Monthly Archives: September 2014

Translation Tuesday: “Conference,” by Naja Marie Aidt

From the short-story collection Baboon, translated by Denise Newman

For an exclusive Asymptote blog interview with Naja Marie Aidt, click here.

It’s strange to meet you here, after so many years, and to still feel disturbed just being near your body. The way you’re settled in the chair like a large contented animal, like a large wild cat licking itself in the sun, or an elephant bathing in a river, like a person resting on top of another after pleasurable sex, it has an intimidating and shameless effect on me. My complete attention turns toward you and I’m unable to relax. It’s as if I am overflowing my own banks. READ MORE…

September News from Asymptote’s Editors and Contributors

While editing Asymptote’s upcoming October issue, they’ve translated books, written reviews, and won prizes!

Contributing editor Ellen Elias-Bursać saw her translation of the short story “Marilyn Monroe, My Mother,” by Neda Miranda Blažević-Kreitzman, appear in the Buenos Aires Review. In further exciting translation news: Elias-Bursać’s Translating Evidence and Interpreting Testimony at a War Crimes Tribunal is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan this February. In it, she discusses translation and interpretation at the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague.

Drama editor Caridad Svich has big happenings in October, including readings and productions across the United States (and in London too!). Check out a full schedule of them all here.

Joshua Craze, nonfiction editor, has just finished a residency at the Dar Al Ma’Mûn in Morocco, where he was a UNESCO-Aschberg Artist Laureate in Creative Writing, working on his novel Redacted Mind. Excerpts from another book project, How To Do Things Without Words, are currently on display at the New Museum in New York, as part of its Temporary Center for Translation. He just finished a Ph.D. in socio-cultural anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and has taken a position on the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago.


Weekly News Roundup, 27th September 2014: New Gabo, Journalist Jargon

This week’s literary highlights from across the world

A few months ago, we reported on an American train company’s nostalgia-inspired plan to offer residency for certain writers, after some mused that they found they could boost productivity in transit. The company pulled through: here’s the list of the official Amtrak writers-in-residence. 

Here’s an interesting twist on the lost-language trope we report on all too often at the Roundup. Language heritage advocates at Viki are enlisting the likes of über-addictive Korean soap operas and (somewhat-less-salient) Mel Gibson movies to help preserve endangered languages across the globe. And while translators are often lamented as all-too-invisible arbiters of global literature, sometimes, that invisibility may be by choice: a profile of the anonymous translator of French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet’s latest shocker, A Sentimental Novel. Meanwhile, things aren’t quite looking up yet for the publishing industry in Nigeriabut it isn’t all bad, either, and one of Spain’s most venerated writers, Javier Marías, is finally getting acknowledged in English-speaking markets (slowly, but surely).  READ MORE…

The Tiff: How Often Should We Re-translate the Classics?

Two literary voices sound off in Asymptote blog’s newest regular column

Antony Shugaar, translator, writer, Asymptote contributing editor

I remember reading a science fiction short story many years ago in which a disgruntled author of historical novels gets his wish to witness the crucifixion of Christ. The plot’s twists and turns escape me now, but I know the final outcome is that he winds up crucified on a secondary cross, an all-too-eager witness to the truth behind the familiar version.

Historians are constantly pawing through the rubble of memory, language, and inference in search of an unproven and unprovable truth. Death—of course—intervenes, as does the slow grind of time, but memory and perception get in the way, too. So does institutionalized meaning: once you’ve heard “By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water,” you can never unhear it. READ MORE…

Interviewing Naja Marie Aidt

Eric M. B. Becker in conversation with the author of Baboon, a short story collection published by Two Lines Press

The first full-length work by Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt—born in 1963 in Greenland, raised in Copenhagen, and currently living in New York City—is now available in English with the translation of her short story collection Baboon, which earned her the biggest literary prize in Scandinavia, the 2008 Nordic Council Literature Prize, and is being published this month by Two Lines Press in a sharp translation from Denise Newman.

Aidt’s writing includes nine books of poetry, short stories, radio plays, plays, films scripts, and children’s books, and her work has been translated into Italian, German, French, Swedish, Norwegian, Latvian, Icelandic, and Czech. Her literary career began in 1991 with the poetry collection længe jeg er ung (“As Long As I Am Young”), part one of a trilogy she completed in 1994 and which, like Baboon, plumbs the depths of relationships with family and friends. Baboon is her third short story collection.

