated from the Arabic by Nashwa Gowanlock

a hand/ between the rocks points out the road/ within the road

Kim Hyesoon, from Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream

Translated from the Korean by Choi Don Mee

My body overflowing with milk was swollen like a jar/ The jar smelled of white rabbit

Vsevolod Nekrasov, from I Live I See

Translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich and Ainsley Morse

the sea/ the sea/ a searemonial

Limam Boicha, from Los versos de la madera

Translated from the Spanish by Joseph Mulligan

We exist/ with empirical proof & calendars.

Klaus Merz, from Out of the Dust

Translated from the German by Marc Vincenz

To bow down to melancholia/ and become lightened on the way.

Aleksey Porvin, A Dark House Is Quietly Collapsing

Translated from the Russian by J. Kates

I come here looking for a shard/ that once glittered resonant

Francisco "Paco" Urondo, Four Poems

Translated from the Spanish by Julia Leverone

The wild birds will take flight, the islands will defeat words:/ sacred silence over the earth.

Ariane Dreyfus, Paradise

Translated from the French by Elias Simpson and Corinne Noirot

Where you go, a space:/ Your spine is its free wonder.


Giorgio Vasta's Time on My Hands

Translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt

A review by Florian Duijsens

Ultimately ours is perhaps a mineral life, a language made of carbon that connects us to another being, a sidereal language that unites us with the stars themselves.

Georges Perec's La Boutique Obscure

Translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker

A review by Scott Esposito

Because of this adherence to a constraint, I do think the dreams are an example of Oulipian writing.

Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour's Poems for the Millennium, Volume Four

A review by Beatriz Leal Riesco

A consummate introduction to the prodigious literary imagination of the peoples of the Maghreb.

Pere Calders's "Subtle Invasion"

Translated from the Catalan by Lawrence Venuti

An essay by the translator

I wanted my reader to make an effort to understand the narrator, not to dismiss or excoriate him.


Jonas Hassen Khemiri, An Open Letter to Beatrice Ask

Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles

I am writing to you with a simple request, Beatrice Ask. I want us to trade our skins and our experiences.

Will McGrath, Good & Bad Joala

An essay followed by a translation into the Chinese by Francis Li Zhuoxiong

She knows your malfeasance before you fease it mal.

Christian Dumoux, from Childhood in Madagascar

Translated from the French by Alexis Pernsteiner and Antoine Bargel

It was customary for the foreskin to be mixed with banana and eaten by the grandfather.

Yasmina Khadra, from The Writer

Translated from the French by Alexis Pernsteiner and Antoine Bargel

That day at cadet school, I was reminded of the wadi sucking me down and of the vastness of my solitude.


Giorgos Neophytou, DNA

Translated from the Greek by Rhea Frangofinou

Four protein bases: cytosine, guanine, thymine and adenine. Is that what I have been waiting for all these years?

Aleksey Scherbak, from Colonel Pilate

Translated from the Russian by John J. Hanlon

Wherever they can get a salary, that's their homeland.


Maria Chevska, From the Diary of a Fly

Words, images, materiality.

Sarah Jacobs, Intersecting Words

Grid, window, entanglement.

Special Feature

Rainer J. Hanshe on Miklós Szentkuthy

Eros is put through a thousand and one permutations, all of which we witness dancing in his texts, animated like the thousand and one figures of the Kharjuravāhaka monuments.

Geoff Wisner on Yasmina Khadra

A symbol encompassing the whole country of Algeria and all its suffering and contradictions.

Natalya Din-Kariuki on Helen Oyeyemi

Pica, Miranda's eating disorder, forces her to compulsively eat chalk, an action that recalls both Dover's white cliffs and her own "white white face."

Monika Gaenssbauer on Contemporary Chinese Essayists

Scattered writing: a form of writing that may begin at one point and end at another.

Africa English Fiction Feature

Chika Unigwe, Love of a Fat Woman

She was not his type, but he could see the potential in her.

Followed by a translation into the Chinese by Hedy Bok

Ayesha Harruna Attah, Incident on the Way to Bakoy Market

Our collective anger was finally erupting.

Tagreid Hassabo, Green Eyes, Date Fruit, and God's Other Choices

Look! My sister has a date fruit between her legs.

Followed by a translation into the Chinese by Zhuxin Zhang


An interview with Margaret Jull Costa

I have a secret fear that perhaps all the writers I translate sound like me.

An interview with Olena Bormashenko

On translating Soviet-era science fiction