Translation Tuesday: An Extract from “To The Border” by Ondřej Štindl

Remembering the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, exactly 50 years ago to this date

50 years ago on 21 August 1968, the armies of five Warsaw Pact countries marched into Czechoslovakia, crushing the short-lived experiment with democratic socialism known as the Prague Spring. This brutal clampdown marked the beginning of “normalization”: within months of the invasion, before the borders were sealed, thousands of people fled the country. Tens of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who refused to pledge allegiance to the new regime and declare their support for the Soviet-led “fraternal assistance” lost their jobs. Free expression was stifled, scores of writers, film and theatre directors, artists, musicians and other artists were banned from publishing or performing. Some, like Milan Kundera or Miloš Forman, were driven into exile, while of those who stayed, dozens were imprisoned, and their children punished for their parents’ “sins.” (My own parents were among those silenced and later jailed, while I was barred from access to higher education). Playwright Václav Havel, who would spend years in prison for his outspoken opposition to the new regime before becoming the country’s first post-communist President following the 1989 Velvet Revolution, articulated the devastating impact of normalization on the people of Czechoslovakia in an open letter addressed to Communist Party Secretary-General Gustáv Husák in 1975:

“Despair leads to apathy, apathy to conformity, conformity to routine performance—which is then cited as evidence of ‘mass political involvement’. All this goes to make up the contemporary concept of ‘normal’ behaviour—a concept which is, in essence, deeply pessimistic…  Order has been established. At the price of a paralysis of the spirit, a deadening of the heart and devastation of life. Surface ‘consolidation’ has been achieved. At the price of a spiritual and moral crisis in society?”

Lest we forget the hard-fought lessons of history that still hold great relevance today, let’s remind ourselves of them again and again through great works of literature, such as this vivid description of a political awakening in the aftermath of this invasion, in Ondřej Štindl’s novel translated for the first time into English by Tereza and Mike Baugh for Asymptote.

—Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large for Slovakia

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Of Conscience and Blood: Independence Days in Southeast Asia

"I ask those who think about society, who love life...to become a bit more zealous"

This August and September, we celebrate the independence days of several countries in Southeast Asia, including Singapore (9 August), Indonesia (17 August) and Vietnam (2 September). In today’s blog post, Asymptote travels to Southeast Asia to reflect on writing from the past. Having gained independence from Great Britain, Holland and France, the literatures of these countries often address complex post-colonial histories and the multilingual environs of post-independence life. We asked Asymptote Editors-At-Large Theo, Norman, and Khai, to tell us more about a local writer worth knowing more about, in celebration of national freedom and identity.

Few remember the scene, but for two weeks in November 1960, passers-by on Singapore’s busy Stamford Road stopped to cheer on forty librarians as they formed a human chain to transfer 150,000 books – then the entire national collection – from the dusty shelves of the old colonial museum to a new, purpose-built National Library. Singapore had just achieved self-government, and amid rapid political change, the city was in the mood for new beginnings. Behind this audacious plan was Hedwig Anuar: writer, activist, war survivor, and the first Singaporean Director of the National Library.

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Asymptote Podcast: Cultivating Multilingual Spaces

What does it take to create a multilingual space? Layla Benitez-James explores this question with a dispatch from Alicante, Spain.

In honor of Asymptote‘s Summer 2018 edition, which marks our milestone 30th issue and includes a dazzling Multilingual Writing Feature, Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James explores what it takes to create multilingual spaces by taking a visit to the IV Encuentro Internacional de Artistas de la Kasbah in Alicante, Spain. This festival, now in its fourth year, brings together over twenty artists from around the world in an effort to foster greater cultural exchange and artistic friendship. There, she chats with Colombian artist Manuel Antonio Velandia Mora about his work, as well as founders Nourdine Tabbai and Natalia Molinos about the event’s origins. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news roundup brings us to Iran and Singapore.

As summer draws to a close and many of us think about quickly approaching semesters, we bring you another round of updates from around the world. Poupeh Missaghi reports from Iran, looking at how sanctions imposed on Iran have affected the publishing industry, and paying homage to a much-loved bookseller in Tehran. Bringing us the latest from Singapore, Theophilus Kwek discusses the recently announced Singapore Literature Prize as well as recent poetry publications. Happy traveling-via-laptop!

Poupeh Missaghi, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Iran:

The recent U.S. breach of the Iran nuclear deal and its new round of sanctions imposed on the country have not spared the Iranian publishing industry and its print media. Rising economic instability and a sudden drop in the value of the Iranian currency, along with other issues such as hoarding of paper supplies have led to many problems in the industry. The Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Abbas Salehi, recently spoke about the matter and the attempts to stabilize the price of paper. Head of the Iranian paper syndicate, Abolfazl Roghani Golpaygani, also recently discussed a 100% increase in the price of paper in the past year which has caused newspapers and thus journalists concerns about the future of the trade. Consequently, the Iranian Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Trade just agreed with the urgent import of several tons of paper under special tariffs, but it is uncertain that this will provide a long-term solution for the problems of the industry.

