Editor's Note

Why do we travel? To meet others and find ourselves, to touch the world and uncover “Cosmic Connections.” Illustrated by Singaporean guest artist Shay Xie, Asymptote’s Spring 2019 edition takes you to 27 countries across five continents, from ancient Greece to modern China. In the “homeland” of literature (Dubravka Ugrešić), “all roads lead anywhere” (Georgi Gospodinov). They also introduce you to fascinating characters, such as Sergio Chejfec’s “Pure Foreigner,” Samanta Schweblin’s birdeater, and Wang Shuo’s unwilling transsexual, who all help you “imagine being an other” (Jenni Råback) despite problems of representation that Viet Thanh Nguyen and Mohsen Namjoo illuminate. If you’re not one for Kim Man-Jung’s “head-spinning escapades,” let Frederika Randall invite you into “the empty space” on the other side of a text. Hers is just one of six essays in our wildcard Special Feature celebrating and defending the courageous art of translation.

Kateryna Kalytko also brings you into the headspace of a translator albeit via fiction in her moving tale of loss and redemption that unfolds through a series of flashbacks while its wheelchair-bound protagonist hurtles down a slope. For the Tanzanian narrator of Adam Shafi’s Far From Home, movement has been an obsession ever since “the spirit of travel came to possess [him]”—he stops at nothing to gain passage on a ship. Sometimes we’re called to cross an ocean, and other times to bridge a gulf, as Daniel Guebel does in exploring a complex father-son relationship and considering the baggage that comes with being the titular “Jewish Son.”

Hungarian author Zoltán Gábor probes a similar inheritance in his nonfiction, wondering what traumas we carry within us when his daughter starts having dreams of concentration camps. Elsewhere, dreams lead travelers to riches. In “The Dream of a Baghdad Night,” Abdelfattah Kilito delves deep into a story from One Thousand and One Nights to conclude that “a treasure is never where you think it is.” Nor is material treasure something we should set our sights on, according to a fresh translation of The Nine Cloud Dream reviewed by critic Katherine Beaman. Gertrud Kolmar’s poems from Animal Dreams take us to otherworldly oneiric spaces full of longing and an “ache unnamed,” echoing National Book Award finalist Diana Khoi Nguyen’s artwork in memory of a brother who cut himself out of family photographs, foreshadowing inexplicable suicide.

“A thousand souls, a thousand different plans,” mused Euripides more than two millennia ago; at Asymptote, though the souls among us may come and go, we’ve stuck to the same plan for close to a full decade already. But it hasn’t been easy. If you recognize the importance of our mission, or have personally benefited from our work in some significant way, please consider getting involved as a sustaining member or a masthead member from as little as USD5 a month. Subscribing to our Book Club is another way to keep us around. If you’re interested in joining our team, there’s good news! We are expanding—check out our second recruitment call of the year here (internships are also available for certain positions). As always, we invite submissions on a rolling basis; if you are a translator of Yiddish poetry, take note of our just-released call for the Summer 2019 Special Feature. Between our issues, don’t forget to check out our daily blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Keep it under wraps for now, but we will soon unveil a new contest—judged by a Nobel Prizewinner! Subscribe to our newsletter to be among the first to know. Help us continue to be your one-stop destination for cosmic connections.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue April 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), Lou Sarabadzic (UK/France), and Jacob Silkstone (Norway/UK)

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

Editor of Special Feature on Creative Reflections on Translation: Sam Carter (USA)

Assistant Editors: Alyea Canada (USA), Erik Noonan (USA), Garrett Phelps (UK/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: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Podcast Editors: Dominick Boyle (Switzerland/USA) and Layla Benitez-James (Spain/USA)

Art Director: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

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

Editor-at-Large, Albania: Barbara Halla
Editors-at-large, Brazil: Lara Norgaard and Daniel Persia
Editor-at-large, Chile: Scott Weintraub
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, 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, Spain: Manel Mula Ferrer
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih

Masthead for Issue April 2019

Fiction and Poetry: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Drama: Caridad Svich
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Writers on Writers: Ah-reum Han and Victoria Livingstone
Special Feature: Creative Reflections on Translation: Sam Carter
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Henry Ace Knight
Illustrations and Cover: Shay Xie

