Monthly Archives: May 2014

Weekly Roundup, 31st May 2014: Franz Kafka Prize, Amazon’s mean, Schadenfreude in America

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Translation-happy readers often consider self-publishing, and its funny half-brother, digital publishing, the saviors of independent literature, but not all would agree. At The Guardian, Alan Skinner muses if the so-called “revolution” is a reactionary phenomenon, after all.

In terms of changing reading habits, there’s no bigger word than Amazon. The Seattle behemoth sure gets a lot of (well-deserved) flack in the lit world, and this week reminded us why. Literary nonprofits grapple with the ethics of accepting financial support from the business giant, and publisher Hachette stands to lose in its anti-Amazon scuffle—here’s a close reading of Amazon’s anti-publisher statement.  Meanwhile, decidedly non-indie bestselling author James Patterson donates a hefty sum to independent bookstores all across the United States. READ MORE…

In Review: “A Man: Klaus Klump” by Gonçalo Tavares

"Klaus’s head was now fascinated by the sound, the nearly stupid, nearly History-less sound of bullets and bombs."

Gonçalo M. Tavares’s A Man: Klaus Klump may be the final installment of the author’s “Kingdom” cycle to be translated into English, but newcomers to Tavares’s work (I’m among them) shouldn’t shy away: Klaus Klump was the first work Tavares published in the series. And even better for us newcomers, intrigued by the author’s “Brief Notes on Science” that appeared in Asymptote’s April issue, is the fact that Klaus Klump works on the same aphoristic, probing level as his “Notes.”

Except this time there are characters. Or something resembling them.

The author, Gonçalo Tavares, is a Portuguese writer born in 1970 whose work Jerusalem (the third in the “Kingdom” cycle) won the 2005 José Saramago Prize, awarded for a Portuguese-language literary work written by a young author. But before Jerusalem, there was Klaus Klump, with a book blurb that reports it as “a harrowing portrait of a man without values, making his way through a world almost as immoral,” which is about as vague as it gets. Actually, the novel’s unmentioned plot is fascinating, especially in today’s doorstop-book-saturated literary landscape.


Spring with Asymptote: New books, essays, poems, and more!

May's contributor news roundup ends the month right

This Memorial Day weekend, Alex Cigale saw two of his poems on Americana published in Amherst College’s The Common. His translations of Buryat Russian poet Amarsana Ulzytuev are in the “Eco Literature” feature in the current World Literature Today (May 2014), and his in-depth interview with poet-translator Phil Metres appears in The Conversant.

Do you know what it’s like / when a ghost licks your intestines / Do you know what it’s like / when a rat devours your brain—thus ponders Daniel Borzutzky in his disquieting recent poem, “Dream Song #17.” Read it today at the Poetry Foundation; you won’t regret it.

Asymptote interviewee David Mitchell’s most recent novel, The Bone Clocks, is forthcoming in September from Random House, and reviewers are already abuzz. “Is The Bone Clocks the most ambitious novel ever written, or just the most Mitchell-esque?” Publisher’s Weekly wonders. From the plot summary that follows, could it be… both?


Translation Tuesday: “The Port” by Llucia Ramis Laloux

Flies, crashes, and playing house: growing up is a disturbing process in Llucia Ramis's new Catalan-language story


I remember a hedgehog devoured by ants; we found it near the house and wanted to feed it milk from the tetra-brik carton. It was dead by morning. I remember my brother wanted to taste an ant because the Chinese eat them, so he put it in his mouth while it was still alive and spit it out because it stung. I remember my cousin pulled out a dock tire at the pier and that a crab jumped out, she got scared and let go and it crushed the crab, it pushed the guts right out through its mouth, sprtz. Afterward we hurled the body into the water and it floated. I remember the time I picked up a log and pinched a lizard hiding underneath; I could swear it cried out. We spent some time observing that detached tail, my cousin, brother, and I.

I don’t come here often and these memories have nothing to do with nostalgia.


Publisher Profile: Will Evans of Deep Vellum

“Translation needs to be brought out of the ghetto that it’s in… we talk about translation as if it is separate from literature”

The contagiously enthusiastic Will Evans views literature as an international art form. His passion for world literature was the inspiration behind his brand new publishing venture, Deep Vellum, based in Dallas, Texas. Dedicated to quality literature in translation, Deep Vellum’s first titles are slated for release later this year.

Book Expo America attendees (or anyone else in NYC this week!) can check out Deep Vellum at the Translation Happy Hour Event Wednesday, May 28th, co-sponsored by Asymptote in celebration of the BEA’s Translation Market Focus.

Frances Riddle: What gap in the publishing landscape does Deep Vellum aim to fill?

Will Evans: I started Deep Vellum with a threefold mission to fill in the pieces that I feel are lacking in the literary landscape. Deep Vellum is going to publish translations of literature from every language and an unspoken part of that is I want to publish a lot of Mexican and Latin American literature. Based in Texas, we have strong ties to our neighbors south of the border.

I’m committed to publishing equal numbers of men and women authors. I’m very committed to publishing a diversity of authors from different styles, different viewpoints, different lifestyles, cultural backgrounds. The second part of Deep Vellum’s mission is to promote the art of translation, the more creative writing side of literary translation. And the third part of my mission is to promote literature as a part of the larger arts community in our country. If you look at the funding for the arts in America, literature is not considered the arts. So we need to get literature included in a discussion of the arts and the vital role that the literary community can play in this country.


Weekly News Roundup, 23rd May 2014: Good news for translation, breaking off mid-sentence

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Hard to believe we’re approaching the end of May—only a month until summer’s official starting date. Still, spring is springing: read Karl Ove Knausgaard’s greatest sign of spring. And while we’re on the topic of the Norwegian sensation: some love him. Others just don’t get the hypeREAD MORE…

Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime IV and V

What do mites have to do with seduction? And how do you change the color of a tree's fruit? Sam Gordon translates "Mimes"!

Read all the posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here

Mime IV. Lodging 

Inn—replete with mites—this bitten, bloodied poet salutes you. This is not to thank you for the night’s shelter alongside a dark track, the mud of which recalls the way to Hades; but for your broken pallets, your smoking lamps. Your oil festers and your galette moulders, and since last autumn there have been little white worms among the shells of your walnuts. But the poet is grateful to the pig merchants who came from Megara to Athens, whose hiccuping stopped him from sleeping (inn, your walls are thin), and gives thanks too to your mites, which kept him awake by gnawing the length of his body, skittering across his cot in throngs.


In Review: Amos Oz’s “Between Friends”

"What Oz does to his readers is what the kibbutz does to his characters: it pulls them in and keeps them close"

I have two confessions to make.

The first is that I’ve never read Amos Oz before. For an Israeli, this is quite shameful. I’m not sure why or how it happened, but somehow, even though everyone I know has read at least some of his work, I’ve managed to miss out on his books. I’ve never had anything against him or any reason to avoid him. I’ve only ever heard brilliant things about him. So how did this happen? Maybe because there was always some other required reading for most of my high school and college years. Maybe because at some point I’d accumulated more books than I could keep up with and had no room for a new author in my life. After a while, I just accepted this shortcoming.

The second confession is that the idea of life on a kibbutz never appealed to me. Though I’ve always considered myself a socialist, or at least prone to socialism, I seemed to have skipped the naïve fascination kibbutz life holds for young Israelis, and headed straight towards cynicism and cringing. I’ve been exposed mostly to art that portrays kibbutz childhoods as traumatic—having to sleep separately from your parents, everyone knowing the details of your life, having not one thing which is entirely your own. Things didn’t look too good for adults, either: conformity was valued and independent thought discouraged. The good of the place, of the community as a concept, was held in higher regard than the well-being of the individuals that made up that community. All of these were elements I felt lucky to have avoided. I’m writing in past tense because this classic idea of a kibbutz is a fading one.


Translation Tuesday: from SOFIA ALWAYS DRESSES IN BLACK by Paolo Cognetti

Detergent plus fabric softener plus ironing and starch: a providential sedative that helped her to stop her sobbing in no more than thirty seconds.


The little girl had taken all the postcards to bed with her. She called them the collection. They were scattered all over the sheets and wedged between the pillows, where she could line them up, arrange them in columns, switch them around, alphabetize them or put them into chronological order, or distribute them as if they were cities and towns and the mattress was one big map. The big girl, stretched out on the floor at the foot of the bed, had first explained to her that she couldn’t really refer to them as a collection, since they had all been sent by one correspondent, that is, her father, and then she’d done something far worse. With an enormous effort of the will, she’d reached up a hand from the linoleum-level where she lay to the bed-level, and she’d convinced the little girl to hand her the first three, four, or five postcards in the row. The room they were in was dominated by white. The walls were white, the sheets and pillowcases were white, the curtains on the windows were white, the gauze bandages on the little girl’s wrists were white. The big girl had laboriously opened her right eye, like a shipwrecked sailor blinded by that expanse of blinding white pack ice; then she’d checked the stamps and the postmarks and asked the little girl why on earth she thought the postcards had all come from the post office of East Verona, if each of them were marked with a different city: Amsterdam, Aosta, Athens, Bangkok, and Berlin. She had even been on the verge of explaining to the little girl that her father wasn’t an archeologist or an explorer, much less an agent working for the intelligence service, constantly moving around the world. Her father was quite simply just one more husband who had left his wife to start a new life, probably with a younger woman, somewhere in the greater Verona metropolitan area. Then the thought of family, any family at all, had triggered a surge of nausea, so instead all she’d said was: “Oh what the fuck do I care; as far as I’m concerned you can all just drop dead. I’m mustering my last ounce of strength to keep from vomiting.” READ MORE…

This is also a Center-Point

"Her presence, her voice and her body language when communicating, was the key I had been missing."