Although her subject matter with these new stories is quotidian, Aidt’s characters and their fates are anything but: After their son is tossed from a bike and injured, a husband decides there is no better time to reveal to his wife details of his affair with her sister; a well-meaning couple, forgetting to place a bag of candy in their supermarket basket, find themselves charged with theft above their assiduous protests.

In our conversation via email, shortly after the author’s return to New York from a reading tour in Denmark, we discussed the importance of place in Aidt’s fiction and her ability to recast the familiar as strange, as she puts it, to turn “frustration and sadness into a new possibility, a new freedom,” creating the impression that one is seeing with new eyes. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: An Excerpt from “Kvachi,” by Mikheil Javakhishvili

A feature from Dalkey Archive Press’s forthcoming Georgian Literature Series, translated by Donald Rayfield

On the first of April that year the weather in Samtredia was stranger than usual. A pitch-black cloud hung over the earth from the morning onwards. Snow, hail, rain and, sometimes, spring sunshine alternated; after a while there was such a gale that the whole township rattled and shook, then a calm silence would descend and you wouldn’t see the slightest movement of a cloud in the sky.

So the first of April in Samtredia started in confusion: it was a deceitful, false, and treacherous day. READ MORE…

In Review: “A Tabby-cat’s Tale” by Han Dong

“To return to ‘small talk’ from the social and political imperatives of Mao-era and post-Mao-era fiction is in itself a political act.”

In 1931, Ba Jin, anarchist and pioneer of modern Chinese fiction, wrote “Dog,” a short story in which a desperate street urchin—envious of the more comfortable lives of foreign-owned lapdogs—deludes himself into believing that he himself is a dog. Though artfully written and moving, Ba Jin’s “Dog” is unmistakably agitprop: the “dog” is really a man, and the man is really a symbol of a China cowed by imperial powers and rapacious warlords.

About seventy years later, Han Dong, a Chinese writer best known for his nonconformist poetry in the eighties, writes a novella entitled “花花传奇” (Hua Hua Chuanqi), translated by Nicky Harman in a recent Frisch and Co. web release as A Tabby-cat’s Tale. By way of contrast with Ba Jin’s “Dog,” Han Dong’s title tabby, Hua Hua, is simply a cat, albeit a very odd one. And if the reader comes to this novella seeking insight into the grand moral dramas of dissenters and dictatorships, she will be gravely disappointed. Instead, with the great care of someone who truly loves animals, Han Dong relates the daily drudgery of preparing catfish guts for Hua Hua’s nightly meal; the irritation of picking up after an animal who refuses to confine his excrement to a box; and the nightly chore of manually picking through the minion of fleas that infest the tabby and drowning them in a bowl of water until “the surface of the water is black with Tabby’s fleas.” And yet, this shaggy cat story is told satirically in a grand register that would more befit the historical dramas of Ba Jin’s “Dog.”


Weekly News Roundup, 19th September 2014: Geniuses, References, Lots to Read!

This week's literary highlights from across the world

A big decision about net neutrality approaches for those in the United States, and it’ll do more than make Netflix more expensive. For us at Asymptote, an online publication with a large American readership, this issue really hits close to home—here’s why the net neutrality argument is important for all arts organizations. Luckily, the digital revolution has finally made amends to poetry, as e-books finally become more poet-friendly. Still, reading on a Nook or a Kindle bothers us in other ways: an e-reader gives no page numbers, so how are we supposed to cite it? Please, let’s find a better way to reference. 


Don’t Trip. “Sidewalks,” by Valeria Luiselli—in Review

A look at Valeria Luiselli’s excellent essay collection Sidewalks, translated by Christine MacSweeney for Coffee House Press

Prose and I are having a moment.

I don’t mean this in the glamorously ephemeral, André-Leon-Talley sense; I mean this in the emotionally fraught, tightlipped-dinner-party sense. I just can’t seem to enjoy it as much as I have in past twenty-odd years of my life. I find myself bored by the contrivances of exposition; I roll my eyes at narrative inventiveness, and quote-unquote characters and their grievances simply exhaust me.


Publisher Profile: Ox and Pigeon

"I can’t imagine [digital publishing] is going to be anything but good for translated literature."

Ox and Pigeon Electronic Books embraces the digital age with a dynamic publishing model that enables them to deliver the literature they love to readers anywhere in the world. Since 2012, they have specialized in translations through their literary journal, The Portable Museum. Earlier this year, Ox and Pigeon began releasing their first novels in English translation. I spoke with co-founder Lucas Lyndes from his home in Lima, Peru, via Skype.

Frances Riddle: How was Ox and Pigeon born?

Lucas Lyndes: I moved to Peru in 2005 to learn Spanish with the idea of becoming a translator. I got married here in 2010 and my friends from Boston, Jason Curran and Katie Sedat, came down for the wedding. We got to talking about books because we’re all big readers. I was dabbling in translation and I was surprised at what was being translated; there were a lot of writers who weren’t getting any attention. So we decided to try and do something about it. The idea was born in 2010 and the first issue of The Portable Museum came out in 2012.  READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Poems by Felix Nicolau

"had no idea literature is about what you drink / with whom and where when I found that out I was already too old"


the tapping july hail

puts me in mind

of how this salsa dancer used

to break my windows twice a month

with the stiletto flipped off her lil left foot


Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime XIV and XV

"Labourer of lesser forms, he translated us into his clay language […] but failed to comprehend the pent-up desire of things."

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

Mime XIV. The Parasol of Tanagra

Thus extended by my moulded rods, plaited with clay straw or woven with earthen fabric reddened by firing, I am held to the rear and towards the sun by a young girl with beautiful breasts. With the other hand she lifts her tunic of white yarn, and above her Persian sandals one may perceive ankles fashioned for electron rings to adorn. Her hair is wavy and a large pin traverses it at the nape of her neck. Averting her head she reveals her fear of the sun; she resembles Aphrodite come to incline her head.

Such is my mistress and earlier we have roamed through the meadows strewn with hyacinths, when she was in the rosy flesh and I made of yellow straw: the white sunshine kissed me on the outside, and below my dome I was embraced by the fragrance of the virgin’s hair. And the Goddess who transforms things having granted my wish, akin to a water-swallow falling with spread wings to caress with its beak a blossom born in the midst of a pond, I gently plunged onto her head. I lost the reed maintaining me far from her in the air, and became the hat covering her with a quivering roof.


Weekly News Roundup, 12th September 2013: The French Boycott Scandal, Rhyming and Signing

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Bad news, optimistic readers: if a book can change your life positively, it follows that it can have the opposite effect as well (well, maybe, at least).

Neither French politicians nor French writers have ever been lauded for their discretion in the face of sex—but call it an apparition: booksellers in France are boycotting the latest juicy tell-all memoir (titled Thank you for this Moment perhaps too preemptively) by Valérie Trierweiler, spurned ex-partner of openly philandering president François Hollande. Seems as though a big issue isn’t the scandal, but the lowbrow scumminess of the whole affair—wonder what the Frankfurt School, including those German ur-critics of popular culture, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, would have to say about it.  READ MORE…

On Violette Leduc: Interviewing Sophie Lewis

"Leduc's story as a writer is one of suppression and blocking at many points."

Sophie Lewis is a London-born writer, editor, and translator from French and Portuguese. Her recent translations include Thérèse and Isabelle by Violette Leduc (Salammbô), The Man Who Walked Through Walls by Marcel Aymé (Pushkin), and The Earth Turned Upside Down by Jules Verne (Hesperus). She is editor-at-large at And Other Stories press, and she has lived in Rio de Janeiro since 2011. An excerpt from her translation of Thérèse and Isabelle appeared in the July 2014 issue of Asymptote. 

When did you first encounter Violette Leduc’s work? 

I was lucky to be let loose on Dalkey Archive Press’s backlist in 2007, when I started working for them as manager of their London office. They had published Leduc’s La Bâtarde with an afterword by Deborah Levy. As we were promoting Levy’s work in the UK just then, I started to read everything by her, including that piece—and then I was launched on Leduc.