Monthly Archives: January 2016

Weekly News Roundup, 29 January 2015: Great on Paper

This week's literary highlights from across the world

What’s up, Asymptote friends? We’re nearing the end of January, which means this is the time for checking in on those good intentions. You might want to consider a well-intentioned check-in at Asymptote blog columnist Anaïs Duplan’s awesome Kickstarter campaign for the Center for Afrofuturist Studies in Iowa City. Take a look, and support friends (and friends of friends) of Asymptote blog!

Speaking of sponsorships: Scotland has inaugurated its first translation fund, which mean that English-speaking readers can expect some literature from Macedonia, Albania, Norway, and Spain (among others). And our friends at Words Without Borders have opened up nominations for the 2016 Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature (past winners include Carol Brown Janeway and Sara Bershtel).


Crowdsourcing a Poet

"...I asked a number of significant writers for an input on the place of this writer in our literature..."

Have you ever thought of starting a poetry crowdsourcing? While contemplating writing on Alexandru Muşina’s magnetic personality (as a tie in to Ruxandra Cesereanu’s article in our July issue), the idea presented itself to me as the best way of introducing him to Asymptote’s readers; definitely an exciting opportunity to bring people together around the work of this amazing poet. Why? For at least two reasons. First, Muşina is one of the most important poets of Generation 80 (the poets that changed the face of Romanian poetry starting back in the 1980s), and arguably its most influential theorist, teacher, and public figure. Therefore, given the writer’s impressive public profile, crowdsourcing arises as a truly viable option in trying to unveil the many facets of his personality as mirrored by poets, critics, and theorists from various schools and walks of life. Second, taking the pulse of the current literary scene by asking some of its most outstanding representatives for input on the matter would obviously provide remarkably candid insights into the writer’s legacy, but it may also add up to a quick x-ray of Romanian letters, a sort of present-day portrayal of a young literature as revisiting an established man…; this latter aspect may prove of interest particularly since Cesereanu’s article focuses mainly on the place of Muşina’s poetry (and specifically his poem “Budila Express”) in the historical context of the communist regime and Ceausescu’s dictatorship (when the poem was first published). READ MORE…

Translating Magpies: A Writer’s Travails in Translation

Author Rachel Cantor on faking it until making it in Italian translation and her novel, Good on Paper

Shira, bless her heart, is a good but underachieving translator. She usually translates the lesser-known works of lesser-known writers (her relationship with translation is ambivalent, to say the least); more often, she temps in New York City’s outer boroughs. But because of a ground-breaking translation she wrote in grad school of Dante’s La Vita Nuova (using a Buber-Rosenzweig leitwort approach), the Nobel Prize-winning poet Romei commissions her to translate his latest work, which riffs off La Vita Nuova in ways he promises to explain. As Shira begins to translate his Vita Quasi Nuova, however, she begins to suspect that Romei has another agenda, one that involves her personally and has nothing whatsoever to do with poetry…

Shira is not real, of course: she’s the narrator of my novel Good on Paper. To do justice to her work, I read books about literary translation, theories of translation, the practice of translation, especially from the Italian. I used as much detail as I plausibly could, so that Shira’s work could feel real, and her translation dilemmas—essential to the plot—would seem both urgent and specific. She talks—knowledgeably, I hope!—about terza rima and the “eleven-syllable Italian line.” Research because I couldn’t draw on my own experience. Like Shira, I spent my formative years in Italy, but her skill with the language far exceeds mine. Asked to read Italian novels in school, I labored; asked to translate something (anything) once in high school, I chose a Petrarchan sonnet, and did a serviceable job, though there was one line in the octave I just couldn’t get right. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Excerpt from The Treasure of the Castilian or Spanish Language by Sebastián de Covarrubias Horozco

What is that? Nothing but the dawn as it walks among the cabbages.

This week we are proud to present Spanish lexicographer Sebastián de Covarrubias Horozco’s 17th century text filtered through Janet Hendrickson’s illuminating translation. Of her experimental technique, she explains: “My rule was to follow the order of the original text (in the edition of the dictionary I used), translating entries, fragments of entries, and fragments of sentences that I found interesting and that I felt resonated with each other. Using this method, the original 250 pages corresponding to the letter A were reduced to five.” 



It is so simple to pronounce. It is the first letter man utters on being born. It is pronounced, like the vowels that follow it, by puckering the lips and exhaling. The simplicity of the a is such that its utterance is not denied to the mute, who with the a and the help of their tone, the movement of their hands, feet, eyes, and body make us understand in a moment what the articulate could not; the mute, as they walk together, prattle more than magpies. The a is doctrine, way, eternal bliss. The a, repeated three times, declares the mute’s impotence in speech; for me, mute in what I seek, it means the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; I implore my God to give me His life to finish this work for His glory and for everyone’s use. I know of no one who has taken on this task, bringing it to the end I seek. A they called the letter of health.



Means the first beginnings.




Gathering dew from one flower and the next, the bee makes liquor sweet as honey, moiling in its cunning honeycombs of wax. It alone among insects was created for the benefit of man. The bee leads to disquisitions on its choice in flowers, on the craftsmanship with which it makes hexagonal cells, on the clemency of its king. The bee is the symbol of the curious, those who gather sentences as the bee gathers flowers, making a work smooth and sweet. The bee does not procreate through the coupling of male and female, and they are no less fertile for that.




Infinite congregation of water; depths of the deepest valleys, where vision fades when gazed at from above.




Where I am.




Water swallows land, quenches fire, rises through the air and alters it and lies above the heavens themselves. It raises such a multitude of fish; it allows man to travel a great distance in a short time. Water has the virtue of cooling, cleansing, smoothing. It means the Holy Spirit. It means the wisdom of God, which is Christ. It means the peoples. Artificial waters, water of the angels, distilled with aromatic drugs, roses and the rest, orange blossom, jasmine, lemon blossom, myrtle.




The eagle kills the deer with marvelous guile: filling its wings with earth, leaping over the deer’s head, the eagle shakes dust in the deer’s eyes, by which it blinds the deer and makes it run, until the deer reaches a cliff, where the eagle lets it fall; it kills itself or breaks its legs. The eagle snatches the serpent in its talons and lifts it in the air and tears it to pieces, but the serpent coils around the eagle and catches its wings; it does not let the eagle fly; both fall to earth. The eagle lifts the turtle in the air and drops it on a crag. The eagle is not afraid of lightning; when it thunders, the swan hides between the reeds and rushes of the lakes. The eagle means Christ among men, who is like the eagle, queen among the birds, for the flight by which Christ descended to the innermost part of the Virgin Mary’s heartstrings. Christ is the eagle with sharp vision; He beholds the sun.




The wind, being moving air or being caused in air. It would take too long to declare here how and where and from what are created the mist, the dew, the rain, the snow and hail that fall, the thunder and lightning, comets, firebrands, the exhalations, vortices, and yawnings of the sky.




Garlic is so well-known that one need not describe it. Garlic is not a food for courtly people. The leopard abhors the smell of it; if the leopard’s lair is scoured with garlic, the leopard forsakes it. Garlic rubbed against the trunk of a tree keeps caterpillars away.




What is that? Nothing but the dawn as it walks among the cabbages.




We ask, “Is it something?” We answer, “It is nothing.” A term that comprehends all that can be.




Some say that women have three wombs on the right and three on the left and one in the middle; some wombs create males, the others females, and the one in the middle hermaphrodites. And others attribute even more wombs to women, and many allow for none of this.




Rings were worn on the finger closest to the pinkie on the left hand because anatomists found there a delicate nerve that runs from that finger to the heart; by it gold and stone alike communicate their virtue, by which they comfort.




The symbol of sadness and weeping.




It makes no noise, except when it brays, at which point it is insufferable. A child can take the ass where he wants; the ass brings us bread and wine; it pulls the waterwheel; it carries the wheat to the mill; it cleans the house and dungs the fields; sometimes it plows; it threshes in season and harvests grain; it has no bile. The ass seems inept for war, but some nations have used it in war; the asses of Palestine were nimbler than horses. Its head, affixed to a sown field, not only shoos birds but fertilizes the land. They make sieves to sift wheat from its hide. A hard callous grows on asses’ knees; mixed with aged oil this callous is so potent that when one anoints oneself with it, even if one is a woman, a beard will grow there.




He is ungrateful.




Those little specks that float in the air and are perceivable only through the sunbeam that passes through a chink in the window.



Image credit: Portrait of the author by Jeronimo Jacinto de Espinosa

For more delightful experimental translations like this, check out our newly released Winter issue, featuring Browyn Haslam, Martin Rock, and Joe Pan.

Sebastián de Covarrubias Horozco (Toledo, 1539–1613) was a Spanish humanist and priest, once chaplain to King Phillip II. In 1605 he began to write the Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española [Treasure of the Castilian or Spanish Language], published in 1611, a dictionary of the Spanish language, encyclopedic in scope, that was among the first monolingual dictionaries of a vernacular European language. Covarrubias is also the author of the Suplemento, a supplement to the Treasure, Emblemas morales [Moral Emblems], published in 1610, and Tratado de cifras [Treatise on Ciphers], now lost.

Janet Hendrickson translates from Spanish and Portuguese. She translated The Future Is Not Ours (Open Letter, 2012, ed. Diego Trelles Paz), an anthology of stories by Latin American writers born since 1970, and her translations of fiction and essays have appeared in publications including n+1, The White Review, and Granta. She earned an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa and is currently a PhD student in Hispanic literature at Cornell University.

Interviewing Alexander Beecroft, author of An Ecology of World Literature

"The idea seems to be that globalization isn’t one simple story, but neither is it a collection of unrelated stories—it’s a tangle of narratives."

Alexander Beecroft is Associate Professor in Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina. He teaches courses in Greek and Latin language and literature, ancient civilizations, both ancient and modern literary theory, and theories and practices of world literature. His key fields of research specialization focus on the literatures of Ancient Greece and Rome, and pre-Tang (before AD 600) Chinese literature, in addition to contemporary discussions regarding world literature. His second book, An Ecology of World Literature: From Antiquity to the Present Day, was published by Verso in January. In it, he argues for the benefits of an ecological, rather than the conventional economical, framework in the discussion of global literatures, shedding light on the difficulties involved in ascertaining, defining, and assimilating multifarious linguistic forms.

I spoke to Professor Beecroft through email about the intersections between world literature, politics, geography, and the advantages and disadvantages that literary translation can have on upholding minority languages.

Rosie Clarke: Could you begin by briefly outlining your academic background, and explaining what brought you to write An Ecology of World Literature?

AB: My earliest training, as an undergraduate, was in Classics, and from there I moved into an interest in early China. As I entered graduate school, I knew I wanted to combine those interests, but struggled for some time to figure out how. As I worked on my dissertation, I began to realize that, while many things about archaic and classical Greece and early (pre-220 BC) China were different, they did have an intriguing similarity. Both were politically fragmented regions within which circulated some sense of a shared culture. That first book explored that particular connection, but led me to think about how those kinds of structural similarities between literatures might be discussed in a more general way.

RC: Can you explain why you chose to structure the investigation here with an ecological framework?

AB: We’re very used to thinking about modes of cultural production, circulation, and exchange in terms of economic metaphors. Those metaphors have a real value: cultural recognition, like just about everything else, is in scarce supply, and so the language of markets and economic efficiency has much to teach us about culture.

I thought it might be helpful, however, to consider ecological models as an alternative. Ecology, like economics, deals in how scarce resources get distributed in a given context—but where economic models tend to suggest a single winner, and a single winning strategy, ecology suggests that there can be multiple strategies for surviving in different niches.

I think this is a particularly important point in today’s world. The power of English and of the English-language publishing industry worldwide makes translation, especially into English, into the most lucrative form of literary success—but in fact writers can and do thrive through other strategies, including by writing work designed for their own local context. Further, we need to recognize that the ecologies within which literatures operated in the past were different, operating for example under court patronage or with other kinds of relationships to the political and social order.


Ask a Translator: A New Column by Daniel Hahn

"If at all possible, only translate the kind of books that you feel able to understand."

The December debut of “Ask a Translator,” a new column by award-winning writer, editor and translator Daniel Hahn responding to reader questions, drew rave reviews from Asymptoters worldwide, so we couldn’t be more excited to bring you another installment! This month, Hahn responds to the following question from reader Marius Surleac:

Is there any genre that you would never translate?

The short answer is no—I’d translate anything. Having said that, however, the short answer is in fact a lie. I wish it were true, but it isn’t.

Why? Well, it all comes down to reading and writing. That’s all translation is, after all.

I think of myself as a pretty open-minded reader; a reader, in other words, with wide sympathies. Yes, I have particular inclinations towards certain kinds of book, of course—who doesn’t?—but I’m able to tune into all sorts without too much trouble. Which for a translator is important! You need to be able to find your way to a sympathetic connection with a book if you are to translate it (well, it helps), so frankly it pays to be flexible in your sympathies.

And I think of myself as a pretty versatile writer; which means I should have the tools to create anew (but now in English) many different kinds of books. This means being able to rely on a suppleness of language and register, a good ear for all sorts of dialogue—stuff like that. Which, for a translator, is also important. You need to know what’s involved in writing a book, you need complete mastery of its operating techniques, of its rhythms and dictions and tricks, if you’re to recreate it.

Now, mostly what I get asked to translate is, for want of a more useful genre label, “literary fiction”. It’s what I most commonly choose to read, too, on the rare occasions when I read just for pleasure, and it’s a mode in which I feel very comfortable working. Which is not to say that I’d ever write a literary novel myself, but it’s a manner of writing in which—as a reader with experience of thousands of these things—I feel comfortable faking it, which is what I do whenever I’m hired to spend 320 pages impersonating a Portuguese novel-writer or a Guatemalan short-story writer or a Québécois children’s writer. (I realise it sounds a little weird, the job, when I describe it like that. But isn’t that what it is? Translation is a confidence trick, in which the reader colludes in the deception, volunteering to be deceived.)

It is much less common for me to be asked to translate, say, the more commercial end of crime writing (or, for that matter, any non-fiction at all); and I’ve never once been offered any sci-fi, or romance fiction, and not a single graphic novel; I’ve never had the option of taking on a literary classic or a cookbook or a horror novel; or many other categories besides. And what would I say if were in fact asked? I’d always accept, of course!

Except when I wouldn’t. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 22 January 2015: Armchair Travel, Twilight Bio

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote readers! If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you might be itching for warmer climes—though budgetary constraints mean that armchair travel‘s your only option. Take to this list of the Guardian‘s best-of world literature if you’d like handheld globetrotting.

We frequently report on literary awards here at the roundup—in fact, it seems like every week there’s a new accolade—but rarely do these awards go to books published over a year before.  Not so for scholarly translations: an 80-year-old work of journalism and ethnography by Russian writer Vladimir Gilyarovsky, Moscow and the Muscovites, has snagged the 2015 AATSEEL Award for Best Scholarly Translation into English (the translator is Brendan Kiernan). Congratulations!  READ MORE…

Three Days with David Bowie

"[Bowie's] life—or the life he invited us to imagine through his works—leaves a trace difficult to appreciate, because it’s invisible by now."

January 11, 2016. To some, David Bowie’s death may not seem more than the news of the moment.

Its presence everywhere in the media as I write this today proves nothing. Anyone can go viral on our networks if they manage to go beyond the threshold of public perception: if they become attractive or loathsome enough. Nothing else is needed to get the attention of millions of bored people in a country (or more than one). This happens when a celebrity dies, too. Almost every day one does, somewhere, and the death needs to compete against any other infotainment that comes our way.

