Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The best in the international literary scene right here at Asymptote

Welcome back for a fresh week of literary news from around the globe, featuring the most exciting developments from Hungary, Norway, Spain and the Caribbean. 

Diána Vonnák, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Hungary: 

A major literary event, the 25th International Book Festival was held in Budapest between 19-22 April. The annual festival is not only a feast of newly published Hungarian literature with roundtable discussions, speeches, and meet-ups, but also a hub for translated literature. This year, Serbia was the guest country, with invited authors such as Milovan Danojlić, Laslo Blasković, Dragan Hamović, Igor Marojević, Radoslav Petković, Dragan Velikić, and Vladislava Vojnović. Authors discussed the place of Serbian literature in the broader European context, and their Hungarian translators talked about the translation process.

A highlight of the Festival was guest of honour Daniel Kehlmann’s discussion of his recent book Tyll, a chronicle of the Thirty Years War, featuring the archetypical German trickster Till Eulenspiegel. Kehlmann received the chief award of the Festival, the Budapest Prize, previously awarded to Jorge Semprún, Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass, and Michel Houellebecq, among others.

The International Book Festival was not the only place where great news about translated literature could be shared these weeks. The Hungarian Books and Translations Office of the Petőfi Literary Museum announced the list of subventioned books for the first half of 2018. Asymptote contributor and Close Approximations winner Owen Good received support for Krisztina Tóth’s Pixel, soon to be published by Seagull Books. We can also look forward to Peter Sherwood’s translation of The Birds of Verhovina by Ádám Bodor, supported by the same agency.

András Forgách’s No Live Files Remain has just been published by Simon and Schuster in Paul Olchváry’s translation. The book narrates Forgách’s reckoning with his mother’s past as an informant of the Kádár regime. Facing family histories and friendships compromised by agent activities is a peculiar genre in Hungarian literature—and literary traditions of virtually every country that experienced intense state surveillance. No Live Files Remain is a crucial addition to this thread, a mother’s story that could serve as a counterpart of Péter Esterházy’s account of his father in Revised Edition.

Catherine Belshaw, guest contributor, reporting from the Caribbean: 

If you’ve managed to never hear about the NGC Bocas Lit Fest before, consider yourself now informed—magic happens here. This perfectly curated and important literary festival, one of the Caribbean’s largest and most respected, just wrapped up it’s eighth year in Trinidad and Tobago.

Led by Founder and Director Marina Salandy-Brown and by Programme Director, Nicholas Laughlin, a well-regarded poet (author of The Strange Years of My life) and editor (of The Caribbean Review of Books and other publications) in his own right, few other festivals do more to recognize and celebrate Caribbean literature and showcase new Caribbean writers and writing.

Through a year-round programme of workshops, readings, and publishing collaborations and a full five-day festival of panels, readings, films, workshops, and parties each April, Bocas Lit Fest events consciously and sometimes cheekily toy with the ideas of migration, diaspora, colonialism, post-colonialism, politics, history, race, and place, contributing to the growth of the Caribbean’s well-known and out-sized influence on the world’s literary heritage.

A festival highlight is its own OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature—a major award recognizing Caribbean writers of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction which this year went to award-winning poet, writer, and critic Jennifer Rahim for her second short story collection, Curfew Chronicles: A Fiction (Peepal Tree Press, 2017).

Partnerships with international festivals and literary organization’s such as the Man Booker Prize, the Windham Campbell Prize, Commonwealth Writers, and the British Council, and Creative Scotland, among others help to draw the Caribbean and other worlds together in new ways. As a result, this year’s program featured international and award-winning authors such as André Alexis, Eleanor Catton, Kei Miller, David Chariandy, Jennifer Rahim, Vahni Capildeo, Romesh Gunesekera, and Adalber Salas Hernández.

The festival also works with local organizations, writing collectives, musicians, and performers to support and showcase Trinidad and Tobago’s own vital cultural forms and literary scenes. This year’s festival included Backchat—an evening of poetry celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the first ever Caribbean LGBTQ literary reading (timely given a recent high court judgement that ruled the Caribbean nation’s colonial-era laws criminalizing homosexuality unconstitutional) and the launch of Kitch, a new work by Trinidadian poet, novelist, and musician, Anthony Joseph (Peepal Tree Press, 2018). Inspired by revered Calypso legend Aldwin Roberts, better known as Lord Kitchener, the work was not simply read but channelled directly into the hearts of grateful audience members by an assembled calypso band.

The festival closed, as it does each year, with a you-must-see-it-to believe-it spoken word event cohosted by the 2Cents Movement—Trinidad and Tobago’s National Poetry Slam. Here spoken word is both art and sport as performers from around the country compete in front of the biggest audience I have maybe ever seen assembled for a literary event crowning this year’s winner, Deneka Thomas.

Like I said, magic.

Jacob Silkstone, Assistant Managing Editor, reporting from Norway: 

Even in the literary world, there’s a widely-held but fallacious view that constant growth is both necessary and desirable: each book should sell more copies than the previous one, each journal issue should attract more readers, each article should bring in more clicks, each festival should expand and appeal to an ever broader audience. In its eighth iteration, Bergen’s Audiatur festival dared to go against the crowd, narrowing its view to focus solely on contemporary poetry from the Nordic countries. The result was a resounding success.

Five guest editors—representing Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden—each assembled an anthology of four poets, culminating in a multilingual series of readings and performances at Bergen’s Litteraturhuset on April 27 and 28. The nature of the project foregrounded translation, and several poems combined the Nordic languages with English (notably Adrian Perera’s phantasmagorical long piece, ‘The Factory’, translated into Norwegian for the festival anthology, but written in a mixture of Finnish, Swedish, English “and slang”, according to Finnish editor Cia Rinne).

Erlend O. Nødtvedt, described by Morten Langeland as “the crown prince of Norwegian poetry”, delivered perhaps the most memorable performance of the evening—managing the impressive feat of having the audience doubled over with laughter while listening to him recite his family tree. Nødtvedt’s set concluded with a ‘cover version’ of an Icelandic poem by Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, by far the most irreverent of the festival’s many linguistic interchanges.

If the Nordic languages are a family, that family has a distinctly Tolstoyan nature: the five languages showcased at the festival are far from being all alike, but Audiatur demonstrated that between them lies—in the words of Danish anthology editor Andreas Vermehren Holm—“a certain emptiness that connects.”

Manel Mula Ferrer, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Spain: 

The last 23rd of April, roses and books grew in all streets of the main Catalan-speaking cities to celebrate the Diada de Sant Jordi (St. George’s Day). The figure of the saint is surrounded by legends that remember his battle against a dragon and the roses that grew from the creature’s blood. Traditionally, lovers will exchange roses and, after a very bold manoeuvre by the editorial sector in Barcelona at the beginning of the twentieth Century, also books.

In Barcelona, during the days previous to the holiday, there are a few regular acts that celebrate contemporary Catalan and Spanish literature: the Pregó de la Lectura, a discourse that initiates the holiday, given this year by the Spanish best-seller Almudena Grandes; the Diàlegs de Sant Jordi (Dialogues of Sant Jordi), which gathered the best Catalan writers with world-famous authors in tandems such as Amélie Nothomb and Sergi Pàmies or Carme Riera and Najat el Hachmi; and the Nit del Drac (Dragon’s Night), a recital that celebrates the work of Catalan writers in their anniversaries.

Something similar happened in Madrid during the weekend of April 21 and 22, when the region celebrates La Noche de los Libros (The Night of the Books), with several fairs, meet and greets, and recitals. The offer was varied, although several of the official acts revolved around the figure of the nineteenth Century writer Benito Pérez Galdós and included acts such as: the Libros Mutantes Madrid Art Book Fair at the cultural centre La Casa Encendida, which showcased the very active fanzine culture that populates the capital; the recital/concert “Con un libro en la mano” (With a Book at Hand), which invites the city’s most beloved singers to discuss their favourite authors and play their songs; and Lorquiana, a sonic fiction exploring the life and work of one of the most iconic Spanish playwrights, Federico García Lorca.


Read More News: