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…
Daniel Hahn’s Ask a Translator column, in which he fields questions about his craft posed by Asymptote readers, kicks off at the blog. What should have been a happy occasion (our fifth anniversary, celebrated in New York, London, Hong Kong, Ottawa, Chicago, and Belgrade) is marred somewhat by a quarrel with one of our partner institutions. I should first note that the success of the past year (2015) has been a true double-edged sword: although it has bestowed greater visibility (which has in turn brought us partnerships with hitherto-undreamt-of international reach—all the better, I suppose, to catalyse the transmission of literature), our own team members are more coveted by other organizations as a result. Since these are paying organizations (either non-profits with institutional backing or for-profit companies with commercial viability), Asymptote can’t compete. With success also comes assumption that our coffers are being filled to the brim by sponsors and we should be spreading the wealth around. Yet, we are essentially still going it alone; I’m still working full-time without pay and channelling funds raised into web development costs, translation contests, and marketing the work that we’ve been entrusted with. Someone from a partner organization turns down an invitation to moderate our New York event for fear of being interpreted as endorsing our policy of not paying contributors; he demands that we start doing so. Should implies can, but the reality isn’t so. Still, it’s wonderful that translators have such a fierce advocate in this person; I wish editors at publications like ours also had organizations and movements behind them too. Here to introduce the Winter 2016 issue is Assistant Editor Lindsay Semel.
I was recruited as one of Asymptote’s Educational Arm Assistants in January of 2016, just around the time this issue launched. What I want to share now is a story about my first weeks with the journal and my reckoning with the Winter 2016 issue that is ultimately a defense of inefficiency and the impostor syndrome.
Even two-and-a-half years later, I still know this issue more intimately than any other, because when I came aboard as a recent undergrad (it’s not atypical for Asymptote team members to be a bit green) I felt I’d been given two unique gifts. The first, bafflingly, was the complete confidence of our editor-in-chief, Lee Yew Leong. As far as the Educational Arm was concerned, I was free to take on whatever naïve dreams I could imagine—as long as the final product met the standards of the journal. My first spicy taste of impostor syndrome—now a familiar one when negotiating Asymptote assignments—came from the simple fact that I wasn’t a teacher. I could identify with Yann Martel when he said in his interview: READ MORE…
She died quietly, she died the death of those who love stubbornly, angrily, jealously, secretly, and
elephantishly. At a neighbour’s urge, she treated rheumatoid arthritis with crude oil. The therapy resulted in second-degree burns. On the inside of my eyelids I sketch her knees – two magical orbs of glass – and I rub them with devil’s claw unguent. Prayer and displeasure spill softly in the room in which we are alone and furtive, for
where, why, and for whom does the devil
make unguent from his claw? She died quietly, to render loud some mornings that had tumbled down and stuck into me like hedgehogs. I sketch those mornings as a
crooked bicycle tyre. I push the bicycle uphill into the whitish dawn, I hurry to spill before her the smell of the lead from the newspaper, the smell of the pastry which is a crumbled sketch of her face on the inside of my eyelids. The way I close the distance between us is like the way her eyebrows come together in a frown, she pushes hard sugar cubes into my mouth, and I buzz in the garden for hours and I sip the sap of a liquorice. I sketch her as READ MORE…
From afar, judging by our gesticulations and the vehemence with which we’re defending our opinions, you’d think we were discussing the economy, the upcoming elections, pension funds, mortgages, the Hague Tribunal or some other inevitable aspect of our daily lives. Hell no! We’re trying to pose the dumbest question (and succeeding)! Meho is the reigning champion. He just keeps ’em coming: “What do you call a male turtle? What do you call a male squirrel? A male giraffe? A male seal? A male shark?” Someone counters, “A male shark is called ‘Jaws!’” Meho doesn’t let this phase him and on he goes, “If you have a goldfish in your aquarium, how can you tell if it’s male or female?”
“Well?” “You give it a bit of fish food: if he eats it, it’s male. If she eats it, it’s a female!” From zoology, we move on to physics: “How come you get circles on the water when you toss in a square brick?” The hot summer afternoon, dripping with alcohol, goes by in ostensible happiness and an easygoing atmosphere until it’s time to pay up—a bleak hour when dark clouds converge over everyone’s faces. Each of us has an overdue bill, a debt, an unpaid bar tab, a pair of shoes with worn-out soles, a car or a washing machine on the fritz… In the drunken stupor the conversation veers off to literature, as in a dream when images follow one another by some alien logic, and someone tells a story about Ivo Andrić. During his time as a consul in Rome, he met the Turkish consul, an exceptionally well-educated, wealthy, handsome man with a beautiful family who would regularly get wasted on cognac. Andrić asked him about it, and the man replied: “You know, Sir, as soon as I have a drink, I turn into another man—a ‘second man,’ if you will.” “So?” “Well, this second man then says, ‘I’d like a drink as well,’ and so it goes.” Meho interrupts the story, “If that’s the case, I’m the third man.” “How come? “I start off with a double!”