Discover Eurythmy, a form of dance created in the 1920s by philosopher Rudolph Steiner, in our latest podcast!
International literary news for an international audience.
Another week has flown by and we’re back again with the most exciting news in world literature! This time our editors focus on on Central America, Germany, and Spain.
José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Central America:
Sadly, Centroamérica has been officially put on hold this year. After five years of unflagging work, the festival Centroamérica Cuenta, hosted each year across Nicaragua, has become the most significant and important literary gathering of the region, annually welcoming writers, journalists, filmmakers, editors, and translators from over thirty countries around the world. This year’s CC was scheduled to unfold May 21-25. However, since Nicaragua’s tense political situation that has taken the lives of so many civilians shows no signs of slowing down, the Centroamérica Cuenta committee has decided to suspend the festival until further notice.
In The Emissary, the reader feels a sense of a hope, a beacon glowing in the grim reality of post-disaster Japan.
The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani, New Directions, 2018
Reviewed by Ben Saff, Responsive Layout Designer
If you have ever walked into a house of mirrors, you may remember the uncomfortable feeling of seeing your reflection staring back at you. Your forehead is ten times its normal size, your nose is reduced to a pin point, and your limbs appear like wavy ribbons upon the curving surface of the mirrors. What’s disturbing about the reflection is that it still kind of looks like you—it’s a believable image. In The Emissary (originally published as Kentōshi (献灯使)), Yoko Tawada conjures this exact effect, presenting an image of her native country of Japan that is nightmarish, surreal, and just a little too possible for comfort.
Our collective choices—however inconvenient at the time, or insignificant they may seem later—can mean the world to others in real, lasting terms.
It was during the summer of 2015, as I was doing research at the National Library in Singapore, that a small sheaf of papers fell—quite literally—into my lap. Covered in dense 1970s newsprint, I was about to place it back on the shelf when some handwritten Vietnamese at the top of a page caught my eye.
Trại tỵ nạn Hawkins: kiểu mẫu của sự hòa hợp, it read, accompanied by a translation: “The Hawkins Road Refugee Camp: A model of harmony.” I was intrigued. I had heard, of course, that “boat people” had arrived in Singapore after Vietnam’s reunification and subsequent invasion of Cambodia. I had heard, too, that most were turned away by the Singapore Navy after being provided with fuel and water, in a controversial exercise that came to be known as Operation Thunderstorm.
What to do with these hands and these orphan caresses
This week we are proud to feature three poems by the Angolan-French poet Landa wo, in which he blends enquiries into human nature with nature itself, and transforms the silence and stillness of the world into the qualities of song. We hope you enjoy it, and don’t miss next week’s Translation Tuesday!
Let words burn
While saying the truth
For I, the poet,
I would not keep her on a leash.
This work remains both a feminine artifact and a testimony of a uniquely female experience.
Trifonia Melibea Obono’s La Bastarda, translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel, takes place in the author’s native Equatorial Guinea, a relatively small country on the west coast of Africa that celebrates fifty years of independence from Spain this year. La Bastarda, the first novel by a female author from Equatorial Guinea translated to English, is a deceivingly simple story of a young girl, Okomo, who grows up in the country and defines her identity in the absence of a living mother and with a father who does not claim her. Told from the perspective of Okomo, the reader begins to understand the disjointed and complicated definition of family. She is raised by her grandmother, who is the first wife of Okomo’s polygamous grandfather, is told that her mother died in childbirth due to witchcraft, and that the father she has never met is a “scoundrel.” The novel depicts Okomo’s struggle with and escape from the confines of social convention in a story that teaches the often seemingly simple, yet difficult path to individual freedom. In addition, the work can be read as an allegory for the young nation separating from its colonial “parent” Spain, and Equatorial Guinea’s existential place as an orphan—culturally and geographically separated from Spain, Latin America, and Africa, and often ignored by an array of academic fields and global politics. In La Bastarda, we read Okomo’s coming-of-age story while also acquiring a great deal of understanding about the particularities of Spanish-speaking Africa.
Explicitly about overcoming traditional roles concerning gender and sexuality, La Bastarda makes a significant contribution to queer literary culture. The novel opens as Okomo’s grandfather, Osá, scolds her for persistently wishing to seek out her father and orders her to cut his toenails, a task that, according to her, “had hardened into my personal burden” (2). Through the metaphor of her grandfather’s toenails, Okomo reveals to the reader the gender hierarchy in her family, which belongs to the largest ethnic group in mainland Equatorial Guinea, the Fang people. These gendered roles continue as her grandfather explains that in Fang tradition your mother’s brother should take over the role as father in the absence of the biological one. However, Okomo’s uncle, Marcelo, is dubbed a “man-woman” because he will not impregnate another woman and is rumored to have intimate relations with other men. While Okomo is the story’s protagonist and narrator, Marcelo is also the target of homophobia, revealing how the traditional gender roles as well as normative expectations regarding sexuality in the novel affect both men and women. Okomo’s grandmother, complicit in the perpetuation of patriarchal tradition and female subjugation, constantly berates her for not already having found a male suitor because, according to tradition, a young girl’s most important goal is to catch a husband and start a family. Her grandmother always warns, “I don’t want you to make the same mistake as your mother. She never learned a woman’s place in Fang tradition. She lived much too freely” (4). In these first few pages, Okomo summons the reader into a suffocating patriarchal and heteronormative Fang community.
Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to five different countries.
Woah! It has apparently been a busy week in world literature. Today we bring you news from not just one, not two, but five different countries: Iran, Morocco, Spain, Argentina, and France.
Poupeh Missaghi, Editor at Large, reporting from Iran:
The 31st Tehran International Book Fair was held from May 2nd to May 12th, 2018, in Tehran, Iran.
In this year’s fair, a much-awaited novel by Iran’s foremost novelist, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, was finally offered to readers. طریق بسمل شدن , a novel about the Iran-Iraq war, had been awaiting a publication permit from the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for ten years. The book has, however, already been offered to English readers, under the title Thirst, translated by Martin E. Weir and published by Melville House in 2014. (You can read a review of Thirst here.) (You can also read a piece by Dowlatabadi in Asymptote’s special feature on the Muslim ban here.)
How is it possible to draw clear boundaries between revisions motivated by stylistic concern, rather than by ideological repositioning?
There is an old Italian adage about translation that goes like this: traduttore traditore—“the translator’s a traitor.” The two words make for an easy pun whose catchiness baits the translation pundit to subtler allusions: because tradurre and tradire share similar etymologies that are built around the prefix trans (across) and the Latin verbs ducere (to lead) and dare (to deliver), the translator as “one who brings something across” is indeed, to some figurative extent, a traitor. The adage cautions the reader against the invisible power that the translator exerts over the text, though it does so by relying on an image—that of translation as a sort of mechanical delivery—which, as most translators know well, simply does not hold up in practice. Still, the image of translation as metaphorical betrayal retains a grain of truth, in that the practice of translation relies upon an interplay of allegiances—to the text, the language, the author, and the reader—that are necessarily fluid and require ongoing negotiation.
Alicia Kopf is what some people call a writer’s writer, which is to say a reader.
What do artistic creation and polar explorations have in common? Is translating from Catalan more daunting than translating from Spanish? If a joke isn’t funny in the original text, should it remain unfunny in the translation? In the fifth instalment of our Asymptote Book Club interview series, Mara Faye Lethem gives Georgia Nasseh her answers to those questions, and many more…
Georgia Nasseh (GN): You translate from both Catalan and Spanish. What are some of the differences you encounter when you translate from Catalan rather than Spanish, or vice versa?
Mara Faye Lethem (MFL): I could answer that in a lot of different ways. But let’s see: Spanish has a vastly wider range of regional variations, and much better Internet forums. Catalan writers feel a special closeness to their language and are very grateful when foreigners learn it well. They are very generous about answering questions, so translating Catalan novels has changed the way I work with all novels—made the process more interactive, more collaborative.
We stand under the surveillance / cameras with a starved look, but will not eat.
Jelenkor is one of the most prestigious literary journals in Hungary. As often happens with small languages, literary prestige does not quite translate to a very wide reach: apart from the print version, Jelenkor‘s poems and short stories are read by a few hundred people at best. As the end of 2017 was approaching, journalist Péter Urfi set out to find the closest Hungarian equivalent to the success of “Cat Person,” Kristen Roupenian’s short story that took the internet by surprise. To Urfi’s astonishment, the winner was not only a poem instead of prose, it was not written by a writer with a significant online presence. It was Zsuzsa Takács’s “Provided we have a soul,” published in Jelenkor. More than 70,000 people read the poem and over 1,200 liked it without any significant publicity effort. The humanism, measured dignity, and accuracy of the poem might account for some of this popularity. It also speaks of the frustration many feel at the gradual, relentless dismantling of democratic institutions in the country, at once experiencing it and able to adopt the slight condescension of the token catastrophe tourist. Ultimately it is not incredibly important to pin down the reasons, as resonance is an elusive matter. The sheer power of the poem shall speak for itself.
Provided we have a soul
He’s not known to have one shape. That’s the rub.
Can we trust the one who keeps constantly changing
his appearance—Blind Hope? Now a beggar
on the corner, now a young woman, the servant who
follows her masters to Auschwitz, the Danube
Delta, Vorkuta, serving them even there: digging
up with her bare nails the roots from under
the snow, or scavenging in the dumpsters
for them. A decrepit old man telling stories to keep
our body and soul together, provided we have
a soul, and are not copulating animals only.
