The brand new Fall 2018 issue of Asymptote was released last week and we are still enjoying its diverse offerings from 31 countries, including a Special Feature on Catalan fiction. After the blog editors posted their highlights two days ago, the quarterly magazine’s section editors share their favorites from this season’s haul:
What good is French today? After years of patient apprenticeship, and years of mastery, perhaps writing in French was only a means of escape, or a way of doing battle. These are the questions that Abdellah Taïa battles with, in ‘To Love and to Kill: Why Do I Write In French?’ Beautifully translated by Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg, Taïa’s essay attacks the French language, with great vigor and style, and—of course—in French. In a succinct essay, Taïa adroitly sets out the class politics of speaking French in Morocco, and the satisfactions (and oblivions) of conquering a language and a place, and all the complicated forms of hatred (and self-hatred) that come with it.
—Joshua Craze, Nonfiction editor
“The most important thing for me is that I’ve used my talents as a writer to enable the Ogoni people to confront their tormentors. I was not able to do it as a politician or a businessman. My writing did it.” writes Ken Saro-Wiwa in a letter to his friend, the British novelist William Boyd. In this issue, we highlight writers who found ways to voice the lived injustices in their world. In particular, we are very fortunate to feature Helon Habila’s words on Ken Saro-Wiwa in an essay that first appeared in German in an anthology on African heroes from different fields, Visionäre Afrikas: Der Kontinent in Ungewöhnlichen Porträts. Habila deftly moves across the trajectory of Saro-Wiwa’s multifaceted career to his untimely demise. We are reminded of the power of the written word, the sanctity in the love of one’s home. Saro-Wiwa reminds us that no writer is without context, and by extension, responsibility. We are all accountable to each other for truth– both written and lived.
—Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor
This issue’s Catalan Fiction Feature, which I edited with the kind support of the Institut Ramon Llull, showcases influential Catalan authors J. V. Foix, Cèlia Suñol, and Manuel Baixauli alongside emerging new talent who represent the future of Catalan literature: Najat El Hachmi, Neus Canyelles, and Marta Rojals. Although Najat El Hachmi’s Mother of Milk and Honey has already been picked by Nina Perrotta in the blog editors’ highlights (and for important reasons too: it’s a moving and powerful account centered on a Moroccan immigrant of Muslim faith but written in Catalan), I want to single it out again for its thrillingly close first-person account of a refugee’s journey, that lends a voice to the record-breaking 68.5 million people forcibly displaced from their countries in 2017 alone. With Honduran refugees in the limelight these past two weeks, this story reminds us of the hardship and uncertainty that a refugee has to go through (even without being demonized as a terrorist), and Najat El Hachmi’s story absolutely sings in Peter Bush’s eloquent translation.
—Lee Yew Leong, Fiction Editor and Catalan Fiction Feature Editor
My highlight of this issue is Brigette Manion’s review of Now, Now, Louison by Jean Frémon, translated from the French by Cole Swenson and published in English by Les Fugitives. Manion’s assessment of Frémon’s ‘imagined biography’ featuring Louise Bourgeois is lucidly written and thoroughly researched. She casts a sharp eye over both the relationship between ‘biographer’ and subject, and between author and translator, questioning the ethics of Frémon’s narrative method and generously assessing both his and Swenson’s contribution to Bourgeois’s memory.
—Ellen Jones, Criticism Editor
In this Fall 2018 Drama section, we encounter works from Norway and Korea. May-Brit Akerholt’s translation of Jon Fosse’s Death “Variations” shows us one of the reasons why Fosse is considered one of Norway’s pre-eminent dramatists. The piece circles around themes of death, loneliness and alienation in the modern world with eloquence and devastating acuity into the human condition. Walter Byongsok Chon’s translation of Sam Shik-Pai’s “Inching Towards Yeolha” is a fascinatingly acute and darkly humorous rendering of a play that looks at a broad canopy of human society, young and old, those on the decline and those at the beginning of their life journey.”
—Caridad Svich, Drama Editor
In this section, interviews editor Henry Knight talks nonfiction and nonfiction pedagogy with Phillip Lopate, renowned essayist and chair of the nonfiction program at Columbia. “I’m advocating self-curiosity and self-amusement,” Lopate says of teaching the personal essay, “not to be horrified by oneself but to say, Well, that’s curious, I seem to be making the same dumb mistake over and over again… Literature, in general, helps us to see the complexity and fallibility of the human animal and to become more tolerant of impurity.”
Lopate also touches on the malleability and hybridity of the form: “I think the essay has become a more attractive vehicle. Writers of other genres are looking enviously at it, wanting to practice it, often bringing their own techniques to it,” he says. “It’s inevitable that some of the techniques of fiction and poetry workshops will enter the essay.” But the real value and appeal of the essay for Lopate is the essayistic voice, which can be “subjective, self-doubting, and inconclusive,” and serves as an “invaluable tool for the assertion of identity.”
—Claire Jacobson, Assistant Interviews Editor
Read more about Asymptote’s Fall 2018 issue: