Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of the world's literary news brings us to Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Iran.

This week, we bring you news of literary festivities in Romania and Moldova, a resurgence of female writing in Slovakia, and the tragic loss of a promising young translator in Iran. As always, watch this space for the latest in literary news the world over!

MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Romania and Moldova:

A book of interviews with Romanian-German writer and past Asymptote contributor Herta Müller came out in French translation from Gallimard just a few days ago (on Feb 15). The book has already been praised for the lucidity showed by the Nobel-prize winner in combining the personal and the historical or the political.

The Romanian-German connection has actually involved quite a few headlines lately. Asymptote contributor Mircea Cărtărescu has recently won the “Thomas Mann Prize of the city of Lübeck and the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts,” while the Leipzig Book Fair will feature Romania as its special guest in March 2018. Goethe-Institut in Bucharest will be seconding Romania’s presence at the Leipzig festival and has launched a literary blog—DLite—that presents on the one hand contemporary German literature to the Romanian public, and on the other, provides the German readers with a selection of fresh works from the current Romanian literary scene.

Speaking of international festivals, the dates have been announced for Romania’s major international book event, the Bucharest International Book Fair “Bookfest” (the thirteenth edition)—May 30-June 3—alongside the special guest this year, the United States. The third edition of the Moldovan branch of the fair will be taking place in Chișinău, August 29 through September 3.

The 168th birthday of iconic post-Romantic/early modernist Mihai Eminescu was marked by official festivities in both Romania and Moldova in January. The festival traditionally held in the ‘national’ poet’s hometown Botoșani was clouded in the past few years by scandals of nepotism and abuse on the part of the central writers association in awarding the Eminescu lifetime literary merit award. This edition’s medalist Aurel Pantea seemed to entertain a more popular approval, but the festival was nevertheless troubled by a shocking performance from Medeea Iancu, the recipient of the Cartea Românească Press’s poetry award who read a graphic poem that outraged a part of the local audience, authorities, and journalists, but which she candidly described as a feminist manifesto protesting misogyny and violence against women.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Slovakia:

On 9 December Autoriáda, a literary festival featuring Slovakia’s leading writers and poets such as Pavel Vilikovský, Ivan Štrpka, and Asymptote contributors Marek Vadas, Balla and Mária Ferenčuhová (a selection of her poetry, TidalEvents: Selected Poems, trans. James Sutherland-Smith, is due out on March 15), was held in what is shaping up as the capital Bratislava’s new cultural hub. Located in the former technical college on the outskirts of town, Nová Cvernovka (The New Yarn Factory) was founded by a bunch of artists and non-profit groups who had previously turned an abandoned 19th century textile factory in the city centre into a thriving hive of activity only to be thrown out by developers. Last year they refurbished the old school, opening its doors to an array of cafes, workshops, and performing and co-working spaces. Among the first to take up residence was the intriguingly-named Cabinet of Slowness (Kabinet pomalosti), a public library-cum-venue for literary discussions run by former bookseller and poet Viktor Suchý.

Potopené duše (Sunken Souls, 2017, Aspekt), the pioneering anthology of twelve unknown or forgotten Slovak women poets from the first half of the twentieth century was an unlikely literary sensation of 2017. Edited by literature scholar Andrea Bokníková, this lovingly produced and meticulously researched volume showcases each poet’s work complete with editorial notes and a biography. One of the authors, Bela Dunajská, stopped writing when her frank reflection of female sexuality was condemned as immoral. Some sixty years later, the publication of the transgressive novella Umělohmotný třípokoj (Three Plastic Rooms, Alex Zucker’s English translation reviewed here) by Dunajská’s grand-daughter, acclaimed Czech writer Petra Hůlová, caused a similar uproar.

The usual suspects Jo Nesbø and prolific Slovak crime writer Dominik Dán were beaten to the top place on Slovakia’s list of bestselling titles in 2017 by the real story of a woman Holocaust survivor, written by a woman. Mengeleho dievča (Mengele’s girl, 2016) by TV journalist Veronika Homolová-Tóthová is the account of the extraordinary life of Viola Stern Fischerová, who survived four concentration camps and medical experiments by the notorious Dr. Mengele and managed to escape. She died in May 2017, aged ninety-four and by the end of the year the book sold 67,000 copies, an extraordinary figure for the market the size of Slovakia, a country of five million.

Poupeh Missaghi, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Iran:

On Tuesday, February 6, 2018, a memorial was held for Nazanin Dayhimi, Iranian translator, editor, and journalist, who passed away on November 11, 2017 at the age of twenty-nine due to an asthma attack.

She started doing translation under the supervision of her father Khashayar Dayhimi, well-known Iranian translator and editor of mainly philosophy works, and with the translation of young adult books during her college years. Later, she turned to translating literary works and plays. Some of her translations include works from authors such as Barbara Park, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza’s The Fragrance of Guava (conversations with Gabriel Garcia Marquez), Tom Stoppard’s plays The Coast of Utopia Trilogy: Voyage, Shipwreck, Salvage, Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica, and John Hodge’s Collaborators, several of them with co-translator Mehdi Noori, all from Mahi Publishing House, where she worked for many years as an editor; as well as Slavenka Drakulic’s Café Europa: Life After Communism with Goman Publishing House.

At the memorial, held at Hanooz Publishing Company and Bookstore, Mehdi Noori, her colleague and co-translator, along with several prominent translators and editors including Abdollah Kosari, Mojdeh Daghighi, Abtin Golkar, and playwright and theatre director Mohammad Rezaee Rad spoke to celebrate the legacy of her short but fruitful literary life. Another person who spoke was Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, daughter of the late former president of Iran Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who shared memories of when she and Nazanin were in prison in 2012, both as a result of their political activism.

On another note, a look at the bestselling titles of the fall 2017, according to Mehr News Agency, shows, per usual, the popularity of translations. The lists provided by different publishers included works by Kazuo Ishiguro, Patrick Modiano, Jojo Moyes, Sam Savage, Jonas Jonasson, Alexander Brakel’s Holocaust, and two books about North Korea: Dear Leader by Jang Jin-sung and The Tears of My Soul by Hyun Hee Kim.

On a final note, the National Library and Archives of Iran will celebrate its eightieth anniversary with several events, exhibitions, and publications between February 24 – March 2.


Read more dispatches from the Asymptote blog: