Editor's Note

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Meet the Tolstoyesque “Unhappy Families” in our abundant Spring 2018 edition, each with its own dazzling specificity. Find exiles, adulterers, and a levitating aspirin in our Korean Fiction Feature headlined by acclaimed filmmaker Lee Chang-dong, best known for Poetry. Amid exciting new writing and art from 29 countries, gathering together such literary stars as Mario Vargas Llosa and Robert Walser, discover “tiny shards” of childhood on the verge of experience as remembered by Knausgård’s teacher Jon Fosse—a giant of Norwegian letters in his own right—or not remembered by Brazilian author Jacques Fux à la Joe Brainard. All of it is delightfully illustrated by Singaporean guest artist Lee Wan Xiang.

Although “unhappiness is other people” according to Dubravka Ugrešić, we’re just as likely to be imprisoned in our own family, a predicament brought to light in Dylan Suher’s review of Eileen Chang’s Little Reunions. In a generously personal essay, Ottilie Mulzet reveals how she turned to Gábor Schein’s “father-novel” to unlock the secret of her intransigent birth mother, whose refusal to speak to her had “stood in [Mulzet’s] life like a monumental cliff.” Schein’s poetry also graces this issue, and in a timely echo of Spring and past horrors, he takes up the refrain of Dayeinu of the Passover Haggadah—it would have been enough for us: “Enough, if you or I still / hoped for something. Enough, if we forgot to remember...” Published in the same section, Aung Khin Myint’s poems, imagistically dense and gory, bear witness to the somber political reality in Myanmar.

For some, family remains a hall of mirrors, leaving the outlook bleak for human brother- and sisterhood: “My path doesn’t lead to you. Your path doesn’t lead to me,” writes the Libyan poet Ashur Etwebi. At times, language cuts as deep as our common mortality, that kinship beyond all social roles, as in the poignant drama, The Last Scene. Echoing the resignation of Alain Foix’s death-row prisoner, poet Esther Tellermann laments, “breathe me / sister in death.” Others, like Cairo-based artist Amira Hanafi, strive to knit together connections between strangers. Her recently concluded installation, A Dictionary of the Revolution, deployed a vocabulary box of 160 words to generate conversations with more than two hundred people across Egypt.

In the same vein (although with a lot more words), Asymptote seeks human kinship through literature, beyond our particularities, yet without dimming the light of our differences. You too can become part of the Asymptote family by signing up as a sustaining member (in return for a 2018 edition Asymptote Moleskine notebook!), making a one-time donation, subscribing to the Book Club or gifting a subscription to a loved one, or even just helping to spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, or by distributing our issue postcard/flyer. May your support and readership make Asymptote a hearth around which the hopeful may gather.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Apr 2018

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

Assistant Managing Editors: Sam Carter (USA), Mattea Cussel (Spain/Australia), Janani Ganesan (India), Rachael Pennington (Spain/UK) and Jacob Silkstone (Norway/UK)

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 of Korean Fiction Feature: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Assistant Editors: Alexis Almeida (USA), Lizzie Buehler (USA), Samuel Hall (China/Australia), Victoria Livingstone (USA), Josefina Massot (Argentina/USA), Georgia Nasseh (UK), Erik Noonan (USA), Chris Power (USA), P. T. Smith (USA), Kevin Wang (China), and Lin Chia-wei (Taiwan)
Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang (Germany/Hong Kong)

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), Dylan Suher (USA) and Adrian West (USA)

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

Spanish Contributing Editor: Soledad Marambio (Chile/USA)

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

Podcast Editor: Dominick Boyle (Switzerland/USA)

Art Director: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Assistant Director, Educational Arm: Jasmine Gui (Canada/Singapore)

Editor-at-Large, Albania: Barbara Halla
Editor-at-large, Argentina: Sarah Moses 
Editor-at-large, Australia: Tiffany Tsao
Editors-at-large, Brazil: Rita Mattar and Lara Norgaard 
Editor-at-large, Egypt: Omar El Adl
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, Hungary: Diána Vonnák
Editor-at-large, Indonesia: Norman Erikson
Editor-at-large, Iran: Poupeh Missaghi
Editors-at-large, Mexico: Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn 
Editor-at-large, Morocco: Hodna Nuernberg
Editor-at-large, Nigeria: Olufunke Ogundimu
Editor-at-large, Romania and Moldova: MARGENTO
Editor-at-large, Singapore: Theophilus Kwek
Editor-at-large, Spain: Manel Mula Ferrer
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-large, South Africa: Alice Inggs
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, Tunisa: Jessie Stoolman

Masthead for Issue Apr 2018

Fiction: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Writers on Writers: Ah-reum Han
Korean Fiction Special Feature: Lee Yew Leong, with assistance from Lizzie Buehler
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Henry Ace Knight
Illustrations and Cover: Lee Wan Xiang

Chief Executive Assistant: Sasha Burik
Senior Executive Assistant: Alice Fischer
Executive Assistants: Daljinder Johal
Book Club Manager: Sydney Sims

Blog Editors: Sarah Booker, Stefan Kielbasiewicz, and David Smith

Assistant Interviews Editor: Claire Jacobson

Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan

Chief Copy Editor: Laura Garmeson

Proofreaders: Laura Garmeson, Lorenzo Andolfatto, Catilin O’Neil, Noah Ross, and Lara Zammit

Technical Manager: József Szabó

Responsive Layout Designer: Ben Saff

English Social Media: Anaka Allen, Sohini Basak, Kate Garrett, Karen Shibuya, Enyseh Teimory, and Ananya Sriram

Spanish Social Media: Sergio Serrano

French Social Media: Filip Noubel 

Chinese Social Media: Jiaoyang Li and Jessica Wang

Newsletter Editor: Maxx Hillery

Marketing Managers: Giorgos Kassiteridis, Nicolas Llano Linares, and Marina Sofia

Chief Graphic Designer: Kyrstin Rodriguez

Ebook Designer: Eliza Chen 

Communications Managers: Alexander Dickow and Emma Page

Director, Educational Arm: Lindsay Semel (USA)

Educational Arm Assistants: Kasia Bartoszyńska, Jasmine Gui, Mary Hillis, Maria Snyder, and Cara Zampino

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support of: Literature Translation Institute of Korea, Claire Jin, Sooyun Yum, Lithuanian Culture Institute, Rūta Nanartavičiūtė, Duncan Lewis, Cassie Lawrence, Gareth Richards, Lawrence Venuti, Peter Bush, Tamara Sampey-Jawad, Barbara Zitwer, and Alexander Beecroft.

For their generous donations, our heartfelt thanks go too to Mary Kennedy, Melanie DeSantis, Mary Olivanti, Chris Power, Ruth Diver, Julie Hillery, Mark Cohen, Jeffrey Boyle, Velina Manolova, Mark Cohen, Tiffany Tsao, Siobhan Mei, Amy Curtis, Monica Timms, Daniel Hahn, and Anna Aresi.



Robert Walser, Circle Dance

Translated from the German by Damion Searls

Love plays a peculiar role on the grassy meadow of life.

Andrei Dichenko, Tick Constellations

Translated from the Russian by Slava Faybysh

An ocean, an entire ocean of nothing but congealed blood, resembling cold fruit compote.

Joanna Bator, from Dark, Almost Night

Translated from the Polish by Maggie Zebracka

That was Ewa: confusion, pearls, and a swinging bridge.

Jacques Fux, from I Am What I Can't Remember

Translated from the Portuguese by Hillary Auker

I can’t remember discovering the bright, new world that unfolded with literacy.

Jon Fosse, from Scenes from a Childhood

Translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls

I understand that some of what matters most is missing from our lives.


Hagiwara Kyojiro, from Death Sentence

Translated from the Japanese by Sho Sugita

Blanca Varela, Three Poems

Translated from the Spanish by Vered Engelhard

holy gizzard / holy / emptied / redeemed latrine

Esther Tellermann, from The Third

Translated from the French by Tim DeMay

in the rawness / of the magnolia / what had I / burned so that / you may appear?

Ashur Etwebi, Five Poems

Translated from the Arabic by Ashur Etwebi and James Byrne

Oh, my Etwebia, captured by militias

Aung Khin Myint, from Trojan Horsemeat

Translated from the Burmese by ko ko thett

Horsemeat is sweet. It’s full of nutrients. If necessary, on horsemeat, you can run away from your past as fast & as far as possible.

Iya Kiva, from A Little Further from Heaven

Translated from the Russian by Katherine E. Young

is there hot war in the tap / is there cold war in the tap

Gábor Schein, from Greetings from Inside the Continent

Translated from the Hungarian by Erika Mihálycsa

The eye is one such pond. If time evaporates / from it, fever’s white crystals will sediment on the bottom.

Néstor Perlongher, Three Poems

Translated from the Spanish by Brent Armendinger

Once upon an animal fugitive and fossil, but its felonies / betrayed the same sense of petals

Taras Shevchenko, from Kobzar

Translated from the Ukrainian by Daniel Moysaenko

So I can seize / broad the broadback field and / Dnipro, twisting, so / I can see and hear it roar, / roaring, carrying // thieves’ blood / to the ocean.