Chief Executive Assistants: Sasha Burik and Lucy Morgan
Director of Outreach: Alessandro Mondelli
Senior Executive Assistants: Alice Fischer
Executive Assistant: Tanya Singh
Book Club Manager: Sydney Sims

Assistant Blog Editors: Jonathan Egid, Nina Perrotta, and Xiao Yue Shan

Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan

Co-Chief Copy Editor: Catilin O’Neil

Copy Editors: Andrea Blatz, Angela Glindemann, Alice Horne, Clayton McKee, Steven Teref, and Lara Zammit

Technical Manager: József Szabó

Responsive Layout Designer: Ben Saff

English Social Media: Ananya Sriram and Carlotta Moro

Spanish Social Media: Sergio Serrano

French Social Media: Filip Noubel 

Chinese Social Media: Jiaoyang Li and Jessica Wang

Marketing Manager: Lauren Chamberlain

Marketing Analyst: Nicolas Llano Linares

Graphic Designers: Lotus Lien

Communications Managers: Alexander Dickow, Emma Page, and Victoria Miluch

Assistant Director, Educational Arm: Barbara Thimm

Educational Arm Assistants: Kasia Bartoszyńska, Mary Hillis, and Maria Snyder

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support of: Geneviève Lebrun-Taugourdeau, James Mwilaria, Jean-Michel Decimo, Johanna Hanink, Kelvin Ang, Madeleine Cohen, Margot Miriel, and Trisha Peck at Omnidawn Publishing, Inc. 

For their generous donations, our heartfelt thanks go too to Agnieszka Gabor, Anna Aresi, Audrey Hansen, Chris Power, Daniel Hahn, Danielle Farnbaugh, Elizabeth Raible, Fiona Le Brun, Hanna Golab, Jeffrey Boyle, Julian Anderson, Julie Hillery, Justin Briggs, Mallory Truckenmiller, Marilya Veteto, Mark Cohen, Martin Ingebrigtsen, Mary Olivanti, Matthew Mazowita, Monty Reid, Ruth Diver, Siobhan Mei, Velina Manolova, and Yeddanapudi Radhika.



Sergio Chejfec, The Foreigner

Translated from the Spanish by Charlotte Gartenberg

He was a foreigner himself, the foreign in a state of suspension, some type of Pure Foreigner enclosing his own skin.

Kateryna Kalytko, Martin

Translated from the Ukrainian by Tetiana Savchynska

Martin always knew that the roots of his strangest adventures were hidden away in a rich soil of dictionaries and self-teaching guides to foreign languages, as befits exotic flowers.

Adam Shafi, from Far from Home

Translated from the Swahili by Nathalie S. Koenings

The spirit of travel came to possess me.

Gwenaëlle Aubry, from Persephone 2014

Translated from the French by Wendeline A. Hardenberg

You want to live breathlessly, on the run raw-souled

Daniel Guebel, from Jewish Son

Translated from the Spanish by Jessica Sequeira

Father. I wrote these pages, an unveiling and a shroud, so that you could survive in some way.


Georgi Gospodinov, Five Poems

Translated from the Bulgarian by Teodora Gandeva

A child is running
 / in the garden of Place des Vosges

Şükrü Erbaş, from Songs of the Vineyard Harvest

Translated from the Turkish by Derick Mattern

Man is the soul-atlas of the plains.

María Negroni, from Elegy for Joseph Cornell

Translated from the Spanish by Allison A. deFreese

A child always brings his own piece of the world into the world so that reality exists.

João Luís Barreto Guimarães, from Mediterranean

Translated from the Portuguese by Calvin Olsen

All of them were once here. All of them conceded / the possibility of love

Lee Hyemi, from Unexpected Vanilla

Translated from the Korean by So J. Lee

This is the time of cherries A time that stains

Gertrud Kolmar, from Animal Dreams

Translated from the German by Anna Henke and Julia Gutterman

Was ever your breath that whisperingly vast?