I confess: I thought the most interesting thing about Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble was the cover. My edition had an old sepia-toned picture of two children—“the [something] sisters.” One has a boy’s haircut, and looks very unhappy. The other stands sweetly beside her. I found it so much more eloquent than the book itself, which seemed to me denser than a loaf of pumpernickel bread, denser than a steel ingot, denser than a white dwarf star. I don’t think I made it through the preface. If I did, it made the same kind of sense to me as reading À la recherche du temps perdu backwards, in French, while drunk. That is to say: the occasional glimmers of understanding felt fabulous, but it was all so ephemeral.

So when Judith Butler, together with fellow feminist theorist Rosi Braidotti on Monday evening in Oslo, met two members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot for a talk about politics, art and feminism, I was not expecting fireworks. Except for Pussy Riot, of course, who spoke through a balaclava and a voice distorter the last time I saw them. This time, they had ditched the disguises and spoke only through a translator. But I’m getting ahead of myself. And ahead of Judith Butler. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 16th May 2014: Robot libraries, Quotable cups

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Beware, multilingual pedagogues: your job may be outsourced soon—to a robot. Robots are now check-out-able at the Chicago Public Library—be sure to pick one up alongside your non-electronic devices. (Perhaps you can check out the world’s smallest comic strip, etched on a piece of human hair, one day). Interesting timing on this one, in light of the (totally obvious) discovery that active, engaged learning consistently beats passive learning methods. READ MORE…

Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime II and III

A man masquerading as a woman to sell eels – children begging with a wooden bird – Blaine Harper takes up Asymptote's "Mimes" project!

Read all the posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here

Mime II. The False Merchant

A. I will have you beaten, yes—beaten with sticks. Your skin will be covered with spots like a nursemaid’s tunic. —Slaves, bring her over; strike her stomach first; flip her over like a flounder and strike her back. Listen to her; do you hear the sounds of her tongue? —Will you not cease, ill-fated woman?

B. And what have I done, to be brought to the sycophants?

A. Here we have a cat who has stolen nothing, then; she wants to digest at her leisure and rest comfortably. —Slaves, take these fish away in your baskets. —Why were you selling lampreys, when the magistrates have prohibited it?

B. I was unaware of that ordinance.

A. Did the town crier not announce it loudly in the marketplace, commanding: “Silence”?

B. I did not hear the “silence.”

A. You mock the orders of the city, strumpet! —This woman aspires to tyranny. Strip her, that I may see if she is a Peisistratid-in-hiding. —Aha! You were female not long ago. Now look, now look! This is a new sort of marketwoman! Did the fish prefer you that way, or rather the customers? —Leave this young man stark naked: the heliasts will decide if he will be punished for selling prohibited fish in the stalls, disguised as a woman.


Exposing Kafka’s Hustler

Translating a story out of the closet

It’s a truism to say that translators are an author’s closest readers. They read so closely that they find patterns hidden underneath the text in a manner akin only to psychoanalysis—perhaps more adeptly than a critic or an academic. Coupled with a need to study up on translation craft, this attractive prospect spurred me to sign up for “Kafka in Translation,” a course offered by The Reader and taught by translator Bill Martin in the back of St. George’s bookstore in Berlin.

In our first class, we looked around the folding table curiously as enthusiasts and translators at various professional stages introduced themselves. Some were lucky-ass native speakers, others relative newcomers to the German language, but all of us shared an attraction to the Kafkaesque. Going around the group to share our thoughts, it was strange to be thrown back into a student state so many years after graduating, and I annoyingly immediately found myself in wise-ass mode, ceaselessly sub-clausing and cracking gay jokes. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “We, Who Are Different” by Veselin Marković

"If the world had truly wanted to send me a sign, then a gale would have ripped off our roof and smashed all the windows. "


I thought it was a sign.

All one summer, every clear evening, I stepped out of the house. Before that I’d watch the sky from the living room: when the light filled and swelled the window frames and the undulating shadows of the curtains had climbed from floor to wall, the sun was down low enough. I would throw my jacket over my shoulders because my mother was strict about me going out in the evening without a jacket on and I’d slip out of the house. The front door is hinged on the wrong side—the wrong side, at least, for me—so I wouldn’t catch sight immediately of what it was I longed to see. In the front yard I’d be greeted by dusk and chill air. The dark was already conquering the hedge and the depths of two young pine trees, growing by the front gate. Mountain peaks—under snow for months and now bare and intersected by a thin mist stretching out in waves—and there above them, the moon barely visible. The farther they are from me, the deeper the bluish tinge of the mountains, and the sky, in contrast, gradually pales, giving me the impression that the earth and sky merge just short of the horizon.