Lee Young-ju, Four Prose Poems

Translated from the Korean by Jae Kim

You’re using, in place of your disappeared hands and feet, your stump of body to suck on the fruit-flesh.

Jiang Hao, Address

Translated from the Chinese by Chenxin Jiang

I’ll mail you an arbitrary spoonful of this multitude of waters to drink.

Lea Schneider, from Invasion in Reverse

Translated from the German by Bradley Schmidt

as if our interior lives were straight outta ikea


Eileen Chang, Little Reunions

Translated from the Chinese by Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz

A review by Dylan Suher

She had been caught dishabille once in her life. It would never happen again.

Sara Gallardo, Land of Smoke

Translated from the Spanish by Jessica Sequeira

A review by Aamer Hussein

A path of darkness / To a land that does not exist.

Françoise Frenkel, No Place to Lay One’s Head

Translated from the French by Stephanie Smee

A review by Brigette Manion

Boileau, Molière, Corneille, Racine, Voltaire... these are the masters I have served.

Mircea Eliade, Gaudeamus

Translated from the Romanian by Christopher Bartholomew

A review by Bryan Rennie

Gaudeamus is, of course, a testimony to a vanished world.

Marcel Schwob, Imaginary Lives

Translated from the French by Chris Clarke

A review by Elisa Taber

The essence of art is that it substitutes general ideas with uniqueness.


Dubravka Ugrešić, Unhappiness Is Other People

Translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursać

Yes, I know, it’s difficult to feel respect for a person whose moments of pure happiness are all about marine life.

Fabrizio Coscia, All I ask is to finish my work

Translated from the Italian by Emma Mandley

I am afraid to lose the wonder of your statue eyes.

Gabriel Bernal Granados, Eakins

Translated from the Spanish by Roberto Tejada

The world’s entrails and viscera must be exposed for all others to see and above all believe.

Nasrollah Kasraian, The Photographer’s Notes

Translated from the Persian by Poupeh Missaghi

This photograph has shaken me more than all the other apocalyptic photographs from Syria and Iraq.

Martin Pollack, from The Emperor of America

Translated from the German by Julia and Peter Sherwood

Alongside official emigration a shadow emigration economy has created a broad, lawless grey zone.


Alain Foix, from The Last Scene

Translated from the French by Amelia Parenteau

Welcome to Pennsylvania’s death row.

Shu Matsui, from Proud Son

Translated from the Japanese by Kyoko Yoshida and Andy Bragen

(He pulls a souvenir doll out from his bag.) Think of this as your husband. Do you see any resemblance?

Special Feature

Ottilie Mulzet on Gábor Schein

Lazarus happened to come into my life at a strange moment, when I was trying to cope with the news of my birth mother’s death.

Menchu Gutiérrez on Writers of the Snow

Translated from the Spanish by Mattea Cussel

Even Mount Fuji can seem boring if you constantly look at it.

Korean Fiction Feature

Lee Chang-dong, On Destiny

Translated from the Korean by Soyoung Kim

It was a stunningly beautiful world—completely different from the one I was sick of living in.

Koh Jongsok, from Happy Family

Translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell

I was an ugly duckling in a family of swans.

Ha Seong-nan, Bluebeard’s First Wife

Translated from the Korean by Janet Hong

I never thought my wardrobe would one day become my coffin.

Jeong Yi Hyun, from The Girl Who Never Smiled

Translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim

Like all Chinese-Koreans who left Korea, Ming was deeply nostalgic about the spicy food there.

Choi Jung-wha, Shoes

Translated from the Korean by Stella Kim

A strange sensation compelled me to glance down at the floor. The woman’s shoes were still there.

Gong Ji Young, from A Good Woman

Translated from the Korean by Lizzie Buehler

On a rainy early summer morning after the heavens had abandoned mankind, Jeong-in opened her eyes and felt the pain of love.

Bae Myung-hoon, Taklamakan Misdelivery

Translated from the Korean by Sung Ryu

He was shot down in the Taklamakan Desert, but the Navy is doing nothing to save him.

Park Min-gyu, Aspirin

Translated from the Korean by Agnel Joseph

Breaking news: The strange object that appeared above Seoul has been identified.


An interview with Mario Vargas Llosa

In our time, more books have been published than in the last century. But that doesn’t change the idea that books are less influential than the images on our screens.