Posts by Andrea Blatz

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

This week’s literary news from Brazil, Texas, and Kashmir.

Our reporters take us to literary festivals in Brazil, to celebrations of Women in Translation month in Austin, Texas, and to Kashmir, where the voices of writers and journalists are revealing the urgency and importance of communication, free speech, and speaking out against injustice.

Daniel Persia, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil

Identity, colonialism, and immigration were among the main topics discussed at the 7th edition of Litercultura (August 12-16), a week-long literary festival in Curitiba, Brazil. In conversation on this year’s theme, “Borders,” Italian writer and journalist Igiaba Scego explored her own family’s trajectory, tracing her parents’s migration from Somalia to Italy in the wake of Siad Barre’s coup d’état in 1969. Her novel Beyond Babylonrecently released by Two Lines Press, in a stunning English translation by Aaron Robertson—is a multigenerational story that explores the brutal dictatorship in Somalia and the challenges and discrimination still faced by Afro-descendants in Italy today. Scego seemed particularly at home with her Brazilian audience, perhaps because this was not her first time in Brazil; three of her books have been translated into Portuguese, and she was a headliner at the International Literary Festival of Paraty (Flip) in 2018. Other participants at this year’s Litercultura included Patrícia Campos Mello (Brazil), Leonardo Padura (Cuba), Bernardo Carvalho (Brazil), and Juan Cárdenas (Colombia).

While Scego was closing out Litercultura in Brazil’s southern city of Curitiba, the 13th International Book Biennial of Ceará was just getting started, over 2,000 miles away in the northeastern capital of Fortaleza. Under the theme “Cities and Books,” this year’s fair (August 16-25) will unite some of Brazil’s most cherished writers, including Maria Valéria Rezende and Raduan Nassar. The goal of the Biennial is to create space for artistic and literary exhibitions while engaging the wider public in conversations around books, literature, and literacy. In ten full days of programming, the Biennial will welcome over sixty authors, including international writers such as Mia Couto (Mozambique) and former Asymptote contributor Abdellah Taïa (Morocco). Over the past two years, the fair has averaged approximately fifty-five thousand visitors per day, including children, young adult, and adult readers.

Together, Litercultura and the Biennial of Ceará remind us of the sheer size of Brazil, a country that continues to discover new talent within and beyond its borders.   READ MORE…

Blog Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2019

Our editors have you covered with a lovingly picked selection from the Asymptote Summer 2019 issue!

If you have yet to fully traverse the sensational depths of Asymptote‘s Summer 2019 issue: “Dreams and Reality,” you can step out on the roadmap written by our blog editors, who have refined their selections—with considerable difficulty—to a handful of their favourite pieces. Between an erudite Arabic mystery, non-fiction from Romania’s foremost feminist writer and theorist, and a tumultuous psychological short story which delves into our perception of sanity, this reading list is a doorway into the vast cartography of this issue, unfurling into the rich imagination and profundity of the heights in world literature.

Something about summertime makes me want to read detective fiction, so I was excited to learn that Asymptote’s Summer 2019 issue, released this past Thursday, features a murder mystery. I was even more intrigued when I learned that the story in question, “Culprit Unknown” by Naguib Mahfouz, was originally written in Arabic. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy Swedish mysteries just as much as you do—but I think we can all agree that the Scandinavians have had a monopoly on detective fiction in translation for far too long.

“Culprit Unknown,” translated by Emily Drumsta, follows Detective Muhsin ʿAbd al-Bari as he tries to solve a series of grisly murders. Muhsin does everything he can, but each killing is a perfect crime: the murderer leaves not a single trace behind, and as the deaths pile up, the tension in the neighborhood becomes unbearable. Besides pacing the story perfectly, Mahfouz infuses “Culprit Unknown” with light humor and unexpected (but welcome) philosophical musings, as in the exchange below:

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Review of Mars by Asja Bakic

[B]eing forced to live on Mars—named for the god of war and the male counterpart to Venus—makes her sick . . .

Mars by Asja Bakić, translated from the Croatian by Jennifer Zoble, Feminist Press, 2019

From a journalist reporting from inside a cult village to children who are convinced their neighbor is a forest monster, the characters portrayed in Mars, the debut short story collection by Bosnian poet, writer, and translator Asja Bakić, are forced to figure out how to survive in their strange realities. Bakić, playing a role reminiscent of Rod Serling in “The Twilight Zone,” carefully pushes aside the curtain on these parallel universes to underscore the uncanniness of everyday life. Each story in the collection takes place in a world that looks and feels familiar at first, but becomes stranger and more foreign the longer you spend in it.

Bakić was born in Tuzla, Bosnia, where she obtained a degree in Bosnian language and literature, two themes deeply explored in the collection. Mars, originally published under the same title in 2015, was shortlisted for the Edo Budiša Award. The stories shift seamlessly in genre from science fiction to dystopian horror, and Bakić deftly combines aspects of speculative fiction and realism to form a cohesive collection that explores universal issues. Bakić has a unique, perceptive voice and was selected as one of Literary Europe Live’s New Voices in 2017. Her work has been translated into seven languages. She currently lives and works in Zagreb, Croatia. READ MORE…

My 2018: Andrea Blatz

August was “Women in Translation” month, so, naturally, I took advantage of this as a reason to buy some more books.

Blog Copy Editor Andrea Blatz’s 2018 reading list was packed with nineteenth-century science fiction and women in translation. In today’s post, she discusses the common themes that unite many of these books, among them the experience of trauma and the role of space and place in our lives, before looking ahead to her reading list for the new year!

Like most book lovers, I buy more books than I have time to read, so my “To Read” list is usually longer than my “Already Read” list. Having so many books to choose from for my next read means I usually pick something completely different than the book I’ve just read. However, this year, it seems as though spaces have been a prominent theme in much of what I’ve read.

I started the year with The Other City by Michal Ajvaz, translated by Gerald Turner. After finding a book written in a mysterious script in a bookshop, the narrator begins noticing strange things around him in his home city, Prague. The result is a strange, new reality composed of spaces that are ignored in the daytime. Fish talk to you, tiny elk live on the Charles Bridge, and ghosts appear as the mysterious narrator crosses a boundary into this “other city.”

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