Linguaphiles of the world unite! Before we start out with different bits and bobs of global and literary news, don’t forget that the Summer issue of Asymptote is out now and waiting for your perusal. For those among you who are teachers, we’ve just released the Educator’s Guide accompanying this issue. From linguistics to critical essay writing, educational material on a dizzying array of topics is collated in the form of interactive lesson plans, contextualizing resources, interactive learning tools, and follow-up assignments for high school and university students. Grab your free download now!
Now let’s get back to news in the literary world this week, starting off with a Russian award aimed at popularizing the country’s literature through translation. Translators around the world from Spain and Hungary to China and Mexico were nominated. The longlist was released this week and can be read here.
Moving west from one large land mass to another, in the preview of Quill & Quire‘s Fall 2016 issue, Steven W. Beattie muses on the up and coming French Canadian literature in translation. He also lists many of those books to be published as support.
Lee Yew Leong: First of all, how would you classify this new book from Tahar Ben Jelloun? The story opens with an autobiographical narrator (Ben Jelloun himself) talking about his ailing mother, but then changes mode with italicized passages, where we get stories about his mother’s past recreated from her perspective.
Ros Schwartz: Do we have to classify it? I think there’s a problem with trying to categorize books by non-Western writers which often don’t follow a linear narrative arc according to traditional European classifications. I appreciate that doing so makes life easier for publishers—and is essential when entering books for prizes and applying for subsidies—and for booksellers, but my experience of translating Francophone writers such as Ben Jelloun and Dominique Eddé (Lebanese author who writes in French) is that their books defy categorisation. So while this book is strongly autobiographical, recounting the demise of Ben Jelloun’s mother, it also has a strong fictional element where he imagines what might be going on in his mother’s Alzheimer’s-raddled mind.
Lulu Norman: Yes and also into the past, when he imagines her life as a girl and what it must have been like for her in the Fez of the 1940s; there’s a more obviously ‘fictional’ feel in those passages. The narrator, who is called Tahar, pieces together the story of her life, constructing a narrative out of what he knows and what he imagines. Ben Jelloun calls the book a novel, in order I suppose to give himself the fullest leeway and perhaps avoid any ruction in life, since everyone’s memory is so subjective.
LYL: Could you share with our readers what went on behind the scenes of this project? How both of you got attached to this translation, for example? How did English PEN play a part in the materialization of the book, and how long did you take to complete the manuscript?
RS: This project is very dear to my heart. I’ve wanted to translate Ben Jelloun ever since I read L’enfant de sable in 1985. A couple of years ago I’d just finished translating Escape by Dominique Manotti for Gary Pulsifer at Arcadia and he mentioned that he’d just acquired Sur ma mère. Gary, this one’s for me, please. It’s funny because as a translator you can get typecast. Gary had me down as doing crime fiction. Anyway, he immediately said yes, and wrote to Tahar to make sure he was OK with my doing the translation. In the meantime, there was a radical change of management and direction at Arcadia, and the project was dropped. I was devastated and wrote to Anne-Solange Noble, rights director at Gallimard, to ask if I could seek another publisher. I took the book to Lynn Gaspard at Saqi who snapped it up. Sadly Gary passed away before the book was published, which is why we have dedicated our translation to him. READ MORE…
Denis Hirson is a South African poet living in Paris. He is the author of six books, exploring the memory of South Africa under Apartheid. Hirson is a translator of Breyten Breytenbach and the editor of two anthologies of South African poetry: The Lava of This Land: South African Poetry 1960-1996, (Northwestern Press, US; Actes sud, France, 1997), and its recently published companion, In the Heat of Shadows: South African Poetry 1996-2013 (Deep South, 2014). Hannah LeClair’s conversation with Denis begins with a discussion of his role as the editor of these anthologies, and delves into the many facets of his work, from his early translations of Breytenbach, to his readings and performances in concert with long-time collaborators Sonia Emanuel and saxophonist Steve Potts, to his own writing, which frequently crosses the border between poetry and prose.
Hannah LeClair: In the Heat of Shadows is a companion to The Lava of This Land, the first anthology of South African poetry you edited. And it first appeared in French, under the title Pas de blessure, pas d’histoire, in the wake of a festival organized by the Biennale international des poètes en Val de Marne in 2013. Can you talk about your work on this project? What was it like to bring together a multi-lingual collection of poets in this context?
Denis Hirson: It was in irresistible invitation. I was asked to help choose the poets who were going to come and participate in the Festival—I should add that this took place in the context of a larger event which the French term “une saison”— a season of cultural exchange with other countries— in this case, South Africa. The first part of the Saison took place in 2012, with South Africa hosting French cultural events, and the second part of the exchange took place in France, in 2013. Pas de blessure, pas d’histoire was an anthology produced as a result of the festival, and included the work of the fourteen South African poets initially invited to participate, along with fourteen others. It was strange to put together this anthology in French before bringing it out in English; I did that a year later, changing the content slightly. I should add that the publisher was Deep South in Grahamstown, South Africa – the press run by my friend Robert Berold, who was one of the poets invited to Paris at that time.
All eyes are on famous prosecutor Teodor Szacki when he investigates a skeleton discovered at a construction site in the idyllic Polish city of Olsztyn. Old bones come as no shock to anyone in this part of Poland, but it turns out these remains are fresh, the flesh chemically removed. Szacki questions the dead man’s wife, only to be left with a suspicion she’s hiding something. Then another victim surfaces—a violent husband, alive but maimed—giving rise to a theory: someone’s targeting domestic abusers. And as new clues bring the murderer closer to those Szacki holds dear, he begins to understand the terrible rage that drives people to murder. From acclaimed Polish crime writer Zygmunt Miloszewski comes a gritty, atmospheric page-turner that poses the question, what drives a sane man to kill?
From a distance it looked like the set for a fashion shoot, in industrial style. In the background the dark shape of the city hospital, built during the German era, emerged from the gloom. In the middle distance there was a yellow excavator leaning over a hole in the ground, as if peering into it out of curiosity, and close up was a patrol car. The streetlamps and the police vehicle’s headlights carved tunnels into the thick Warmian fog, casting strange shadows. There were three men standing next to the car, all staring at the hero of the scene, an immaculately dressed man with white hair, standing by the open door of an angular Citroën. READ MORE…
Last week, we recommended readings from Asymptote‘s summer issue, “The Dive”. If you are still uncertain about where to take that first plunge into our jam-packed issue, take guidance in this week’s recommendations from some of our Section Editors. What’s more, definitely don’t miss the coverage of the issue in “This Week in Short Fiction” at The Rumpus!
“A Man Composing a Self-Portrait out of Objects,” from The Absolute Gravedigger, by Vítězslav Nezval, tr. Stephan Delbos and Tereza Novická. Review: Aditi Machado, Poetry Editor.
I like weird poetry. Poetry that enacts the essential weirdness of trying to figure out stuff. For instance, when language tries to work out what a thought is or what thinking feels like, that’s weird. All of this seemingly abstract, matter-less matter turns into an ungainly body of odd parts that keeps connecting and breaking off and turning into other, still odder, parts. That’s what Vítězslav Nezval’s poem, “A Man Composing a Self-Portrait out of Objects,” feels like to me. To paint this internal picture, the man has to handle the external world of solid, but changeable, things:
“Dismantling / A very intricate clock / Assembling from its gears / A seahorse / That could represent him before a tribunal / Where he would be tried / By five uniformed men from the funeral home / For his pathological absent-mindedness.”
Nezval’s translators have done an excellent job of embodying in English the slippery act of cobbling together what can never entirely cohere—a self. I recommend this excellent poem and eagerly await the book in which it will appear, The Absolute Gravedigger. (Twisted Spoon Press, forthcoming in 2016.) READ MORE…
What a week it has been in literature! Have you spent the best part of last week submerged in our new July 2016 issue? If you haven’t, now might be a time to take a break, take a breath, and plunge into The Dive.
Also, July 28 is being celebrated as a Day of Creativity for Ashraf Fayadh, the Palestinian poet imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for writing that allegedly spreads atheism. Artists from around the world are using blogs, videos, social media, and other creative measures to support Fayadh.
Radio Atlas is an exciting new project gathering together subtitled audio from around the world – introducing listeners to a whole slew of inventive, genre-bending documentaries, drama and sound art made in languages that they may not necessarily speak.
Eleanor McDowall is an established radio documentary maker and producer with Falling Tree Productions, an independent production company based in London. She has helped to pioneer “animated radio” productions at home in the United Kingdom, and produces BBC Radio 4’s much-lauded series,‘Short Cuts’, with the British comedian, Josie Long.
David Maclean: Can you give me a brief history of Radio Atlas, i.e. how it came together and its origins?
Eleanor McDowall: Radio Atlas emerged out of a desire I had for a platform that didn’t exist—an easy, accessible way of engaging with interesting audio in languages I didn’t speak. I’d had a lot of experience listening to documentaries with big wads of paper on my knee, flicking through a translation as the audio played out, and desperately hoping that I hadn’t lost my place. A few years ago I saw an early event by the wonderful In The Dark where they played a Norwegian audio documentary in a cinema with subtitles and I was struck by how natural the experience was. This was the first time that I got away from feeling I was ‘reading’ a documentary and felt like I was really ‘hearing’ it. Radio Atlas is an attempt to make the most sympathetic subtitling experience I can for the audio—so hopefully you stop thinking about the text and start listening.
