Posts by Hannah Berk

What’s New in Translation? June 2016

This month's hottest titles—in translation

The Clouds by Juan José Saer, tr. Hillary Vaughn Dobel, Open Letter Books. Review: Hannah Berk, Digital Editor


The Clouds begins with the destruction of a mental asylum and ends with an arrival at its threshold. Its central journey takes place across a vast expanse of flatlands, every horizon so much the same that progressing and doubling back lose their distinction. This is a novel of contingent geometries. In some respects, it is linear: there is a journey in which a doctor leads a crew of five mental patients, two escort soldiers, and a guide across a desert to a mental hospital. At the same time, it carves layer upon layer into itself. The manuscript we read is a file on a floppy disk being read by one Pinchón Garay in a Paris apartment, haphazardly annotated by the man into whose hands the thing haphazardly fell.

Our narrator is Dr. Real, who works under a psychologist renowned for experimental treatment methods that mostly seem to entail allowing the mad live their lives just like anyone else. He is tasked with leading a group of patients on a long journey to a mental health facility in 1804 Argentina. His charges include a delusional narcissist, a nun convinced that the only way to approach consummate divinity is by consummating as many earthly relationships as possible, two brothers as incapable of communication as they are of silence, and a distraught philosophy student unable to unfurl his fists. Dr. Real promises a scientific account of their ailments at the outset, but the moment their journey begins, we are forced to question whether their responses are so outlandish for their circumstances, or, at their core, much different from our own.


What’s New in Translation? September 2015

So many translations hit the shelves this month—here's what you need to know, from Asymptote's own.

Mercè Rodoreda, Death in Spring (Open Letter, September 2015). Tr. from the Catalan by Martha Tennant—Review by Ellen Jones, Criticism Editor


Martha Tennant’s translation of Death in Spring, the (posthumously published) final novel by Mercè Rodoreda, is republished in paperback this month by Open Letter, having been long out of print. Written while in exile from Franco’s Spain during the Civil War, the novel is considered Rodoreda’s most accomplished work, and can be read as an allegory of a repressive regime.

Told through the eyes of a nameless boy who seems perpetually on the cusp of manhood, the novel recounts the cruel, bewildering traditions of a village community constantly under threat of being washed away by the river that runs underneath it. The villagers’ brutalism is bizarre and often casual—they pour cement down people’s throats as they lie dying to prevent their souls from escaping, then bury them in hollowed out trees. A thief is imprisoned in a tiny cage until he begins to behave like an animal; children are locked in cupboards until they half-suffocate; and every year a young man is forced to swim underneath the village and endure inevitable mutilation or death.


5 Must-Read Pieces from our New July Issue

We've got a (new) issue. Here's where to start.

Hot off the digital presses!

 Asymptote‘s July Issue is now totally, utterly live! This one’s a good one, and highlights are almost too many to mention—almost. We’ve got your usual lot of literary celebs in the mix, including French Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano, Chinese Nobel Prize-worthy writer Can Xue, and an interview with longtime friend of the blog Valeria Luiselli in the mix—among so. many. others. Here are five must-reads to get you going, but this list’s by no means conclusive—and is presented in no particular order: READ MORE…

What We’re Reading in July

What members of Asymptote's team have been reading—juicy, super-sweaty summer edition!

Adrian Nathan West (Contributing Editor): German writer Hans Henny Jahnn is one of the least classifiable writers of the twentieth century, and the relative paucity of his work in English translation is perplexing. Among his compatriots, his admirers included Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, Peter Weiss, and Wolfgang Koeppen—the last of whom compared Jahnn’s prose style to Martin Luther’s Bible; Jahnn is one of the poets cited in Roberto Bolaño’s “Unknown University;” and more recently, he was the subject of a long blog post by Dennis Cooper. The philosophical currents underlying his work have much in common with Georges Bataille: the focus on the limit-experience, often attained through an agony that grazes against beatitude, the emphasis on the organic substrate of conscious life, and an unsettling combination of orgiastic excess and monastic quietude characterize both men’s work, though Jahnn’s precise and involuted language is far more innovative than Bataille’s. READ MORE…

New in Translation (October Edition!)

Four brand new translated books out this month… reviewed!

Isolation: that is the most powerful emotion that emanated from most of the stories in The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories of Tove Jansson. As I read them, breathlessly, I was plagued with that wonderful, excruciating sense of unease that radiates from a good, strong, melancholic book. It’s the tingling that comes before the numbness; that profound yet unknown sensation of loss that makes you sigh.

The stories mostly center around one protagonist and are written either in first person or a close third. Set in Scandinavian landscapes, strange and nameless cities or within the confines of a house, these stories follow the protagonists as they become locked in their own minds, detached from the world around them, either physically (the illustrator in Black-White), mentally (Aunt Gerda in The Listener) or emotionally (the sculptor in The Monkey). Often they are propelled into mysterious travel, accompanied by a stranger to whom they are instantly drawn and who highlights their own weakness (The Wolf and A Foreign City). Other times they are experiencing some undefined breakdown of their own, revealing only the symptoms, and not the cause, to the reader (as in The Storm or The Other).