Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

From Olga Tokarczuk to Ana María Rodas, read on for the latest in global literature!

As Italo Calvino said; “Literature is like an eye that can perceive beyond the chromatic scale to which Politics is sensitive.” This week, our editors are spanning Poland and Central America this week to bring you news of literature festivals, celebrations, and renowned writers bringing international regard to their home countries, but also, reports of literature in acts of reclamation, restoration, and freedom. To reinstate humanity into issues that seem beyond individual control is a necessary use of language, and around the world, writers are taking up the responsibility.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Poland

In every corner of Poland, book lovers had a literary festival to choose from this summer. The Borderland Foundation, an international centre for dialogue in Sejny on the Polish/Lithuanian border, hosted a programme of discussions, workshops, and concerts from June through August, with guests including Yale University historian Timothy Snyder, who discussed The Road to Unfreedom with the centre’s director, Krzysztof Czyżewski (photos here). In July, the Non-Fiction festival in Kraków featured acclaimed non-fiction writers of the likes of Małgorzata Rejmer as well as rising new stars of literary reportage, such as Katarzyna Puzyńska, who has made a successful switch from best-selling crime to non-fiction, publishing two books of interviews with Polish policemen. Sopot Literacki, a literary festival in the Baltic Sea resort of Sopot, showcased literature from the UK from August 15 to 18, featuring, among others, novelist Sarah Perry, illustrator and comic book author Katie Green, and Reni Eddo-Lodge talking about her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, as well as a debate among literary scholars on the current readings of the Frankenstein myth. And in the final week of August, Sopot’s sister city Gdynia renames itself the City of the Word, staging a literary festival focusing on Polish writers before the September 1 announcement of the 2019 Gdynia Literature Prize.

Jacek Dehnel, one of the authors appearing at the Gdynia festival this week, presented his latest book, Ale z naszymi umarłymi (But Together With Our Dead), a viciously funny and chilling apocalyptic satire in which Polish zombies go on the rampage and take over the world. The novel is appearing at a time in which rabid anti-LGBT propaganda, spread by the ruling PiS party in the run-up to the general election this coming October, is receiving vocal support from the Catholic Church, which has compared the LGBT movement to a ‘plague’, and a conservative weekly, Gazeta Polska, recently went so far as to print “LGBT-free zone” stickers. This summer saw a record number of Gay Pride parades held in twenty-three cities across the country in defiance of the hate campaign, and while most of the parades went off peacefully, march participants in Białystok, in the east of the country, came under violent attack from far-right protesters. Dehnel, who travelled to Białystok from his home town of Warsaw to address the crowd and has vividly captured the events in this harrowing report, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

On a positive note: Lloyd-Jones’s translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead started to generate an extraordinary buzz even before its US release on August 12. It probably appeared on every ‘most anticipated’ and ‘hottest reads’ list of the summer, and inspired Chad Post to dedicate an entire article on the Three Per Cent site to muse on what might be behind all the hype, in addition to proposing his own criteria for assessing whether or not it is justified. I lost count of the positive write-ups, but LitHub has helpfully gathered them on their Book Marks aggregator, where it reached a cumulative ‘rave’ mark based on seventeen reviews, including one by Asymptote‘s very own Andreea Scridon. Much of the praise has, quite deservedly, been heaped on Lloyd-Jones for “the most bravura translation performance I have ever seen” (Sarah Perry in The Guardian) and for having “once again done a remarkable job of capturing the uncanny distinction of Tokarczuk’s prose in English” (Michael Cronin in Irish Times). Tokarczuk herself has written a wonderful paean to the art of translation, entitled “How Translators Are Saving the World. Her essay was rendered into English by Jennifer Croft, whose translation of Wioletta Greg’s Accommodations, a follow-up to the acclaimed Swallowing Mercury, recently published in the USA by Transit Books, has also been garnering positive reviews.

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Central America

Earlier this month the Maya musician, poet, and editor Kaypa’ Tz’iken, after receiving an honorary degree from the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (Guatemala’s Academy of Mayan Languages) filed a motion to start calling Sakapultek, his mother tongue, by its original name: Tujaal. “Five hundred years ago invaders came to our land and committed acts of genocide,” he said. “They also renamed us; they called the Sacapulas we knew as Pueblo Tujaal, and then Sakapultek was born.” Kaypa is the author of several books of poetry, and he’s the editor of Tujaal Ediciones, an indie press focused on putting out books by and about Indigenous people.

Keeping up with Mayan languages, also this month Maya’ Wuj put out a bilingual edition (Kaqchikel–Spanish) of Eduardo Halfon’s famed story, El boxeador polaco (The Polish Boxer) entitled Ri Aj Polo’n Ch’ayonel, translated by author Raxche’ Rodríguez Guaján. Maya’ Wuj also holds the rights of distribution of many of Humberto Ak’abal’s books, including Pájaro Encadenado—Tzarabin Chikop.

Additionally, last week kicked off the 15th Festival International de Poesía de Quetzaltenango (FIPQ). The festival brings together poets such as Raúl Zurita, Juana Ramos, Lucy Chau, Kyo D’Assassin, and Negma Coy. Plus, it’s dedicated to the veteran Guatemalan poet, and reporter Ana María Rodas, to the women disappeared, and to the women who are still looking for missing relatives. FIPQ is Guatemala’s biggest poetry festival, with four days filled with workshops, lectures, and readings across Quetzaltenango.


Read more dispatches from the Asymptote blog: