Awards, new translations, and a poet working to help the homeless—all this and more awaits in today’s dispatches! From Hong Kong, Hungary, and Indonesia, our editors-at-large have the latest updates.
Jacqueline Leung, Editor-at-Large for Hong Kong, reporting from Hong Kong
In the last few months of 2018, Hong Kong saw the deaths of several literary greats, but with January comes commemoration and activity. Martial arts novelist Louis Cha Leung-yung, or “Jin Yong,” passed away on October 30, 2018, just half a year after the publication of Legends of the Condor Heroes: A Hero Born, the English translation of one of his emblematic wuxia series set during the Song Dynasty. A Bond Undone, the second volume of the quartet, will be published at the end of this month in Gigi Chang’s translation. Its release is likely to gain even more traction in the aftermath of the writer’s passing.
We are proud to present “Body Memory,” our most diverse issue ever, featuring new work from a record-breaking 35 countries! Etel Adnan, Steinn Steinarr, and Argonauts author Maggie Nelson join us in celebrating our eighth anniversary and the six winners of our international translation contest picked by Edward Gauvin and Eugene Ostashevsky. Top honors go to two translators of underrepresented languages this year: Olivia Hellewell, who works with Slovenian fiction, and Daniel Owen, Indonesian poetry. Who else won a slice of USD3,000 in prizes? Find out here.
If you believe in our work, help us spread word of it in the physical realm with our Winter 2019 flyer (pictured above), or join us on Facebook and Twitter over the next two weeks especially as we push the glorious art and writing entrusted us out into the world. If you’re inclined to tweet, here’s a suggestion:
NEW ISSUE! Please RT @asymptotejrnl’s Winter 2019 “Body Memory” feat. Maggie Nelson, Etel Adnan, and Steinn Steinarr, among new work from 35 countries! Find out who took home $3,000 in prizes in the magazine’s annual translation contest, unveiled here: http://asymptotejournal.com/jan-2019
On social media, many have been posting before and after photos in response to a ten-year challenge. At Asymptote, we take this ten-year-challenge to mean something else altogether: the challenge is see through what we’ve done for a full ten years, at least. It may beggar belief that we have done all that we’ve done in the service of world literature (events, educational guides, podcasts, blog posts, newsletter dispatches, and even a Book Club) on little to no institutional funding. Truth is, it has been every bit as hard as you suspect it to be behind the scenes, as we recounted in last year’s #30issues30days showcase. Although we are one of the most generous resources for out there for world lit, chronic ineligibility for nation-based grants means we’re stranded without support. High-visibility literary festivals apply for and receive sponsorship all the time, but who will support the very private act of literary discovery on a computer screen? As we enter our ninth year, the last leg of this challenge, we hope you’ll stand with us and sign up either as a sustaining member or a masthead member. We need your support more than ever. Become a part of our global movement—join the Asymptote family today!
Everything Lost is Found Again: Four Seasons in Lesotho by Will McGrath, Dzanc Books, 2018
To recognize one’s own foreignness in a place that is foreign is difficult. To write it is even harder. In Everything Lost is Found Again, journalist Will McGrath’s Lesotho-set travelogue, he does what is almost antithetical to the travel writing genre and acknowledges his foreignness, resisting the impulse to position himself as the default cultural setting and transfer “otherness” to the country and its citizens. The fact that this book is printed in English and primarily sold in the States means that his audience is also foreign to the place he is writing about, making McGrath’s reversal a considerable achievement.
But let’s begin one step back. How should a foreigner write about a place, particularly a place in Africa: the continent of ready stereotypes and tired clichés? In Binyavanga Wainaina’s satirical 2005 Granta essay, “How to Write About Africa,” the Kenyan author advises: “In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country . . . Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions . . . Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone . . . Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the ‘real Africa,’ and you want that on your dust jacket . . . Readers will be put off if you don’t mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky.”
This week, we present a darkly funny short story in which an important dinner party is hijacked by a gang of malevolent chairs. Written by Jonathan Minila and translated from the Spanish by Will Stockton, “The Attack of the Living Chairs” is both an absurdist romp and a mocking portrait of Mexico’s ruling class.
The chairs revealed themselves as soon as we crossed into the dining room. They drew back to the wall and surrounded us as we approached the table.
The women screamed. We did, too. The guest of honor—the President’s wife—swooned and fainted. I served as the home’s proprietor, and something had to be done.