Every language has its cadavers, and it must come to terms with it—be it through art, politics or any other medium.
Cadavers, by Néstor Perlongher, translated from the Spanish by Roberto Echavarren and Donald Wellman, Cardboard House Press
“In the nets of fishermen
In the tumbling of crayfish
In she whose hair is nipped
by a small loose hairclip
There Are cadavers.”
0. Cadavers is the best-known poem by Argentinian Néstor Perlongher and it is one of the representative works of a Latin American postmodern poetry movement dubbed neobarroco, Neo-Baroque. José Kozer, a Cuban poet, describes neobarroco as: “The second line [of Latin American poetry; the first one is a thin, familiar line], meaning the thick line, I associate with international poetry, a stronger convergance and diversity, indeed more opaque, but, in spite of its thickness, more encompassing. This international poetry includes aspects of twentieth Century [North] American poetry, as well as a basic source rooted in the Spanish Golden Age Baroque, Góngora, and Quevedo above all.” Poetry that is written with a thick line demands texts about it to be thick-lined as well. The following text is my attempt at complicating the all-too-familiar form of the book review. There Are Cadavers.
Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tunisia.
It is literary prize season and recent news that the Nobel Prize for Literature will not be awarded this year along with growing excitement for forthcoming award announcements have kept the literary community on our toes! This week we bring you the latest news from the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tunisia. Enjoy!
Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-large, reporting from the Czech Republic:
April 4 saw the announcement of the winners of the most celebrated Czech literary prize, the Magnesia Litera. For the first time in four years the title “book of the year” went not to a work of fiction but to an analysis of contemporary Czech politics against the backdrop of recent history, Opuštěná společnost (The Abandoned Society) by journalist Erik Tabery. The fiction prize was awarded to Jaroslav Pánek for his novel Láska v době globálních klimatických změn (Love in the Time of Global Climate Change), the story of a scientist forced to confront his own prejudices while attending a conference in Bangalore.
My book seeks to understand how women manage to become musicians in Morocco.
Rita Stirn is a translator, author, and musician who lives in Rabat, Morocco. Her book, Les musiciennes du Maroc: Portraits choisis (Morocco’s Women in Music: Selected Portraits) was published by Marsam in late 2017. Asymptote’s Editor-at-large Hodna Nuernberg spoke with Stirn about her new publication, Moroccan music, and language politics in the region.
Hodna Nuernberg (HN): How did you decide to write a book on Morocco’s women musicians? And how did being a woman musician yourself shape your approach to researching and writing the book?
Rita Stirn (RS): I’ve always been interested in the silences of history concerning women in art and music. When I started listening to the blues as a teenager, I realized music was a man’s world. Sure, there were plenty of female singers, but very few instrumentalists; I wanted to learn about hidden talents—the women in music who weren’t getting much recognition.
I came to Morocco in 2011. I paid a lot of attention to what was going on here musically. Whenever there was a celebration out on the streets—a marriage, for example—there were inevitably women playing music. So, I’d talk to them. They’d say, “Yeah, sure, people know us,” but none of them were online anywhere. They got all their gigs by word of mouth, and little by little, I began to find out about more and more women musicians.
Around the same time, I was looking though archives for photographs of women in music. All the images were of men. There was no focus whatsoever on women’s talents or the tradition of women instrumentalists, and that’s when the book project started to take shape in my head.
What is our literary powerhouse of a crew up to this May? Read on to find out!
We have such an amazing group of creative people over here at Asymptote. Check out some of our recent news and stay tuned for more of the international literature you love!
From May 1 – 5, Romania and Moldova Editor-at-Large Chris Tanasescu aka MARGENTO organized DHSITE, a bilingual event introducing new computing technologies and their uses in education and research, at the University of Ottawa. Later this month, he will present a paper at the Kanada Koncrete poetry conference in the same school.
Both Assistant Editor Lizzie Buehler and Blog Editor David Smith have accepted offers to attend the University of Iowa’s Literary Translation MFA this coming fall. David also wrote a review of an early Jon Fosse novel, Boathouse, for Reading in Translation.
Indonesia Editor-at-Large Norman Erikson Pasaribu spoke with Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan about his conception of horror, the diversity of Indonesian literature, and the rebirth of the New Order in Mekong Review.
Assistant Managing Editor Sam Carter published an essay at Music & Literature on Jorge Barón Biza’s The Desert and Its Seed.
Blog Editor Sarah Booker‘s translation of Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Iliac Crest (Feminist Press and And Other Stories) was included on the long list for the Best Translated Book Award.
Singapore Editor-at-Large Theophilus Kwek contributed work to Carcanet Press’s latest New Poetries anthology. He also published a piece in The Straits Times comparing citizenship opportunities in the UK (where he was able to vote in the European Union referendum as a Commonwealth citizen) and Singapore.
For more news from the Asymptote blog: