Monthly Archives: December 2014

Would you like more Asymptote in 2015?

Then support our Indiegogo Campaign!

We’ll be taking a break from now till the end of the year, but we hope you’ll check out our Indiegogo campaign in the meantime, if you haven’t already. Thanks to 67 kind souls, we’ve collected $6,000 in less than 3 weeks! But we’ll need more of you to step forward, if we are to operate beyond January 2015. Will you help us continue our mission?


In return for your support, we’ll give away literary care packages, designer AsympTOTEs, and even tickets to upcoming anniversary events (including this one in New York, featuring three of the most beloved translators du jour: Edith Grossman, Damion Searls and Susan Bernofsky).

But, best of all, if we reach our target, we’ll be able to deliver more great international content in 2015, hold a second edition of our translation contest, organize more events, unveil an educational arm, and bring you even more installments of our recently launched podcast!

So that we’ll be able to carry on, give some love to Asymptote today.

Your great support means a lot to us. Happy holidays from us to you!
—The entire Asymptote team

p.s. Did you know? Reif Larsen and Forrest Gander are fans of Asymptote too!

p.p.s. Questions about the campaign? Send them to We’d be more than happy to hear from you!

Weekly News Roundup, 19th December 2015: Noble/Nobel Buzz, University Navelgazing

This week's literary highlights from across the world

To most Americans, the announcement of most recent literary Nobel laureate French author Patrick Modiano spurred a collective reaction: “who?” But (thanks to translation!), readers are warming up to his noteworthy oeuvre, and he’s gotten a significant boost since the prestigious win. And if you’re heading vers la France in the next few weeks—Christmas in Paris does sound romantic—be sure to check out this walkable guide to the City of LIghts à la Modiano.  READ MORE…

Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime XIX and Mime XX

“Then I enfolded her in my arms—but clasped nothing besides the beguiling air.”

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

Mime XIX. The mirror, the golden pin, the poppy

First to speak, the mirror:

I was shaped in silver by a skilful craftsman. At first I lay hollow like his hand and my other face looked like the ball of a wall-eye. But then I was given curvature enough to reflect images. Finally Athene breathed her wisdom into me. I am aware of the desires of the girl who holds me and already I tell her that she is pretty. Still at night she rises and lights her bronze lamp. She directs the gilded flight of the flame towards me, and her heart craves some other face than hers. I show her own white temple and her sculpted cheeks and the swelling tips of her breasts and her eyes full of curiosity. She almost touches me with her trembling lips—but the golden burning lights up her face alone; all else remains dark within me.


What We’re Reading in December

This December: family sagas, American classics, flash fiction, and meta-translation

Tiffany Tsao (Editor-at-large, Indonesia): Family sagas make up my month’s leisure reading so far. Jeffrey Eugenides’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning Middlesex and William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! have been on my to-read list for several years, and it was with a combination of sheepishness and triumph that I finally got round to cracking open their spines. One occupational hazard of being a literary academic is that you often lack the energy to graze beyond your particular fields of expertise. As a recent post-academic, it has been a great pleasure indeed to read more in the way of the American “classics”—and not just so I can finally stop embarrassing myself at dinner parties where I often disappoint fellow guests by not having read every work in the western canon, all the latest prize-winners, and everything listed on the latest “Top 100 great reads” list circulating the web.


Translation Tuesday: (More) Poems from “Dickicht,” by Ulrike Almut Sandig

had he just heard that said or / read it in the books of his friends? / what had gone wrong? had it gone wrong?



outside the shadows are dwindling

but we are so tired again.


above us the sun stands at midday

around us the thicket of high


buildings: inside couples lie close

and barely know one another.


we are there too, you and me too

on the floor. my skin cools against


yours, outside as always the heat

but I am as always too cold. are you


asleep, my friend? one clock hand stopped

dead on top of the other and someone


shouts NO and then again NO and

the shadows between us start to grow


‘write down what we had.’ we had

one or two poems, three or four weeks


the city towers as our primeval forest

and burrowed inside we two in the


yellow light of a streetlamp, between

the tree trunks cast of metal and glass.


there was no sun, for the time I was with

you, for that time the rain held us at bay


for that time everything drifted away: all

your money, my shoes, the time and my


dream of animals in a totally rain-swept zoo:


a unicorn out for the count, motionless bears

a dripping-wet peacock. high above us flew


a swarm of foxes, we hardly heard them at all.

for, whatever you say, there were two of us,

and everyone else was lost without trace.


first she took him by the hands

then she left him by the ferns


in the furthest part of the forest

alone. time passed in an instant


between the birches the heat flared

then night fell hard one more time


birds swivelled their heads to face him

slowly two-hundred and seventy degrees


but he had not marked his way back

to the glittering cities of central Europe


with a single crumb of bread.

mushrooms sprouting round his feet


the feel of fur brushing past him

out of nowhere, front and behind


shadows, above him trees creaked

the southern sky kept on turning


and kept on turning in circles or

had he just heard that said or


read it in the books of his friends?

what had gone wrong? had it gone wrong?


Read the poems in their original German here, and listen to the author read her work here.


Ulrike Almut Sandig was born in 1979 in Großenhain, Saxony, and now lives in Berlin. In 2005 she completed a degree in theology and modern indology and in 2010 she graduated from the German Literary Institute in Leipzig. Alongside various editorial activities, she has published three volumes of poetry—Zunder (2005/2009), Streumen (2007), and Dickicht (2011)—and Flamingos (2010), a collection of short stories, as well as radio plays. She has been granted residencies in Helsinki and Sydney and won numerous prizes, including the prestigious Leonce-und-Lena Prize (2009) and, most recently, the Droste Award for Emerging Talent (2012). 

Karen Leeder is an academic and writer. Her translations of German poetry have appeared in a variety of journals including Poetry Review, PN Review, Domus (Italy) and MPT. Her volume of Evelyn Schlag’s Selected Poems with Carcanet in 2004 won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize in 2005, and her translations of Durs Grünbein’s “Childhood in the Diorama” won the Times Stephen Spender prize in 2013. Her translations of Sandig poems have appeared in MPT (UK) and SPORT (New Zealand) and she received a Deutsche Übersetzerfonds award in 2014. She will translate Sandig’s Flamingos for Liverpool University Press in 2015. 

Published with permission from: Ulrike Almut Sandig, Dickicht. Gedichte. © Schöffling & Co. Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2011.

Read more:

A Panorama of European Literature

A dispatch from the 2014 New Literature from Europe festival

On December 5 and 6, eight European authors, one translator, one publisher, and three leading American authors and critics gathered at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York for the 11th annual New Literature from Europe festival. For those anxious about the appeal of foreign literature to American audiences, the packed houses at the ACFNY were hopefully a reassuring sight.

NLE this year featured writing from nine countries: Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, and—for the first time at NLE—Bulgaria. This year’s theme, Crossing Borders: Europe Through the Lens of Time, reflected two aspects of this year’s writing. First was its trans-national character: many of the authors were writing about, or writing in, countries other than their nations of birth. Second was the theme of time—many of the writers dealt with European 20th century history directly, but each of the books featuring the past had a way of reaching into the present and remaining a vital, active force.


Weekly News Roundup, 12th December 2014: Rare! Exciting! Interviewed!

This week's literary highlights from across the world

The mainstream American media is catching on—but doesn’t seem to grab a snag—on elusive and dramatic Italian novelist and cult phenomenon Elena Ferrante, who offered a rare interview to no lower brow than that of the New York Times this week. Check it out. And speaking of the buzz: take a gander at French Nobel laureate Patrick Mondiano’s Nobel speech—the gist is positive (literature is not, and will never be, in danger).  READ MORE…

Publisher Profile: A Midsummer Night’s Press

An interview with Lawrence Schimel, head of independent poetry press A Midsummer Night's Press

A Midsummer Night’s Press started publishing poetry in 1991. Since then, the press has expanded to include three imprints. Fabula Rasa publishes works that draw inspiration from mythology and folklore. Body Language publishes writing related to gender and sexual identity. Sapphic Classics, in collaboration with Sinister Wisdom journal, rereleases works of lesbian poetry.

This fall, A Midsummer Night’s Press has launched a new imprint, Periscope, which focuses on poetry in translation. Lawrence Schimel, the press’s founder, answered my questions by e-mail before jetting off to the Guadalajara Book Fair. Read on for information on how to receive free international shipping on Periscope’s debut titles. READ MORE…

Translating the Soviet Union: A Guide to Getting Russia

A review of “Word for Word,” by Lilianna Lungina and Oleg Dorman

I am often asked what life is like in Russia and I struggle to provide a judicious answer. Americans, I think, want to understand what to expect from a shifting Russian state. The formative years of the wheelers and dealers of modern-day Russia were experienced under the psychological weight of Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev, and if someone wishes to understand Russia, she would do well to study the complexities of the Soviet baby boomers. To answer our new question, “What was life like in the Soviet Union?” I can now answer with:

Read Word for Word.

It is not often someone buys you a book and refuses to speak with you until you read it, but this happened to me with Word for Word, out now in translation from Overlook Press. The title is an adulteration of the original title podstrochnik, a so-called “trot” or bare literal translation of a text that a translator processes into a work of art. Written as an extended interview and based on the documentary film of the same name by Oleg Dorman, Word for Word is the memoir of Lilianna Lungina, perhaps the most successful translator of the Soviet Union.


Translation Tuesday: The Third Man

Bosnian short fiction from acclaimed writer Dario Džamonja, author of Letters from the Madhouse

From afar, judging by our gesticulations and the vehemence with which we’re defending our opinions, you’d think we were discussing the economy, the upcoming elections, pension funds, mortgages, the Hague Tribunal or some other inevitable aspect of our daily lives. Hell no! We’re trying to pose the dumbest question (and succeeding)! Meho is the reigning champion. He just keeps ’em coming: “What do you call a male turtle? What do you call a male squirrel? A male giraffe? A male seal? A male shark?” Someone counters, “A male shark is called ‘Jaws!’” Meho doesn’t let this phase him and on he goes, “If you have a goldfish in your aquarium, how can you tell if it’s male or female?”

“Well?” “You give it a bit of fish food: if he eats it, it’s male. If she eats it, it’s a female!” From zoology, we move on to physics: “How come you get circles on the water when you toss in a square brick?” The hot summer afternoon, dripping with alcohol, goes by in ostensible happiness and an easygoing atmosphere until it’s time to pay up—a bleak hour when dark clouds converge over everyone’s faces. Each of us has an overdue bill, a debt, an unpaid bar tab, a pair of shoes with worn-out soles, a car or a washing machine on the fritz… In the drunken stupor the conversation veers off to literature, as in a dream when images follow one another by some alien logic, and someone tells a story about Ivo Andrić. During his time as a consul in Rome, he met the Turkish consul, an exceptionally well-educated, wealthy, handsome man with a beautiful family who would regularly get wasted on cognac. Andrić asked him about it, and the man replied: “You know, Sir, as soon as I have a drink, I turn into another man—a ‘second man,’ if you will.” “So?” “Well, this second man then says, ‘I’d like a drink as well,’ and so it goes.” Meho interrupts the story, “If that’s the case, I’m the third man.” “How come? “I start off with a double!”


Our New Podcast Is Here!

Travel with us from indigenous Venezuela to Ancient Greece to modern Amsterdam in our first episode...

Mythology – Part One

At Asymptote we always try to experiment with different kinds of multimedia, and celebrate the full spectrum of language from the written to the visual to the spoken… So one day we thought: let’s make a podcast!

And here it is, our all-new audio adventure in which we explore some of the most fascinating ideas and issues in international literature. In each episode we’ll be making use of our global scope and travelling far and wide to bring you an eclectic sampler of interviews, readings and mini-documentaries from all over the literary world.

This quarter, we’re delving further into the Mythology theme of our October issue. These myths may be ancient, but they are far from dead. They’re the stories that define who we are today, our fantasies and our fears, our memories and our misconceptions. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 5th December 2014: Lorca Re-found

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Anyone with a literary pulse noted (and mourned) the passing of former United States poet laureate Mark Strand (here’s a primer to some of Strand’s work, which “moved from common to sublime,” as well as an interview with the Paris Review). And the United Kingdom lost its queen of crime fiction, P. D. James. Finally, another poet passed, but was rediscovered: some of beloved Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca’s remains may have been uncovered, perhaps (but only perhaps) offering some answers to those still mystified by his tragic death-by-firing-squad.  READ MORE…

Colette’s Kicked Fish versus Pizza via Bushwick

A new column by Nina Sparling on food and translation

It was January in New York and exceptionally cold. I took refuge in the kitchen and picked the complicated recipes, the ones that would prove that I could, that I had the patience and humility to follow the details of the book. I pulled the Roberta’s Cookbook off the shelf. Roberta’s opened in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the winter of 2008. The restaurant is a couple hundred feet from the Morgan Avenue stop off the L train, one of the vital organs of the neighborhood. Industrial buildings turned post-grad housing with complicated zoning laws line the streets. From outside the restaurant it looks like a bunker. The cookbook was new to the collection, a gift I had given my mother. It lay horizontal atop my parents’ mass of weathered, yellowing, greasy cookbooks.

The cookbook has high-design photographs of food and blurry low-res pictures of PBR-fueled parties side by side. The narrative between recipes is crass and anti-corporate. The restaurant and its clients have found emancipation from domesticity, freedom from the boredom of home. The food shows an attention to detail and creativity. There are nods to simplicity with a dose of the unexpected: a plate of blistered padrón peppers with savory lemon curd and fennel pollen. The plate comes to the table still smoking. The peppers appear to vibrate in the noise: loud people and loud music. Pizza arrives, seared in the eight-hundred-degree wood-fired oven by the front door. The food resonates in the space: it’s delicious, it’s quick, and it’s informal.

In those pages, eating dinner is a performance.


Live from the NYPL: Tel Aviv and Tehran Noir

Honoring noir writing—and living—in two notoriously conflicted cities

It was a full house at the New York Public Library on Wednesday night, and I learned just how similar Iranians and Israelis are.

Rick Moody moderated a panel event for Live at NYPL, launching two new books from Akashic’s Noir Series: Tel Aviv Noir and Tehran Noir. Akashic Books’ Noir series includes over sixty anthologies of noir stories set in cities around the world. The panel guests included Tel Aviv Noir editors Assaf Gavron and Etgar Keret, Tehran Noir editor Salar Abdoh and Tehran Noir contributor Gina Nahai. Sitting in the audience, listening intently, I felt complicit.

I had translated eleven out of the fourteen stories in Tel Aviv Noir (two others were written originally in English, a third was translated from Spanish). I felt that where the book succeeded or failed, I shared some of the responsibility. I also felt simultaneously in and out of place: I’ve lived in Tel Aviv most of my life, but have never been to Tehran, though when I see pictures of its mountains I get that belly ache of longing.

These two facts are connected: as an Israeli Jew, much of that world is closed to me. READ MORE…