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Summer Ennui: Sun-Soaked Writing from Around the World

Our antidote to the summer beach read listicles.

In May, we welcome summer with long reading lists, ambitious writing projects, and travel plans. But as the temperatures rise, books get abandoned, and drafts get lost. Slowly we leave ourselves to mid-day slumbers, timeless symphonies of cicadas, and a yearning for the early evening breeze. Summer ennui establishes itself around this time, and makes us wonder, when is this heat and everything about it going to end? Our blog editors Sarah Booker, Chloe Lim, and Ilker Hepkaner are joined by our guest contributor William Booker as they introduce their favorite writing about summer’s idleness and slowness.

Manuel Puig (1932-1990) was an Argentine writer best known for his novel Beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman, translated from the Spanish by Thomas Colchie) in which he showcases his ability to develop a complex narrative through conversation and his passion for film. Dwindling tropical evenings—sticky, never-ending, and buzzing with life and memories—are the setting in Puig’s final novel, Cae la noche tropica (Tropical Night Falling, translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine), for the conversations held between two sisters in the twilight of their lives. Indeed, the novel begins with a recognition of the melancholic nature of this particular moment: “There’s such a sad feeling at this time of day, I wonder why?”

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In Ismail Kadare’s Shadow: Searching for More in Albanian Literature

There is beauty in this multilingual cohort of writers and the way they break linguistic boundaries to tell their stories and talk about identity.

In the past seven months I have written five dispatches covering Albanian literary news for Asymptote. Only one of these dispatches does not mention Ismail Kadare. It feels impossible to avoid him. Kadare is the only Albanian author speculated as a potential winner for the Nobel in Literature (when the Nobel still meant honour and prestige). He has been recognised with a medal by the French Legion of Honour and won Spain’s Princess of Asturias Award for Literature. Kadare is also one of the few Albanian authors to be published in Asymptote. While other Albanian writers struggle to find translators, two different titles by Kadare were published in English this year alone: A Girl in Exile (translated by John Hodgson) and Essays in World Literature (translated by Ani Kokobobo).

It would perhaps be improper to complain of Kadare’s success and his place in world literature.  He has contributed immensely to the field, writing novels that portray Albanian history from Medieval times to the present, while also producing essays and studies in the field of Albanology. Not to mention the recognition he has brought to Albania abroad, where for many to speak of Albania is inherently to speak of Kadare. But Kadare’s success is unique in Albanian literary history. And with its singularity come certain dangers and drawbacks, common to all national cultures that are represented through the often-homogenous lens of a single figure.

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Translation Tuesday: “Keeping Elephants Warm” by Dieuwke van Turenhout

She’s in northern India. Keeping elephants warm.

This week we are thrilled to celebrate women in translation by bringing you a heartbreaking story from Dutch writer Dieuwke van Turenhout. Beautifully translated by Michele Hutchison, this story makes use of the cycling tradition of the Netherlands to delve into one woman’s experience of loss. 

Now autumn has shown its face, I bike to the shops every day. I’ve stopped keeping my bike at the back of the bike shed; it’s at the front of the garage now. I avoid the asphalt road and when I cross the ring road it’s as though I’m seeing my old self through the windscreens of the waiting cars. I dress for the autumn chill and each time I put on my coat I think about you, and about elephants. (You can’t really call it chilly, objectively speaking. The weatherman, the one you despise, with the bent back and the stupidly hip suits, keeps smiling and calling it wonderful weather, but what does he know? I shiver and even wear your scarf indoors sometimes.).

Tuesday was the first time there was a bit of rain, ‘real’ autumn. The oak trees and beeches along the canal shook their heads scornfully and punished me for going out by collecting big droplets and swishing them at the lenses of my glasses.

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Choose Silence or Dream: Alejandra Pizarnik’s The Galloping Hour in Review

Looking for your next woman in translation to read? Look no further!

The Galloping Hour: French Poems by Alejandra Pizarnik, Translated from the French by Patricio Ferrari and Forrest Gander, New Directions, 2018

Have you ever been thrown into the deep end of a pool or overcome by a rogue wave, unable to get your bearings and reach the surface for air?

Unpublished during the poet’s lifetime, Alejandra’s Pizarnik’s The Galloping Hour: French Poems (New Directions), translated from the French by Patricio Ferrari (who has also translated the collection into Spanish) and Forrest Gander, tips the reader headfirst into an engulfing, bottomless sea of emotions.