I tried to pick her up, feeling ridiculous, disgusted to touch a woman with so much fat on her arms and such a formidable mustache. Still, everyone hoped I would find a solution.
My wife seemed to have been rendered speechless. The others, too. No one moved. Only me, who struggled to lift this influential fat woman.
Our final Asymptote Book Club selection for 2018 was The Barefoot Woman, Scholastique Mukasonga’s “haunted and haunting love letter” to her mother. In this latest edition of our Book Club interview series, translator Jordan Stump tells Asymptote’s Alyea Canada why he leapt at the chance to translate both The Barefoot Woman and Scholastique Mukasonga’s earlier memoir, Cockroaches, and why “this is a really good time for translation.”
Already broken a few New Year’s resolutions? How about making one you’ll really enjoy? Like reading the world with Asymptote Book Club, now open to E.U. residents! It’s still not too late to pledge to read adventurously in 2019: Sign up for the Asymptote Book Club by Jan 16 and receive your first book in January!
Alyea Canada (AC): How did you come to translate The Barefoot Woman? What drew you to Scholastique Mukasonga’s work in general and to this book in particular?
Jordan Stump (JS): It was Jill Schoolman who introduced me to Mukasonga’s work, not long after Notre-Dame du Nil was published. I was immediately taken by it, so when the chance to translate Cockroaches and The Barefoot Woman came along, I leapt at it immediately. I translate books that say something in a way that strikes me as so perfect I want to try to say it myself—like learning to play a piece of music you particularly love instead of simply listening to it. Reading is like listening; translating is like playing. There are always many reasons why a given book has that effect on me, but in this case I loved the sharpness of Mukasonga’s eye, the graceful construction of her chapters, the way a story wrapped up in unimaginable loss is told with a little smile, and the way in which that smile sometimes abruptly disappears.
Did you hear? We recently released our first recruitment drive of the year, advertising many newly available openings (from poetry editor to social media manager), offering readers a chance to get involved behind the scenes as Asymptote enters its ninth year of curating the best in world literature. Some of you who might be curious about this opportunity (bear in mind that the application deadline is less than 10 days away!) may wonder what it’s like to work for a dynamic literary journal such as ours, so today, in a weekend special, we are sharing a testimonial by Communications Manager Emma Page, who tells us why she chose to become a part of our global movement.
After completing my MA in Translation at Lancaster University in the UK this past October, I spent quite a bit of time figuring out what to do with myself. I considered looking for a position in publishing, but opportunities appeared few and far between. I eventually landed on freelance business translation, which I love, but the work didn’t quench my thirst for the arts. At a loss and living on the isolated Isle of Man, I started looking for remote opportunities at literary journals and websites.
I had been reading Asymptote since it was a brand-new venture and I was a high schooler just discovering the world of literary translation, but I had never considered working for them. As freelancers and artists in the social-media era, we are often told by our elders to be suspicious of “opportunities” to trade our work for “experience” or “exposure.” It’s a catch-22: If you can’t afford to work for free, you can’t gain the experience to qualify for the rare, extremely competitive paid gigs. I believe this is a real problem in the arts world, and that it directly contributes to the marginalization of non-wealthy voices. READ MORE…
This week, join our wonderful Asymptote staff members, Barbara, Rachael, and Nina, as they bring you literary updates from Albania, Spain, and the United States. From prestigious national literary awards to new and noteworthy titles and translations, there is plenty to discover in this week’s dispatches.
Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large for Albania, reporting from Albania:
December was a productive month for Albanian publishers, a natural result of the conclusion of the Tirana Book Fair and the expected increase in book sales that marks the holiday period. On December 18, 2018, the Albanian Ministry of Culture conferred the National Award for Literature for the best books published in 2017. Henrik Spiro Gjoka won the “Best Novel” award for his work Sonatë për gruan e një tjetri (A Sonnet for Another Man’s Wife), which details the life of a psychiatrist who falls in love with one of his patients. Translator Aida Baro won the “Best Translated Novel” award for her rendition into Albanian of Primo Levi’s The Truce (translated into English by Stuart J. Woolf), the continuation of Levi’s autobiography, If This is a Man.
Book*hug is an independent Canadian publisher based in Toronto. Since 2004, the press has been committed to bringing underrepresented voices into print and to pushing the boundaries of what literature can be. Book*hug’s first title was translated from the Danish and the press has gone on to publish numerous Scandinavian works in translation alongside French Canadian titles. Sarah Moses, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina, sat down with co-publishers Hazel Millar and Jay MillAr, to chat about their interest in works that take a risk, how translation fits in with what they’re doing as a press, and a few of the titles by French Canadian authors that they’re excited about.
Sarah Moses: How did Book*hug get started?
Jay MillAr: The first book that we ever published was a translation. The Toronto International Festival of Authors always has a country of focus and in 2004 it was Denmark. A focus of the festival that year was on Denmark and there were all these writers coming to Toronto that didn’t yet have books translated in English so the assistant to the director was calling publishers and asking them if they would consider applying for money from the Danish Arts Council and then producing a book in English by one of the authors coming to the festival. I was working at Coach House Books at the time but they didn’t want to do it so I asked if it would be okay if I did it with my imprint, BookThug, which was at that time more or less a chapbook press. They said sure, go ahead, so I applied for the money and received a grant to cover the translation of a book called Pencil of Rays and Spiked Mace, selected poems by Niels Lyngsø, which was translated by Gregory Pardlo, an American poet who had been living in Denmark for some time and was interested in translation.
As a theatre translator and researcher working in London, the work that I create is motivated by a desire to enable British audiences to engage with a particular voice, author, theme, perspective, or situation from another country and culture. I seek to facilitate this in multiple ways through academic scholarship, through study in the classroom, and through rehearsal and performance. My translation decisions are informed by a process of in-depth analysis in which I ask the following questions: how might a text resonate in a local context, for example, in Britain today? What are the links between source and target culture that enable a play to become mobile? How can dialogue begin on stage and then extend into the audience, sparking new conversations, in a new context?
In 2017 I completed the translation of two plays; Ready or Not (Punto y Coma) by Uruguayan dramatist, Estela Golovchenko, and Summer in December (Verano en diciembre) by Spanish dramatist, Carolina Africa Martín. In Ready or Not, a young girl is separated from both of her parents during the period of intense military repression (1973-1985) in Uruguay and then later reunited with her father, who is a political activist turned Senator. They clash over their political views, their ways of remembering the past, and their roles in the present. In Summer in December, a family of six women is faced with seemingly small everyday dilemmas of worrying about what their neighbours might think about them, whether the food in the fridge has passed its sell-by date, and the latest diet fad. However, the play goes on to address much more significant concerns about new and old relationships, unplanned pregnancies, and what should happen to an ageing relative with dementia.
In this week’s Translation Tuesday, join Georgian writer Ruska Jorjoliani as she tells the stories of her grandfather and their people. Becoming a refugee as a result of war, Jorjoliani’s first-person narrator gradually finds new words, before finding the need to use those words—telling the story of family, dear yet far away.
Among us, epic tales were like wedges to keep the workbench of daily life from wobbling, benches with cheap tools on top, all of us dragging ours behind us the way we did our long, grueling winters. When I was a girl, the first creatures that roused my imagination were horses—starving, weary beasts, but still horses. Every morning I used to watch our neighbor Ciko saddle his bay, settle a rough woolly hat on his head, let out a shout, and gallop off, disappearing into the mountains. Ciko’s horse and Ciko, bent low over the halter, were the only beings who could travel beyond, exceed those limits set down by the laws of nature first and then by men, the only ones who could taste another air, other worlds hidden to the common gaze. After about twenty km, the rider had to dismount and walk up so that the horse didn’t fall into a gorge, then you’d arrive at a lake, green in spring and blue in summer—what it looked like in fall or winter you didn’t know, since no one had ever dared try the climb in those seasons—and then finally the mountain would begin to shrink like the tail of a hibernating dragon and you could make out the first houses of the others in the distance, those strangers, children of another god, the Kabards.
Looking for new books to read this year? Look no further with this edition of What’s New in Translation, featuring new releases translated from Kurdish, Dutch, and Spanish. Read on to find out more about Abdulla Pashew’s poems written in exile, Tommy Wieringa’s novel about cross-cultural identities, as well as Agustín Martínez cinematic thriller.
Dictionary of Midnight by Abdulla Pashew, translated from the Kurdish by Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse, Phoneme Media (2018)
Review by Jacqueline Leung, Editor-at-Large for Hong Kong
Dictionary of Midnight is a collection of several decades of Abdulla Pashew’s poetry as he recounts the history of Kurdistan and its struggle for independence. Translated from the Kurdish by Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse, the work includes a map of contemporary Iraq and a timeline of Kurdish history for those unfamiliar with the plight of the Kurds, something Pashew, one of the most influential Kurdish poets alive today, has taken upon himself to convey and to honor.
As we welcome the New Year in, join our Editor-in-Chief, Yew Leong, and one of our Assistant Managing Editors, Janani, as they review the latest in world translation news. From the trials and tribulations faced by indigenous languages to new literary journals and non-mainstream literature, there’s plenty to catch up on!
Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief:
Though it was actually in 2016 that the UNESCO declared this year, 2019, to be the Year of Indigenous Languages, recent unhappy events have revealed how of the moment this designation has proven to be. A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who was unable to communicate how sick she was died while in U.S. Border Patrol Custody—only one of several thousands of undocumented immigrants who speak an indigenous language like Mayan, Zapotec, Mixtec, Triqui, Chatino, Mixe, Raramuri or Purepecha, according to The Washington Post. Jair Bolsonaro, the new Brazilian president who has made insulting comparisons of indigenous communities living in protected lands to “animals in zoos,” wasted no time in undermining their rights within hours of taking office and tweeted ominously about “integrating” these citizens. On a brighter note, Canada will likely be more multilingual this year as the Trudeau administration looks set to enforce the Indigenous Languages Act before the Canadian election this year. The act will not only “recognize the use of Indigenous languages as a ‘fundamental right,’ but also standardize them,” thereby assisting their development across communities. Keen to explore literary works from some of these languages? With poems from indigenous languages ranging from Anishinaabemowin to Cree, Asymptote’s Fall 2016 Special Feature will be your perfect gateway to literature by First Nations writers.
September 11, for many around the world today, is a date that is filled with images of the horrifying attack on the Twin Towers in 2001. However, in the shadow of that attack is another September 11, one that took place nearly thirty years before the tragedy in America. The murder of Chilean President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, marks the establishment of a brutal dictatorship in Chile. It is this date, as well as the latter September 11, that Carlos Soto Román contends with in his book 11. Erasure, algorithmic manipulation, and blank spaces take center stage in this evocative text, as Asymptote‘s Scott Weintraub discovers.
In his book-object 11—the winner of the 2018 Santiago Municipal Poetry Prize—Soto Román develops a material(ist) poetics steeped in absence, nothingness, the palimpsest, censorship, and the erased or altered quotation. He elaborates a profound politics of conceptualism in which no word or line is, strictly speaking, “by” the author himself. Soto Román’s writing, therefore, draws him near to certain North American poets associated with conceptualism in one way or another, such as Kenneth Goldsmith or Vanessa Place; his deep engagement with the ludic and the via negativa, however, allows one to associate him with the visual experiments of Vicente Huidobro (1893-1948), the carefully cultivated disappearance of the author practiced by Juan Luis Martínez (1942-1993), and the deconstruction of institutionalized discourses employed by Rodrigo Lira (1949-1981).
Mina by Kim Sagwa, translated from the Korean by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, Two Lines Press
Mina is a novel by the award-winning writer Kim Sagwa, translated from Korean by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton ten years after its original publication—one can tell, because the text mentions MP3 players that are by now quite obsolete. It is the very first of Kim’s novels to be made available in English. Mina is set in “P City,” which sounds like “Blood City” in Korean, and is a harrowing portrait of the horrors of metropolitan life and the Korean education system. The failures of these social orders inflict despair and desolation on adolescents, exemplified by the trio of main characters: Mina, Minho, and Crystal, all high schoolers, ultimately pushing them over to the deep end of irredeemable apathy, grief, and mental illness.
Like the vicious suggestion of its name, P City is built on an unforgiving system of discrepancy and exploitation. The city is split into two parts: a middle-class suburb propagating a “lifestyle that is selfish, ignorant, and irresponsible,” where apartment blocks are “perfectly square box-shaped cement buildings” on gridded streets, and an old part of town hosting “the lives of the losers,” overcrowded and clogged with traffic. Districts are highly gentrified, their streets flanked by franchised restaurants and chain coffee shops. This sterile status quo bleeds over to P City’s educational system, in which the virtues of submission and conformity prevail over a genuine appetite for knowledge—the marking criteria deem it more important that a student can write an essay on Rousseau using correct nouns and tenses, than to contemplate his philosophy. A commentary on South Korea’s hagwon culture, where students spend excruciatingly long hours at cram school to get better scores in examinations, P City puts students under high pressure and competition, causing the suicide of Pak Chiye, a fellow schoolmate and Mina’s childhood friend, jumping from the roof of a school building.