Abdallah Zrika, from The Insect of Infinity

Translated from the Arabic by Tim DeMay

Like a candle’s wick
I extinguish the light in me

Xiao Shui, from Shanghai Stories

Translated from the Chinese by Judith Huang

there was some unknown fuzz, finely chopped together

Claudina Domingo, from Transit

Translated from the Spanish by Ryan Greene

come “see what your dreams are made of ”       lust trauma neurosis “señorita” (didn’t answer)

Oriette D'Angelo, from Heart Diseases

Translated from the Spanish by Lupita Eyde-Tucker

Caracas is a woman with a chest full of bullets. I am a foreigner next to so much lead.

Raymond Queneau, from The Fatal Moment

Translated from the French by Patience Haggin

c’est la vie, ugh, who wants that


Pajtim Statovci, Crossing

Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston

A review by Jenni Råback

Can we imagine being an other?

Kim Man-Jung, The Nine Cloud Dream

Translated from the Korean and Chinese by Heinz Insu Fenkl

A review by Katherine Beaman

A series of head-spinning escapades embedded within a fable of existential import.

Adélaïde Bon, The Little Girl on the Ice Floe

Translated from the French by Ruth Diver

A review by Brigette Manion

Writing reassembles me, reconnects me, restores me.

Amanda Berenguer, Materia Prima

Translated from the Spanish by various translators

A review by Garrett Phelps

Most striking about Berenguer’s poetry is its sheer constructedness, which is as flagrant as those exposed brick interiors with a grid of metal beams for a ceiling.


Gábor Zoltán, Neighbourhood

Translated from the Hungarian by Thomas Sneddon

I write that the people of that period used certain words, though it could just as easily be the other way around and the words used the people instead.

Abdelfattah Kilito, from The Dream of a Baghdad Night

Translated from the French by Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg

A treasure is never where you think it is: We always begin by trusting in a dream or a manuscript and digging in the wrong place.

Mohsen Namjoo, from Desiring and Refuting Nostalgia

Translated from the Persian by Poupeh Missaghi

I am sick of the white westerner who wants to learn the setar.

Katja Perat, Love is Evil

Translated from the Slovenian by Katja Perat

Since I left my home I know I have a homeland.

Markiyan Kamysh, Prypiat Underground, or the Resurrection of a Dead Town

Translated from the Ukrainian by Hanna Leliv

A duck with a broken wing jumps up and down on the sand right at our feet, trying, again and again, to take off.


Euripides, from Bacchae (Chorus Ode)

Translated from the Ancient Greek by Aaron Poochigian

The gods are slow to mete out discipline but certain when they strike.

Tanioka Sachi, from October Fūrin

Translated from the Japanese by Matthew Perkins

Suddenly there is a noise from the floor above . . . The sound of something smashing.

Special Feature

Emmanuel Ordóñez Angulo on Samanta Schweblin

Schweblin’s stories are populated by radically different beings, fantastical ones.

Dylan Suher on Wang Shuo

In Chinese, we would say that Wang is hao niu; in English (well, sort of), we would say he has chutzpah.

Creative Reflections on Translation

Maggie Zebracka, On (In)visibility

Translation is not an invisible act. The book does not translate itself.

Jen Calleja and Sophie Collins, She knows too much: “Bridge Translations,” “Literal Translations,” and Long-Term Harm

We cannot let readers and writers believe that translators are unskilled in creative interpretation, that literary translators need the help of what have been called “real writers.”

Frederika Randall, The turbo and the chiaro

It takes courage to venture into that empty space.

Nancy Kline, At the Writer's Worktable: Translating René Char

Translating beauty is an act of counterterror in this murderous world.

J. Vera Lee, My Mother’s Cemetery

We had a relationship forged by a lineage of language and shared a goal of recognizing a twilight—the neither here nor there of her past.

Katherine M. Hedeen, Manifesto?

We must redefine not only what an artist is but also the creative act.


An interview with Dubravka Ugrešić

I have only one true homeland: Literature.

An interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen

I’m interested in drawing attention to the mechanism of how we tell stories: who gets to write them, who gets to read them, how they circulate.