Editor's Note

In January, Trump passed his infamous executive order targeting seven Muslim-majority countries. Not the least of its cruelties, the lightning-quick implementation of his travel ban seemed designed to catch travelers unawares, like deer in headlights. Some would be stranded in a foreign country while in transit. Instead of reuniting with friends and family, they were stuck in limbo.

With this issue, People from the In-Between, we answer the "Muslim Ban" of January 27 with a glorious Special Feature on Literature from Banned Countries. Made possible by 99 wonderful backers whose donations also will go directly toward frontline efforts to reverse or ease the situation, this timely showcase is headlined by 2013 Jan Michalski Prize winner Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, who contributes a specially commissioned response essay at once heartfelt and thought-provoking. From Syria, Somalia, and Sudan respectively, find Osama Alomar's stark parables distilling the darkest realities into the purest metaphors; Ubah Cristina Ali Farah's moving, multifaceted refugee narrative; and Mohamed Abd-Alhai’s liminal meditations on migration and loss, via Bakhit Bakhit and ALTA director Aron Aji.

This kaleidoscopic issue, gathering work from thirty countries, sees people caught not only in between countries but also in between languages. "Thos Zimigrins from Bakinthir" are brilliantly rendered in Mohamed Kacimi's multilingual portrait, while, afflicted not so much by homesickness as by the love of foreign languages, the narrator of Aleksandra Lun's aptly named The Palimpsests roam(s) from one language to the next like “dogs with cataracts." This in-betweenness, Susanna Basso reminds us, also describes the translator's process—in her wonderful essay, the translator is recast as amanuensis waiting "somewhere between the lines of the original and the future of the translation." In both Erik Noonan's review of Prabda Yoon's debut short story collection in English translation and Noh Anothai's essay on Thai poet Saksiri Meesomsueb respectively, the particular translatorly nexuses being explored are between English and Thai, between lived American experience and Thai "puer cheewit" poetry.

Also reflecting the zeitgeist but in a different way, quite a few pieces in this issue grapple with technology. Even as interviewee Jen Bervin longs for "meditative time in a project...outside of technology," she gushes about the silk biotechnology that has given birth to the medium of her latest artwork, Silk Poems. In the Visual section, Kingsley Ng turns ironically to technology to help the overstimulated city-dweller recover his senses; his project turned two public trams into moving camera obscuras shuttling between Causeway Bay and Sheung Wan in Hong Kong. While the lovesick narrator in Jana Beňová's novel is reprimanded for writing a sprawling letter to her objet d'amour—"Wouldn’t a text be enough? For example: Where are you?"—Elena Fanailova's poems see "texts of no avail" sent to a young woman in the war zone. Meanwhile, sending dispatches from different conflict zones altogether are Polish writer Bartek Sabela, whose investigative journalism about a lesser-known refugee crisis in the Western Sahara represents one of our strongest reportages in recent memory, and Andrei Hvostov from Estonia, who describes a generation of children growing up amid the very real threat of nuclear war.

Elsewhere, discover Luigi Amara’s whimsical allusion to the wig as emblem of the human condition, a subtly humorous story by Hermann Burger set entirely in the dining car of a train, a hypnotic drama by Grzegorz Wróblewski, and a conversation with Marcia Lynx Qualey, fresh from winning this year's London Book Fair Award for International Literary Translation Initiative. She chats with our own Henry Knight about "Disaster 45" and what a hypothetical syllabus to introduce Arabic literature in American classrooms might look like. The entire issue is beautifully illustrated by guest artist Naï Zakharia, who journeyed through the Arctic while making many of the breathtaking artworks found in these pages.

This past quarter has been an especially gruelling one, not least because we felt compelled to put together a Special Feature to counter the "Muslim Ban" at such short notice; we had also to fundraise for it. Though we fell short of our goal in the end (perhaps because the travel ban wasn't in effect for very long), I would like to thank our many supporters who, believing in our mission, not only stepped up to the plate but also, crucially, followed through. The full list of backers (who didn't choose to remain anonymous) are acknowledged below, but I want to give a special shout-out to Rabih Alameddine, Junot Díaz, Yann Martel, Viet Thanh Nguyen, George Szirtes, Janne Teller, Eliot Weinberger, and Karen Van Dyck, who either donated autographed books or lent us great support with endorsements. In the end, we made just enough to recoup the costs of organizing the fundraiser, promoting our call for submissions so that we'd reach as many writers from the affected regions as possible, as well as paying for additional editorial work and the many contributors to this feature. Alas, we didn't succeed in raising enough for ads in high-profile media outlets for this Special Feature, as we had hoped.

So that the work we do can still make a real impact, help us share this issue far and wide, online and off- (to that end, download our ready-to-print flyer here). Better yet: support our mission to advocate for underrepresented voices in world literature. For a limited time only, we are giving away a bonus gift of an e-book anthology of our banned countries' showcase (featuring extra material not published anywhere else), to reward sustaining members who pledge at least a year’s support. Get yours today!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Apr 2017

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

Assistant Managing Editors: Sam Carter (USA), Lori Feathers (USA), Janani Ganesan (India)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Joshua Craze (UK/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Ellen Jones (UK)
Henry Ace Knight (USA)
Ah-reum Han (South Korea/USA)
Eva Heisler (USA)

Editor for Special Feature on Literatures from Banned Countries: Lee Yew Leong

Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang

Assistant Editors: Alexis Almeida (USA), Julia Leverone (USA), P. T. Smith (USA), Victoria Livingstone (USA), Siobhan Leddy (Germany/UK) and Lin Chia-wei (Taiwan)

Contributing Editors:
Ellen Elias-Bursac (USA), Howard Goldblatt (USA), George Henson (USA), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Sylvia Lin (Taiwan/USA), Sayuri Okamoto (Japan/Italy), Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore), Antony Shugaar (Italy), Dylan Suher (USA) and Adrian West (USA)

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

Spanish Contributing Editor: Soledad Marambio (Chile/USA)

Blog Editor: Madeline Jones (USA)

Translation Tuesdays Editor: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Podcast Editor: Layla Benitez-James (USA/Spain)

Art Director: Lee Yew Leong

Assistant Director, Educational Arm: Lindsay Semel (USA)

Educational Arm Assistants: Anna Aresi (USA/Italy), Reverie Powell (USA), Gareth Hadyk-DeLodder (USA) and Laura Davies (Wales)

Editor-at-large, Argentina: Sarah Moses 
Editor-at-large, Australia: Beau Lowenstern
Editor-at-large, Brazil: Maíra Mendes Galvão
Editor-at-large, Chile: Tomás Cohen
Editor-at-large, Egypt: Omar El Adl
Editor-at-large, Hong Kong: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, Indonesia: Tiffany Tsao
Editor-at-large, Iran: Poupeh Missaghi
Editor-at-large, Mexico: Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn 
Editor-at-large, Morocco: Jessie Stoolman 
Editor-at-large, Poland: Beatrice Smigasiewicz
Editor-at-large, Romania and Moldova: MARGENTO
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-large, South Africa: Alice Inggs
Editor-at-large, Spain: Carmen Morawski 
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, UK: Megan Bradshaw

Masthead for Issue April 2017

Fiction: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Writers on Writers: Ah-reum Han
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Henry Ace Knight
Illustrations and Cover: Naï Zakharia

Chief Executive Assistant: Theophilus Kwek
Senior Executive Assistant: Nozomi Saito
Executive Assistants: Emma Holland, Cassie Lawrence, and Sarah Ahmad

Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan

Chief Copy Editor: Laura Garmeson

Proofreaders: Laura Garmeson, Lori Feathers, Nozomi Saito, Anna Aresi, Jessie Stoolman, Sarah Moses, Ellen Elias-Bursac, and Ah-reum Han

Technical Manager: József Szabó

English Social Media: Sohini Basak, Hannah Berk, Thea Hawlin, Saba Ahmed, and Hannah Vose

Spanish Social Media: Arthur Dixon and Sergio Serrano

Chinese Social Media: Christopher Chan and Jessica Wang

Assistant Newsletter Editor: Talia Behrend-Wilcox

Assistant Director of Outreach: Ryan Celley

Assistant Graphic Designer: Geneve Ong 

Incoming: Claire Jacobsen (Assistant Interviews Editor), Alexander Dickow and Ong Szu Yoong (Communications Managers), Sneha Khaund and Stefan Kielbasiewicz (Asst Blog Editors), Tyler Nguyen (Responsive Layout Designer), Nathaniel Jones (Business Developer), Treasa Bane and Emily Cocco (Executive Assistants), Lorenzo Andolfatto, Catilin O’Neil, Noah Ross, and Lara Zammit (Copy Editors) and Jiaoyang Li (Chinese Social Media Manager)

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Vincent Kling, Brother Anthony of Taizé, Karen Van Dyck, George Szirtes, Yann Martel, Jason Erik Lundberg, Junot Diaz, Michael Bazzett, Janne Teller, Dawne Shand, David Maclean, Ryan Celley, Suhasini Kamble, Derek Warker, Sian Cain, Adrian Tan, Clay Rockefeller, Picador, Grove Atlantic, and the Literature Translation Institute of Korea.

For their generous donations, our heartfelt thanks go too to Kalpana Raina, Dave Chua, Emily F. Grazier, France Meyer, Ros Schwartz, Janey Skinner, Craig F Simenson, Aksel Tomte, Xiangyun Lim, Sekyo Nam Haines, Ela Kotkowska, Nunia Yi, Aram Mrjoian, Emily Coulson, Carlos Dews, Jarvis Jenna, Michael Kelleher, Isobel Dixon, Marian Roan, Natasha Wimmer, Christina Kramer, Sarah Cooke, Emilie Serratelli, Kathleen E Halvorsen, Elizabeth Castoria, Sarah Booker, John Tollefsen, Anna Aresi, Helene Cardona, Randa Seifeldin, Leslie Harkema, Hugo Lopez Araiza Bravo, B Gill Terrae, Lala Stefkova, Glenda Goodman, Elizabeth Raible, Wei Hsin Gui, Obradovic Dragana, Ellen Elias-Bursac, Yukiko Shigeto, Katherine Gray, Saharnaz Mirzazad Barijough, Tegan White-Nesbitt, Lori Feathers, Kari Lee Larsen, Judith Hill-Weld, Thea Bradbury, Lindsay Ahlman, Mark Keats, Anne Marie Jackson, Tiffany Tsao, L. F. Nixon, Qiu Jiayu, Majda Gama, Ningxin Zhu, Hiromitsu Koiso, M Schendlinger, Mark Cohen, Katrina Margaret Hayes, Lisa Balabanlilar, Irina Holca, Christina MacSweeney, Beth Raps, Amanda Earl, Suzanne Carter, Lucy Moffatt, Yann Martel, Kristin Hillers, Sarah Cook, Hannah Vose, Lina Patton, Rebecca Heisner, and Mieke Verloo.



Mohamed Kacimi, Thos Zimigrins from Bakinthir

Translated from the French by Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg

They arrived each summer, in caravans of Peugeot station wagons, overloaded like they do—on top, inside, and underneath.

Hermann Burger, The Emergency Brake

Translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West

Everyone has a red handle over his head. All that’s required is the courage to pull down.

Aleksandra Lun, from The Palimpsests

Translated from the Spanish by Elizabeth Bryer

We foreign writers roam from one language to the next like dogs with cataracts.

Jana Beňová, from Seeing People Off

Translated from the Slovak by Janet Livingstone

Emails and quick texts were windows and mirrors rapidly multiplying in the world.


Phoebe Giannisi, from Chimera

Translated from the Greek by Brian Sneeden

in the beginning was the field. / in order to migrate I had to gather / I had to cull. / the things. / the things the animals the things the things.

Santiago Vizcaíno, Let the Dead Come to Me

Translated from the Spanish by Kimrey Anna Batts

Smell the harebrained tongue of the house’s master.

Ken'ichi Sasō, from The Forest Sounds Like Waves

Translated from the Japanese by Noriko Hara and Joe DeLong

<Hello     Living in the mixture of all those eras of human history is great! / In this heart, the poem of humanity is crying with a smile on its face!>

Ion Monoran, Four Poems

Translated from the Romanian by Marius Surleac and Marc Vincenz

is against / lyrical individuals

Elena Fanailova, Elections

Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky

The madhouse nurses / Talk into the mic / About their disappeared / About evacuation towards Leningrad / And what I should tell Putin

Salaiman Juhni, Three Poems

Translated from the Arabic by Ali Kadhim and Chris George

Help Nietzsche like I helped him / Put on his fine dress / So he can go to the swamp

Anonymous, from Unlikeness Is Us

Translated from the Old English by Christopher Patton

ᛋ ∙ ᚱ ∙ ᛠ ∙ Ƿ and ᛞ ∙ Weird oath

Sananta Tanty, Two Poems

Translated from the Assamese by Dibyajoti Sarma

So the anatomists have declared that / I do not have a language.

Ann Jäderlund, from Which Once Had Been Meadow

Translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson

There is no rose. When you are in the rose / Sour folds / There is no reed / When you come with fluid / There is no / fluid, / Giovanni

Saksiri Meesomsueb, from That Hand Is White

Translated from the Thai by Noh Anothai

Are we even half of half the way yet?

Tristan Tzara, from Noontimes Won

Translated from the French by Heather Green

disparate resources / of quick graces / exquisite subsidiaries / you aren’t any help

Max Czollek, Open Call: Family Party

Translated from the German by Meg Matich

i turn to the veins / in the delta of my temple, whose paths i seek


Grzegorz Wróblewski, Zero Visibility

Translated from the Polish by Piotr Gwiazda

An essay by the translator

Wróblewski enacts the very experience of consuming the news, especially the news obtained from the Internet.

Prabda Yoon, The Sad Part Was

Translated from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul

A review by Erik Noonan

Poopoksakul discovers several inventive solutions to the problems of rendering Thai figures of speech into English.

Crude Words: Contemporary Writing from Venezuela

Translated from the Spanish by various translators

A review by Adrian Nathan West

The portrait of Venezuela, and particularly the capital, that emerges in these stories is not of raw poverty and destitution, but of a tenuous connection to wealth and dignity gutted by forces from without.

Tomoka Shibasaki, Spring Garden, and Hiromi Kawakami, Record of a Night Too Brief

Translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton and Lucy North

A review by John W. W. Zeiser

Dreamworlds are one of the most difficult things to represent with precision.

Georg Trakl, Sebastian Dreaming

Translated from the German by James Reidel

A review by Tristan Foster

Nostalgia is never not characterised by loss—lost time, lost places, lost people.


Susanna Basso, Lessons in Slowness

Translated from the Italian by Matilda Colarossi

I began to wonder if translation was, in fact, a waiting game.

Luigi Amara, A Harebrained History of the Wig

Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney

If I had to decide on an object to describe the meaning of life on Earth, my first choice would be the wig.

Andrei Hvostov, Cold War

Translated from the Estonian by Matthew Hyde

For a long time I was convinced that a hydrogen bomb would be more or less like a huge balloon, but filled with water.

Bartek Sabela, Every Grain of Sand

Translated from the Polish by Tul'si Bhambry

There are times in life when you must be everything at once—a poet, a journalist, and a fighter.

Yan Jun, from The Beastly Archive

Translated from the Chinese by Mark Ge

Chinese rock music is like my neighbor who died ten years ago in a car accident.


Beth Escudé i Gallès, from Diabolic Cabaret

Translated from the Catalan by Phyllis Zatlin

I'm a foreigner: a Paradisiac.

Grzegorz Wróblewski, from The New Colony

Translated from the Polish by Agnieszka Pokojska

If not for us, he’d have melted like an ice sculpture.


Kingsley Ng, Art and Community

I explore ways to help regain our senses through technological means.

Special Feature

Noh Anothai on Saksiri Meesomsueb

When she noticed me reading That Hand Is White, my aunt remarked that the poems have a puer cheewit (“for life”) feel to them.

Uwe Schütte on Hermann Burger

Translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West

Burger was familiar with the prestidigitator’s art.

Amir Ahmadi Arian on the Contemporary Iranian Novel

For travelers in a dry country like Iran, forks are special.

Literatures from Banned Countries

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, The Trip That Did Not Happen

Translated from the Persian by Poupeh Missaghi

Trump’s executive order calls to mind a Persian proverb: “It’s the Khosrows [Kings] who know what’s best for their country!”

Negar Emrani, Three Poems

Translated from the Persian by Kaveh Akbar

War was you hiding your voice inside a flute.

Mohamed Abd-Alhai, Al-Samandel at the Edge of Absence

Translated from the Arabic by Bakhit Bakhit and Aron Aji

She on her loom waiting / driving time, onward once, then back

Omar Youssef Souleimane, from Away from Damascus

Translated from the Arabic by Ghada Mourad

The heart of the exile is a black hole arching the lights of the world

Ubah Cristina Ali Farah, A Dhow Crosses the Sea

Translated from the Italian by Hope Campbell Gustafson

The ocean seethed like molten lead. It could disfigure your heart.

Edil Hassan, Two Poems

Years later, I read a list with a thousand drowned

Lauren Camp, Given a Continuous Function, We Define a New Function

Cartilage, griefs, heart. What surrounds what?

Osama Alomar, from The Teeth of the Comb

Translated from the Arabic by Christian Collins and Osama Alomar

When I became a third-class passenger on the ship of existence, I realized that I was very close to the engine of life.


An interview with Jen Bervin

It’s a love poem, written from the perspective of the silk worm.

An interview with Marcia Lynx Qualey

We literature people must do all we can to agitate for open borders.