Born in Argentina to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Alejandra grew up ridden with complexes: as a young girl she suffered from acne and was overweight; her European accent in her mother tongue of Spanish made her feel like an outsider wherever she went, and she was plagued by jealousy of her older sister. Although she never openly identified as gay and had difficulty expressing her Jewish identity and her sexuality, she was known to have several female love interests.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news roundup brings us to Vietnam and El Salvador.

This week, the Asymptote team fills us in on updates from around the world, featuring literary prizes awarded in both Vietnam and El Salvador. Speaking of prizes… if you are a translator, why not submit to Close Approximations, Asymptote’s annual translation contest! A year’s subscription to the Asymptote Book Club as well as cash prizes and inclusion in the Winter 2019 issue are all up for grabs, so get writing! 

Khai Q. Nguyen, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Vietnam:

In the second half of July, Nguyen Ngoc Tu, one the most prominent living female Vietnamese writers, was awarded a 3,000 euro prize by Litprom (the Society for the Promotion of African, Asian, and Latin American Literature founded in Frankfurt in 1980) for her widely acclaimed collection of short stories Endlose Felder (The Endless Field), translated into German by Gunter Giesenfeld and Marianne Ngo. Nominees include other notable female writers from around the world: Nona Fernandez (Chile, featured in our Summer 2014 and Winter 2017 issues), Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Israel, featured in our Summer 2018 issue), Han Kang (South Korea, Man Booker International prize laureate for The Vegetarian, translated by Deborah Smith), Ae-ran Kim (South Korea), Shenaz Patel (Mauritius), Shumona Sinha (India/France), Kim Thuy (Canada, of Vietnamese origin).

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What’s New in Translation: August 2018

Find respite from the heat with these new reads.

From Icelandic landscapes to art history, August brings with it an exciting new selection of books. Whether you’re looking for a book to pass the hot summer days, or are in the market for inspired poetry, the Asymptote team has something for you in this new edition of What’s New in Translation. And if that’s not enough, head over to the Asymptote Book Club for fresh reads, delivered to your doorstep every month!

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Öræfi: The Wastelands by Ófeigur Sigurðsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith, Deep Vellum, 2018

Reviewed by Jacob Silkstone, Assistant Managing Editor

One of the many epic stories retold in Ófeigur Sigurðsson’s Öræfi: The Wastelands (“that punctuation mark… both pushes words (and worlds) away from one another and means they’re roped together,” according to translator Lytton Smith) is the story of Öræfi itself. Formerly known as Hérað, the Province, a place in which “butter drips from every blade of grass,” it was devastated by the most destructive volcanic eruption in Iceland’s recorded history:

The chronicles record that one morning in 1362 Knappafjells glacier exploded and spewed over the Lómagnúpur sands and carried everything off into the sea, thirty fathoms deep… The Province was destroyed, all its people and creatures annihilated; no sheep or cattle survived, no creatures left alive anywhere… the corpses of people and animals washed up on beaches far and wide… the bodies were cooked and tender and the flesh so loose on the bones it fell apart.

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In Conversation: Adam Morris

History is not entirely objective; it is what posterity makes of conflicting memories.

“Talk… speak… voice”: each word appears dozens of times in I Didn’t Talk, our July Asymptote Book Club selection. Beatriz Bracher’s novel blends together a chorus of voices, orchestrated by retiring professor Gustavo, to explore one of the darkest periods of Brazil’s history.

In conversation with Asymptote’s Jacob Silkstone, translator Adam Morris outlines how the novel came to be translated into English, why it resonates with a contemporary audience, and why the central question of whether or not Gustavo talked is perhaps best left unanswered.

Jacob Silkstone (JS): What led to you translating I Didn’t Talk? It’s the first of Beatriz Bracher’s four full-length novels to appear in English: do you have a sense of how it compares to Bracher’s other work?

Adam Morris (AM): I proposed I Didn’t Talk for Bracher’s English debut because its thematic concerns, although universal, seemed to possess fresh urgency in the context of ongoing political upheaval in Brazil. Censorship and various forms of state repression have re-emerged, and so has openly expressed nostalgia for a law-and-order society like the one the dictatorships professed to uphold. The crisis of democracy in Brazil is so severe that occasional murmurs of a return to military rule must be taken as a serious threat.

Of course, in the time since I first proposed the translation in 2016, authoritarianism has been on the march all across the world. I did not foresee that happening, but it makes the novel that much more timely—some fourteen years after its publication and nearly half a century since 1970, a pivotal year in Gustavo’s story.

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Translation Tuesdays: Two Stories by Muzzafer Kale

And what on earth could that mean, to only want some water?

After Flavia Teoc took us to ancient Constantionople last week, I’m thrilled to present two microfictions by Turkish writer Muzzafer Kale. Deceptive in their outward simplicity, these perfectly poised stories hinge on the unsaid and work beautifully in English thanks to translator Ralph Hubbell’s precise language.

—Lee Yew Leong, Translation Tuesdays editor

 

Incident

I wasn’t from that mountain village.

What brought me there was work, and by work I mean looking at carpets and kilims. There were plenty of people from the village that I knew.

So we were sitting in the July heat, trying to cool ourselves off in the shade of a walnut tree—me, Ibrahim and Lazy-Eyed Salih.

That Salih, he was a cheerful one. He had a different way of looking at things. Leaping from one topic to the next, he talked of this, that and the other thing while we all laughed it up. These two friends of mine were good shots too. They were wagering who could hit a half-lira piece with a thirty-two caliber from forty meters away…

And then she appeared, with her donkeys, coming off the mountainside path. She’d loaded the animals piecemeal with some sagging goods, which swung all over the place.

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From the Headbanger, the Metalhead, All the Way to the Failed Hip-Hopper: An Interview with Wingston González

For me, poetry is the metadata of life.

If I were to describe Wingston González as a poet, I’d say he’s an unusual poet. Scratch that. To be more precise, the fractured aesthetics, the cadence, the triplets, the vertiginous narrative found in Wingston’s poetry, can only be summoned by the unusual artistic upbringing he had. Born in Livingston, brought up on Garífuna culture, traditional Guatemalan education, classical literature, and hip-hop music, Wingston stands as an undeniably original and musical wordsmith—utterly unique within the tradition of Guatemalan literature.

He is also an entrancing performer and a fascinating poet that keeps changing and augmenting his cultural and intellectual heritage.

Early July, Wingston and I got together at Casa Cervantes in downtown Guatemala City to talk about his creative process. Of course, we effortlessly drifted towards other topics. We ended up talking about music—like we often do—and ignoring the mathematical structure on which language is based. Wingston’s poetry, I might argue, has almost an allergic reaction to the formulaic configuration of Spanish. And it is thanks to that free will and unhindered flow that his verses explode and reach out with utter casualness.  

Wingston argued that as time passes, he is less worried about fulfilling what is expected of him as a poet. The narrative fabric of his poetry is often based on everyday life and he admits he thrives on capturing that everydayness, either through the plot, though mostly through the words.

During the translation process of the Four Poems, featured in Asymptote’s Summer 2018 issue, he repeatedly confessed that while writing them he was concerned people might not understand what he was trying to say.

“I wanted to play with the language, but I was unsure if it made any sense,” he insisted, and months later, in Casa Cervantes, he repeated that line.

The result—and his poetry in general—though intellectual and highly literary, is also tinged with elements of the quotidian plus the type of slang and idiolects found in Livingston, in Guatemala. From references to Garífuna culture, musical narrative, unorthodox rhythmic pattern, ritualistic cadence, inventive spelling, stutters, theatrical delivery, and—as he calls them—a set of useless facts, these Four Poems show many of the poet’s tricks, antics, and cultural inheritance. His unrestrained flow truly showcases the vitality he wants to impregnate in his poetry.

José García Escobar (JGE): Your poems featured in Asymptote’s July issue, I think, are a perfect example of the type of aesthetics you used at the beginning of your career. In them, there is a lot of experimentation, musicality, unusual rhythm and unorthodox narration—things you rarely use now. How has your approach towards poetry changed over the years?

Wingston González (WG): I don’t know if my approach has changed, but the process definitely has. Naturally, when you start writing, you’re not entirely aware of what you’re doing. The act of writing becomes automatic. That happened to me. But right now I’m not as worried as I was in the past with the limitations of language. I’m more concerned with the limitations of human nature. I think that with my poetry I’m getting closer to how I speak every day. That is my intention now, to use everyday language. Even if these poems, the ones featured in Asymptote’s Summer 2018 issue, are pretty experimental, I remember I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to communicate what I was trying to say. I thought, “What am I doing with my ax!” I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to reach the reader. Now I’m not as concerned about this.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news focuses on Latin America.

It was a busy week for literature in Latin America. Festivals, conventions, and prize ceremonies brought writers and translators together, and our team members are soothing our fomo with their reporting. Find the latest news about world literature on the Asymptote blog every Friday!

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil:

The hottest summer I ever saw was the winter I spent in Rio de Janeiro. That is likely what writers and readers say as they flock to the tropical state for major literary festivals this July and August.

Brazil’s most important literary event of the year, the Paraty International Literary Festival (Flip), took place from July 25–29 in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro. The festival organizer, Joselia Aguiar, explains in an interview that this year’s edition focused on interiors—“love, death, desire, God, transcendence.” Aguair also sought to include other artistic genres at the event, inviting guests such as actor Fernanda Montenegro. Also in Paraty and simultaneous to Flip, a group of publishers hosted book releases and even more literary programming in an event called Casa Paratodxs.

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