A few days before Bowie, it was Pierre Boulez—the great composer and conductor whose influence on classical music could be comparable to that of Bowie on its own milieu—and no one cared, aside from a few connoisseurs of classical music. Here in Mexico, the release of Blackstar, Bowie’s last album, was forced to compete for the local audience’s attention with the news surrounding the capture of drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the secret interview that actor Sean Penn did with him. (That piece was published last weekend on the Rolling Stone website.)

Nor is there proof in either the tone or the abundance of the obituaries published online, whether they range from mere admiration to an almost religious fervor. Our time suggests greatness can be found—or created—literally anywhere, because it depends on the subjective perception of the observer, which can be influenced beyond their control in many ways. If this is true, it could also be said that anything can become an object of adoration: anything can soothe the feelings of frustration and insignificance that move us to look beyond ourselves for a justification of our own existence. Perhaps, then, Bowie is not all that important: maybe his gifts and his accomplishments are exaggerated by those of us who look at them with affection and have made them “a part of our own lives”; others have done the same with One Direction, after all, or with Justin Bieber… READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation? January 2016

So many new translations this month!—Here's what you've got to know, from Asymptote's own.

Carlos Velázquez, The Cowboy Bible (Restless Books, January 2016). Translated by Achy Obejas—review by Selina Aragón, Spanish Social Media Manager

The Cowboy Bible (La Biblia Vaquera) is Carlos Velazquez’ second book, which contains two fictional and three nonfictional stories, plus two neither-fiction-nor-nonfiction texts and two epilogues. They are all set in the land of PopSTock!, for which there is a map at the beginning of the book.

The Cowboy Bible is also a character that metamorphoses into other characters (The Western Bible, The Cowgirl Bible, etc.) who live and act in different times and spaces but share the same talent for entering the dark alleyways of life. Despite their morally questionable actions, wrestlers, drunkards, DJs, street-food sellers, whose “legendary” deeds go from writing songs about drug dealers to crowning a Queen of Piracy in reality shows, become underground heroes equivalent to Mexican popular culture icons:

“I went dressed as a Cartesian seminarist. As soon as the guy in charge of composing the soundtrack to reflect the wrestling audience’s passions saw me take a step forward the ring, he put on a song by the great Sonora Dinamita.”


Translation Tuesday: An Excerpt from “Ruined City” by Jia Pingwa (tr. Howard Goldblatt)

The chair creaked and inched slowly toward the pear tree; squinting at the moon through the branches, she fantasized that it was Zhuang’s face.

When originally published in 1993, Ruined City (Fei Du) was promptly banned by China’s State Publishing Administration, ostensibly for its explicit sexual content. Since then, award-winning author Jia Pingwa’s vivid portrayal of contemporary China’s social and economic transformation has become a classic, viewed by critics and scholars of Chinese literature as one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. Howard Goldblatt’s deft translation now gives English-speaking readers their first chance to enjoy this masterpiece of social satire by one of China’s most provocative writers.

While eroticism, exoticism, and esoteric minutiae—the “pornography” that earned the opprobrium of Chinese officials—pervade Ruined City, this tale of a famous contemporary writer’s sexual and legal imbroglios is an incisive portrait of politics and culture in a rapidly changing China. In a narrative that ranges from political allegory to parody, Jia Pingwa tracks his antihero Zhuang Zhidie through progressively more involved and inevitably disappointing sexual liaisons. Set in a modern metropolis rife with power politics, corruption, and capitalist schemes, the novel evokes an unrequited romantic longing for China’s premodern, rural past, even as unfolding events caution against the trap of nostalgia. Amid comedy and chaos, the author subtly injects his concerns about the place of intellectual seriousness, censorship, and artistic integrity in the changing conditions of Chinese society.

Rich with detailed description and vivid imagery, Ruined City transports readers into a world abounding with the absurdities and harshness of modern life.

Here below is an excerpt used by permission of the University of Oklahoma Press. Click here for more information about Ruined City, released in bookstores this week.

