Posts by Sophie Hughes

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “Affections” by Rodrigo Hasbún

At your own wedding, at least for a couple of seconds, you feel like the loneliest woman in the world.

You marry a man with the same name as your father and this doesn’t amuse you. Your father isn’t there to shake his hand or to hug you, to offer you up with these gestures to the man who will take his place. At your own wedding, at least for a couple of seconds, you feel like the loneliest woman in the world. All women must feel this at their weddings, you think, in an effort to console or merely entertain yourself, or perhaps to do both things at once. Trixi is the only one there with you. That afternoon your family has reduced itself to her alone, and there’s something heartbreaking about this basic realization, but also something incomprehensibly liberating. Until recently, you thought that you would never do it, that marriage wasn’t for you. Months after meeting him, perhaps believing in the promise of a different life, one unremarkable Saturday you get married.

* * *

On the wedding night he can’t get an erection. You see him naked for the first time: his sinuous body, his long, slim dick, the scar from his peritonitis operation, and feel not a hint of excitement or conviction. Is this a typical wedding night? He touches you all over with his soft, rich kid’s hands. He licks your nipples and neck, kisses you clumsily either in desperation or impatience, perhaps fearing you or himself, but he can’t get an erection, not even when you stroke his dick. You wonder whether he might still be a virgin, whether perhaps he’s only ever been with whores, whether it isn’t women he’s into at all, whether he, like you, doesn’t understand why he got married. You wonder what your parents’ wedding night must have been like—it’s always been beyond you to imagine them young. You think about how your children won’t be able to imagine you. “You’re distracted,” your husband says. He’s a silent man, he knows how to look at himself from a distance. It’s the thing you most admire in him, perhaps the only thing you admire. Despite what you always believed, it’s something you have forgotten how to do. You feel too close to yourself, and from there everything looks blurred. “No,” you tell him, “I’m not.”

* * *


Our 48hr Liveblogging Begins NOW!

We now have 48hrs left to raise $7,799 and hit our goal! Please keep your fingers crossed for it to happen. First up, let's hear from Mexico editor-at-large, Sophie Hughes.


Sophie Hughes (editor-at-large, Mexico): The grim truth is that most auto-fiction written by contemporary writers who have grown up and live in Mexico is likely to disturb international readers who haven’t themselves experienced endemic violence at a local level. But Julián Herbert’s Tomb Song (a remembered and fictionalized account of his childhood spent drifting through Mexico with his prostitute mother), excerpted in our 2014 Latin American special feature, possesses a warmth, wicked sense of humour and acuity which rightly upends the reductive association of narcolit with purely harrowing-lit.


This is Asymptote: Say Ayotzinapa

A look back at Asymptote, Ayotzinapa, and solidarity through poetry & translation

Asymptote is the only literary magazine I’ve ever worked for (or even heard about) that has the editorial and translatorial brainpower and resources to pull off a 20-language project in 10 days.

Because that is just what we pulled off with Say Ayotztinapa, which—thanks to the intrepid blog, design, and social media teams—surged on the wave of worldwide solidarity with the victims of the Ayotzinapa massacre in September 2014 and with the subsequent protests. And it’s wasn’t only a translatorial feat, the post was shared in the thousands, including retweets by organizations like English PEN, Words Without Borders, and Granta.



Say Ayotzinapa

A special feature in 20 languages: presenting David Huerta’s “Ayotzinapa” with an introduction by Faces in the Crowd-author Valeria Luiselli

David Huerta wrote “Ayotzinapa” on November 2, 2014, “in anger, outrage, and horror.” It has already formed an installation at the Oaxaca Museum of Contemporary Art, been printed by Juan Nicanor Pascoe’s letterpress, and been read and excerpted in protest banners from Berlin to Xalapa. When I read it two weeks ago, I realised there was a very practical way for Asymptote, as a journal of international literature, to communicate Mexico’s rallying cry for change and justice in multiple languages. Juana Adcock’s English translation was the first in a chain that now stretches from Mexico to Scotland, China, Romania, Israel, Indonesia, Brazil, Greece, and beyond. Asymptote’s global “Ayotzinapa” has become a poetic event, an audible coming-together, which is one constructive way of responsibly renewing the word Ayotzinapa, as Valeria Luiselli suggests we must do in her introduction to the poem. All of the translations begin with the same, untouched word, Ayotzinapa; like David, all of our translators took pains to get across—rephrasing the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy—what these Ayotzinapas mean.

Below you can read and listen to David Huerta’s original Spanish-language poem. You can also use the drop-down menu like a map to read translations of his poem in 20 languages. Listen, too, to our translators’ audio recordings, and particularly to their pronunciation of the unchanged title, “Ayotzinapa.” Above all, this global translation is about resisting the state of speechlessness that is easy to fall into when what you are witnessing is beyond imagination; about learning how to say Ayotzinapa; about stopping the word Ayotzinapa from being a strange, unrelated Mexican sound. #WeAreAllAyotzinapa #WritersWithAyotzinapa — Sophie Hughes, Editor-at-large, Mexico


Lilt is the New Voice

A review of Hong Khaou’s newly released drama “Lilting”

Many translators might agree that language is song, a kind of mouth music. Each text has a unique time signature and timbre, and when we translate voice, we have to open our ears before opening our beaks to become songbirds. And translators have a special insight into how a language’s sounds are made up of tones: pitches that help to convey meaning. A toneless voice, whether spoken, written or translated, is like a song without melody.

I learnt recently that mouth music is the alternative name for lilting­­, the subtle rise and fall of words in a sentence, and originally a style of Gaelic singing. Given that the nitty-gritty of literary translation is the picking up on nuances in voice, it strikes me as odd that translators, myself included, don’t dedicate much airtime to lilting. Why don’t we talk about lilting when we talk about voice? Isn’t it odd that translation theorists—boasting the loftiest and loveliest buzzwords in all the humanities—haven’t yet adopted it? After all, lilts are not merely ephemeral: a good prose stylist (and good translators too) can conjure them in writing. In James Joyce’s Dubliners, “The Dead” presents a good example of a lilt woven into a text, one that reverberates off the page when read aloud:


What We’re Reading in September

An overlooked comedic work by Thomas Bernhard, ghostly fiction from Israel, and more reasons to read Guadalupe Nettel's latest short stories!

Sophie Hughes (editor-at-large, Mexico): I happen to be reading two collections of short stories that focus on human relationships. Guadalupe Nettel (Mexico City, 1973) is a world-class writer, slowly emerging out of Mexico and just now available in translation. Natural Histories, translated by J. T. Lichtenstein, was published in June by Seven Stories Press in the United States, and you can read a lovely, illuminating, and entertaining piece on the process by Lichtenstein in Asymptote’s July 2014 issue.