Since we launched our ‘Ask A Translator’ column last December, award-winning writer, editor and translator Daniel Hahn has been on hand to remedy the translation woes of Asymptote readers around the globe. Given the overwhelming love that our readers show for the column and Daniel (seriously, you guys are the best), we can’t wait to welcome Asymptote fans to our very first literary salon today at Waterstones Piccadilly, London on July 20th. The event will be hosted by our Editor-at-Large, Megan Bradshaw and will see Daniel fielding questions from the audience and our readers via Twitter. You can find out more about the event and reserve your place here, or if you can’t attend the event, tweet us your translation question with #AskATranslator.
In anticipation of the event, we’ve put together a shortlist of the six most important lessons for aspiring translators:
- Don’t be starstruck by authors (and don’t be afraid to stand your ground)
“Imagine approaching pretty much any writer and saying, “Look, here’s the plan, we’re going to change lots of things in your book—no, I really mean lots of things, like all the words—then we’re going to publish it all over the world in your name, but you won’t get to see what it actually says… Sound OK?” They’d be within their rights to feel more than a little uneasy about it.
But just as I don’t always understand what they’re doing, they don’t always understand what I’m doing either. And their English is sometimes not quite as good as they think it is. (Or at least I hope it’s typically less good than mine, otherwise I might as well pack the whole thing in.) While I want them to be reassured, I’m the person who signs things off for the publisher, and I have to be happy with the English text—my name’s on it, too, and if something sounds funny that will end up being my fault.”
From our brand-new summer issue, we are thrilled to bring you the English debut of Pedro Novoa’s “The Dive,” winner of Peru’s “Story of 1000 Words” contest. Novoa’s narrative talent and knack for spare but evocative description are in full display here, rendered beautifully into English by translator George Henson. To catalyze the transmission of his work across linguistic borders, we especially commissioned translations into 14 other languages (from Albanian and Bengali to Chinese), all of which you can read for free here.
You dive. As you descend you hear your Grandmother Hiromi: “Bring back the algae of the old ways.” The words float around your handmade mask like fish shedding scales of light. Your bet on modern medicine came up empty. The iodine tablets that your brother Yochan took to combat anemia had little effect; at most, they turned his cheeks pink for a few weeks.
Next came your training: aquatics, the progressive submersions, and, of course, the medical checkups to see if your body was responding. You needed to be sure: Mama Misuki had died precisely because she had underestimated science, because she put more trust in myth than in reality. To Grandmother, her daughter hadn’t died, she’d been called back to the sea. No one contradicted her. As was custom, no one cried during the wake. Only Papa Hideo sought refuge in the bathroom, where he broke tradition and burst into tears.
Hello, dear readers of Asymptote! First up, a reminder about our ongoing contest that could bring unbeatable literature to your doorstep and flesh out that summer reading list. There are two ways to participate:
- Share your favorite piece from the new issue on social media with the hashtag #ReadAsymptote and you’ll have a chance to win a book. Who doesn’t love books? Especially these ones:
The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa by Chika Sagawa (tr. Sawako Nakayasu)
Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (tr. Arunava Sinha)
The Art of Flight by Sergio Pitol (tr. George Henson)
The Journey by Sergio Pitol (tr. George Henson)
- Send us your favorite piece in the new issue and the reason you love it in 400 words or less. Submit here today for another chance to win one of those precious free books! The deadline for each contest is tomorrow, the 19th of July.
And, secondly, we hope you are as excited as we are about the release of our summer issue, THE DIVE. The issue is packed full of captivating stories, poems, drama, visual art, criticism and interviews from 34 different countries. There are translations from five languages never-before presented in Asymptote (Estonian, French Creole, Kiezdeutsch, Old English, and Xitsonga) as well as our second-ever Multilingual Writing section. Here at the Asymptote Blog, we’ve picked our highlights, listed below, in no particular order.
Television: The Thousand and One Nights by Robert Merino, translated from Spanish by Neil Davidson. Recommended by Allegra Rosenbaum, Blog Editor.
Robert Merino describes the arrival of a television in his childhood home in Chile. The writing is very much a stream of life events, surrounded by this electronic piece of furniture. We watch Merino grow up and come of age throughout the essay with television. It is the center of his universe, his upbringing, his babysitter, and his cultural education.
A glorious and happy Friday, Asymptote readers! Our Summer 2016 issue is here, featuring the works of Pierre Joris, Sawako Nakayasu, Philippe Sollers, Pedro Novoa, and more!
Asymptote is also doing not one, but two contests with prizes! Share your favorite piece from the new issue on social media with the hashtag #ReadAsymptote and you’ll have a chance to win a book. Who doesn’t love books? Especially these ones:
The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa by Chika Sagawa (tr. Sawako Nakayasu),
Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay,
The Art of Flight by Sergio Pitol, and
The Journey by Sergio Pitol.
The second contest involves sending us your favorite piece in the new issue and why in 400 words or less. Submit here today for another chance to win one of those precious free books! The deadline for each contest is the 19th of July. READ MORE…
The Blue Blood by Oddný Eir, tr. Philip Roughton, Amazon’s Day One. Review: K.T. Billey, Assistant Editor
The Blue Blood seems simple: a woman wants to have baby. Motherhood has always been “in her cards.” She has found a partner who is game, and they love each other. They try everything, including multiple artificial inseminations from donors selected for their blue eyes—hoping the baby will approximate the father. Disappointment and hope begin to frame the narrator’s consuming obsession: finding someone who can help with ‘their problem.’ Her search for a donor expands into the world, as heartbreak and determination test the limits of her relationship. The reader is privy to the narrator’s pseudo-diary “As if recounting a clever story gives my life purpose…”
In a series of titled vignettes, The Blue Blood does more than chronicle the toll of dreams and bodily realities on our relationships. Blue is everywhere—signs, names, auras, eyes, oceans—a mystic slice reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, revolving around fertility and the windows to the soul. The reader experiences the writer’s symbology and suffers along with the woman struggling to read into and ignore them. We feel the weight of their accumulation, the damaging pressure. Desire and action are not enough. When is trying trying too hard? The nature of coincidence gets tangled with intimacy, confronting us with the what we cannot know, will, or hope into being. Of course the couple’s vacation to Argentina finds them in a mountain village with a Nazi past and many blue eyed specimens. Of course they cannot neuter the dog. READ MORE…
Illustrator Gianna Meola is our guest artist for the April issue. Her effortlessly succinct images capture poignant moments in sixteen of our texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, and Drama sections, as well as the works of our Close Approximations Contest winners. I interview her about her experience contributing to Asymptote, and delve into her processes as an illustrator.
Berny Tan: I really appreciate how you were able to distill every text into one distinct image. Could you take us through your process of conceiving and executing each piece?
Gianna Meola: I’m pretty straightforward—I read the text and thumbnail any ideas that come to me as I go, and then add notes and corrections before moving on to cleaner sketches. I also like to do some research into what I’m drawing if I’m not familiar with it; for instance, I ended up learning some truly useless information about constellations while researching ‘Anathema.’ It was great.
Since she’s been ill, my mother’s become a frail little thing with a faltering memory. She summons members of her family who are long dead. She talks to them, is astonished that her mother hasn’t come to visit, and sings the praises of her little brother who, she says, always brings her presents. They file past her bedside, sometimes they linger. I don’t interrupt them, I don’t like to upset her. Keltum, her paid companion, complains: ‘She thinks we’re in Fez, the year you were born!’
Mother’s revisiting my childhood. Her memory’s been toppled, lies scattered over the damp floor. Time and reality are out of kilter. She gets swept away by the emotions that come surging back. Every quarter of an hour, she asks me: ‘How many children do you have?’ Every time, I answer in the same even tone. Keltum is agitated and interrupts to say she can’t stand Mother’s repeated questions any more.
Mother’s afraid of Keltum. She’s a woman whose eyes betray her wicked thoughts and she knows it. When she speaks to me, she looks at the floor. When she greets me, she’s obsequious, bowing and attempting to kiss my hand. I don’t want to push her away, or put her in her place. I pretend not to know what she’s up to. I can see fear in my mother’s eyes. Fear that Keltum might leave her on her own when none of us are here. Fear that she won’t give her her medication. Fear that she’ll let her go without food, or worse, give her meat that’s gone off. Fear that she might spank her, as if she were a naughty child. In one of her lucid moments, my mother said to me: ‘I’m not mad, you know. Keltum thinks I’m a little girl again. She tells me off, she threatens me, but I know it’s the pills playing tricks on me. Keltum’s not a bad person, she’s just prickly. She’s tired. She’s the one who washes me every morning, you know, son; she’s the one who cleans up the stuff that leaks out of me. I couldn’t ask that of you, or your brother, so Keltum’s here for that too. It’s as well to forget the rest …’ READ MORE…