Over the next few days, Zhou Min left early in the morning and returned home late at night, not straying from the magazine. At home he had little time for Tang Wan’er. Always itching to go somewhere, she complained that they hadn’t been to the Sheraton Dance Club for a long time, but he kept putting her off. She told him that Zhuang Laoshi had opened a bookstore to the left of the Forest of Steles Museum and said they should go check it out, see what sort of books they stocked, and show Zhuang Laoshi that they cared about what he was doing. Zhou replied impatiently, “I don’t have time for that. You can go if you want.” He did nothing but play the xun on the city wall and sleep. Upset, she ignored him. When he left for work in the morning, instead of going out on her own, she stayed home and tended to her appearance, putting on perfumed rouge and painting her brows thin and smooth. She kept her ears pricked, thinking it was Zhuang coming to see her every time the metal ring on the door made a noise. When they had made love that first time, she was elated that the barrier between them had been removed. As she thought about how she was now his, her face burned and she got hot all over from arousal; when she saw how the people passing by the door outside looked indifferently at the pear tree, she laughed coldly as her anger rose: Just you wait, one of these days you’ll know what I mean to Zhuang Zhidie. Then I’ll watch you come fawning over me and embarrass you until you look for a place to hide. But it had been so long, and Zhuang had not shown up again, so she vented her anger on herself by mussing her hair and by pressing her lips on the mirror and the door to leave red circles. That night, the moon was as bright as water. As usual, Zhou Min went to the city wall to play his xun. Wan’er shut the gate and went in to take a bath. Then, draping her nightgown over her naked body, she went out and sat on the lounge chair under the pear tree. Utterly lonely, she thought about Zhuang Zhidie: Why don’t you come? Were you, like all the other men, just satisfying a sudden urge that day and put me out of your mind once it was over? Did you simply want the memory of another woman added to your list of conquests? Or, as a writer, did you merely use me as material for something you were writing? She thought some more, and as she savored the memory of that day, she retracted her earlier thoughts. He would not be like that. The look in his eyes when he first saw her, his timid approach, and his madly urgent behavior when they were together gave her the confidence that he was truly fond of her. Her first sexual encounter had been with a manual laborer, who had forced her down on the bed, and that had led to their marriage. After the wedding, she was his land and he was her plow; she had to submit to him whenever he felt like cultivating his land. He would climb on with no preamble and finish before she felt a thing. With Zhou Min, she naturally enjoyed what she hadn’t had with her first man, but Zhou was, after all, a small-town character who could never compare with a Xijing celebrity. Zhuang had started out shyly, but once he entered port, he was immensely loving and tender; his many tricks and techniques had finally taught her the difference between the city and the countryside, and between one who was knowledgeable and one who was not. She came to know what makes a real man and a real woman. She touched herself as she followed this line of thought, until she began to moan and groan, calling out to Zhuang. She was writhing and squirming on the chair. The chair creaked and inched slowly toward the pear tree; squinting at the moon through the branches, she fantasized that it was Zhuang’s face. As she flicked her tongue, she wrapped her legs around Zhuang until she was up against the tree trunk, where she moved, rocking the tree and swaying the moon, until one final, forceful push of her body before she went limp. Three or four pear leaves circled above her and then settled onto her body. Exhausted, she remained in the chair, lost in thought, so weak it felt as if all her bones had been removed. READ MORE…

Our January 2016 Issue is Live!

Blog editors Allegra Rosenbaum, Patty Nash, and Ryan Mihaly share their favorites from our glittering 2016 issue

It’s that quarterly, magical time of year again, guys: Asymptote is loud and proud with a stellar January issue. And this is not just any issue—it’s our fifth anniversary issue, “Eternal Return,” and that means Asymptote is practically old enough to head off to kindergarten and start finger-painting and writing poetry (after winning an award a the London Book Fair and becoming a member of the Guardian books network, of course).

It couldn’t be more fitting, then, that this issue features some of our most inventive, thrilling work to date: interviews with Yann Martel and Junot Díaz, a really, really cool experimental translation feature, work and an interview with Caroline Bergvall, and writing from authors that will be sure to capture your literary imagination—like Olga Tocarczuk, who was featured on the blog in a gripping essay by her translator Jennifer Croft—or this fascinating anonymous story called “The Legend of the Dakini Ray of Sunlight (White Tārā),” handily translated from the Mongolian by Ottilie Mulzet. Really, you can’t go wrong, but we can still try to point you toward our favorite issue picks this time around:  READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 15th January 2015: Hardy-Har, Mordor

This week's happy literary highlights from around the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote! Biggest big deal this week: our new issue, which features so. many. literary standouts and standouts-to-come—an interview with Junot Díaz, an essay by Ingo Schulze, writing from Sibylle Lacan, and on, and on. As per tradition, we’ll be sharing our bloggy favorites here on Monday, but you could click blindfolded and come across a gem. Happy reading!

If you’re a translator in 2016 (!), you’re sure to have a fraught relationship with Google Translate. On one hand, the mystic algorithmic Googlic properties of the service provide for an interesting alternative to the usual bilingual dictionaries we translating folk tend to turn to, but on the other hand, Google’s app supposedly threatens to bully us into irrelevance. And that’s why this glitch—in which Google Translate translated every instance of “Russia” into “Mordor,” as in The Lord of the Rings, is especially hilarious.  READ MORE…

In Conversation with Fuat Sevimay, Turkish translator of Finnegans Wake

"[Joyce], the master builder, says something in so-called English, but the same word indicates something else if you read half of it in Gaelic."

Despite his relatively recent arrival in the Turkish literary world, Fuat Sevimay is a highly promising writer and translator. After graduating from Marmara University with a degree in business and working as a sales manager for two decades, he began writing in his spare time six years ago “just to get rid of boredom.”

Sevimay was encouraged to keep writing, however, because his work quickly began to garner awards. In 2014, his short story collection Ara Nağme won the Orhan Kemal Short Story Book Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in Turkey, and in 2015, his novel Grand Bazaar won the Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar Novel Prize. His novel AnarŞık was also adapted for the stage this year, premiering last month in Istanbul. A devoted father of two, Sevimay has also written numerous children’s books, including Haydar Paşa’nın Evi.

Sevimay has translated  two of Italo Svevo’s novels, Senilità and La Novelle del Buon Vecchio E Della Bella Fanciulla, from Italian. Sevimay has also translated Oscar Wilde’s 1891 essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Pandora by Henry James, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the collection of Joyce’s essays entitled Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing. In 2015, Sevimay was the Translator-in-Residence at Trinity College Dublin, hosted by the Ireland Literature Exchange and the Centre for Literary Translation.

Over a course of emails we interviewed Sevimay about his current project, translating what may very well be the most complicated book ever written, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.


Derek Pyle and Sara Jewell: Fuat, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Let’s start with hearing a bit more about yourself. What is your background as a writer and translator?

Fuat Sevimay: To be frank, I never dreamed of becoming a writer or translator. Until six years ago, I had been working as a sales manager and was simply a good reader. Then I wrote a story just to get rid of my boredom. If I had a nice voice instead, I could try to sing but it would be a kind of torture for my friends. The story was not bad. I made some redactions and then sent it to a competition. Two months later, someone called me and told that my story was awarded. Let’s call it fate. Then I had novels, a short story collection, books for children and some translations published, including Portrait of the Artist and Joyce’s Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing. READ MORE…

Savage and Strange: Interviewing Guest Artist Samuel Hickson

Illustrator Samuel Hickson is our guest artist for the October issue.

Illustrator Samuel Hickson is our guest artist for the October issue. His meticulous and haunting images, often composed out of thousands of small dots, bring to life eleven of our texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Multilingual Writing feature sections. I interview him about his influences and his experience contributing to Asymptote.


Berny Tan: Your work is usually inspired by “satire, horror, sci-fi and psychedelia,” but not all of the texts you illustrated belonged in these genres. How did you generate ideas for those texts?

Samuel Hickson: Most of the texts featured details or events which immediately conjured images in my mind as I read them. I’d sketch these initial ideas down and then develop the image which portrayed the overall atmosphere or emotion of the text in the most succinct manner.