“There’s a whole universe of stories out there that we, in the English-speaking world, have yet to discover. Let the Asymptote Book Club take you there.” ~ Yann Martel
Over its first four months, the Asymptote Book Club has taken readers to a small village in northern Norway during the frozen depths of the Arctic winter, a sunlit plaza in an Argentina overshadowed by the Perón regime, the dense forests of Bihar, and a Naples apartment filled with haunting memories of the past.
With our fifth title, Alicia Kopf’s Brother in Ice, we’re setting off on a new journey: a genre-bending tale of Polar exploration. Translated into English by Mara Faye Lethem and published by And Other Stories, Brother in Ice has received widespread critical acclaim, winning the prestigious Premi Documenta award in Barcelona. “In another country,” writes Enrique Vila-Matas, “this book would have changed the course of its history.”
As always, head to our Book Club page for more information and the opportunity to become a subscriber. If you’re already part of the Book Club, don’t forget to join our online discussion group. As a starting point for the latest discussion, here’s Asymptote Assistant Editor Georgia Nasseh’s review of Brother in Ice:
Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf, translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem, And Other Stories
Reviewed by Georgia Nasseh, Assistant Editor
‘I’ve always been irritated by systematization,’ we are told by the narrator of Alicia Kopf’s literary debut, Brother in Ice, brilliantly translated into English from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem, ‘because it goes against my nature, but later, seeing the results it brings, I’ve attempted it. In the end,’ she concludes, ‘I’ve become someone who scribbles, systematically.’
It is true that Kopf’s novel is unconventional. So much so that it raises questions over whether it is even apt to term such a hybrid work a novel. According to publishers &OtherStories, it is ‘part research notes, part fictionalized diary, part travelogue’—and whilst that is how the tripartite structure of Brother in Ice may be understood, Kopf’s systematic scribbles gesture past these categories. Indeed, preceding the text, and acting as a preface, are two pages of small illustrations—all of which belong to Kopf’s own visual installation Diario de Conquistas (2014), exhibited in Barcelona’s La Capella. This formal decision, though unannounced, subtly foregrounds the intrinsic relationship between the author’s visual and literary production, but also, in a broader sense, between the image and the printed word, which often complement one another throughout the text.
It is in this light that we as readers might understand, for example, the impact of the phrase ‘Around the world’, taken from Daft Punk, when printed multiple times in white letters against a black background, amidst slanted exclamation marks, rooted as it is in Kopf’s profound awareness of the undeniably visual nature of the printed word. And it is in these moments throughout the narrative that Brother in Ice truly feels as if part of a wider project—an ‘exploration of exploration’, as Kopf herself defines it.
Ultimately, through all these systematic detours—which interweave effortlessly, and in almost homeopathic doses, fragments of history with patient reflections on the narrator’s poignant relationship with her family and, more specifically, her autistic brother—Kopf’s readers, aided by Lethem’s seamless translation, will find that they have undertaken a real journey.
Read about some of our past Book Club selections: