This year’s winner of the Poetry category in Asymptote’s fourth annual Close Approximations Translation Contest was Daniel Owen. Poetry judge Eugene Ostashevsky called Alfizal Malna’s text “intellectual poetry of the highest caliber,” praising Owen for his “elegant, reserved English,” and for offering readers “a beautiful thing of clear obscurity” in his translations of Malna’s Document Shredding Museum.
We recently caught up with Yogyakarta-based Daniel to learn more about his work with the legendary Afrizal Malna, the process of “unsomeoneification,” and what he has been up to since winning the Close Approximations contest in January.
Sarah Timmer Harvey (STH): I found your translations of Document Shredding Museum to be incredibly beautiful and inviting; no easy feat given the complexity of Malna’s writing. How did you first come to Afrizal Malna and his work?
Daniel Owen (DO): I met Afrizal at Kampung Buku Jogja, an annual literary event in Yogyakarta with a book fair, readings, and discussions. I had just come to stay awhile in Jogja to intensively study Indonesian language and to read and subsequently translate Indonesian literature. While my Indonesian was okay when we first met, I hadn’t yet read much and was quite ignorant of the literary landscape. We were introduced by my friends, the writers and small press publishers Lelaki Budiman and Tiaswening Maharsi, after Afrizal’s discussion on theater and poetry with Gunawan Maryanto. I bought a copy of his new book of short stories, Pagi Yang Miring Ke Kanan (Nyala, 2017) and we chatted a bit. Following our initial meeting, I started reading Afrizal’s work pretty intensely, the short stories along with poems I found on the internet, and then his book of essays Sesuatu Indonesia. I found myself entranced by the poems; it was like encountering something extremely familiar yet at the same time novel. That kind of tickling of the sensibilities that’s both troubling and pleasurable, takes you, as a reader, outside yourself while making you feel more yourself. I started translating these poems which I’d found online, primarily to see what would happen and to share them with non-Indonesian-speaking friends who asked about what I was reading, thinking about, engaging with. And then I borrowed Museum Penghancur Dokumen from Budiman, read the whole thing and started translating it.
Awards, new translations, and a poet working to help the homeless—all this and more awaits in today’s dispatches! From Hong Kong, Hungary, and Indonesia, our editors-at-large have the latest updates.
Jacqueline Leung, Editor-at-Large for Hong Kong, reporting from Hong Kong
In the last few months of 2018, Hong Kong saw the deaths of several literary greats, but with January comes commemoration and activity. Martial arts novelist Louis Cha Leung-yung, or “Jin Yong,” passed away on October 30, 2018, just half a year after the publication of Legends of the Condor Heroes: A Hero Born, the English translation of one of his emblematic wuxia series set during the Song Dynasty. A Bond Undone, the second volume of the quartet, will be published at the end of this month in Gigi Chang’s translation. Its release is likely to gain even more traction in the aftermath of the writer’s passing.
We are proud to present “Body Memory,” our most diverse issue ever, featuring new work from a record-breaking 35 countries! Etel Adnan, Steinn Steinarr, and Argonauts author Maggie Nelson join us in celebrating our eighth anniversary and the six winners of our international translation contest picked by Edward Gauvin and Eugene Ostashevsky. Top honors go to two translators of underrepresented languages this year: Olivia Hellewell, who works with Slovenian fiction, and Daniel Owen, Indonesian poetry. Who else won a slice of USD3,000 in prizes? Find out here.
If you believe in our work, help us spread word of it in the physical realm with our Winter 2019 flyer (pictured above), or join us on Facebook and Twitter over the next two weeks especially as we push the glorious art and writing entrusted us out into the world. If you’re inclined to tweet, here’s a suggestion:
NEW ISSUE! Please RT @asymptotejrnl’s Winter 2019 “Body Memory” feat. Maggie Nelson, Etel Adnan, and Steinn Steinarr, among new work from 35 countries! Find out who took home $3,000 in prizes in the magazine’s annual translation contest, unveiled here: http://asymptotejournal.com/jan-2019
On social media, many have been posting before and after photos in response to a ten-year challenge. At Asymptote, we take this ten-year-challenge to mean something else altogether: the challenge is see through what we’ve done for a full ten years, at least. It may beggar belief that we have done all that we’ve done in the service of world literature (events, educational guides, podcasts, blog posts, newsletter dispatches, and even a Book Club) on little to no institutional funding. Truth is, it has been every bit as hard as you suspect it to be behind the scenes, as we recounted in last year’s #30issues30days showcase. Although we are one of the most generous resources for out there for world lit, chronic ineligibility for nation-based grants means we’re stranded without support. High-visibility literary festivals apply for and receive sponsorship all the time, but who will support the very private act of literary discovery on a computer screen? As we enter our ninth year, the last leg of this challenge, we hope you’ll stand with us and sign up either as a sustaining member or a masthead member. We need your support more than ever. Become a part of our global movement—join the Asymptote family today!
Welcome to the seventh and final installment of A World with a Thousand Doors—a multi-part collaboration with the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival to showcase previously untranslated contemporary Indonesian writing. This week, we feature three poems by award-winning Indonesian writer Cyntha Hariadi, translated by Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Indonesia, Norman Erikson Pasaribu.
We suggest reading installments one, two, three, four, five, and six of the series if you haven’t already. We also recommend the final reflection by Festival attendees Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao, Asymptote‘s Editor-at-Large for Australia.
they used to paw the sky, squeeze the clouds
they fought the wild crows, bargained with the gatekeeper of heaven
these hands—they took down the moon, put it here to light this bedroom
they tickled the sun, so it shone longer, brighter
now, they cave in every time I raise them up
they squeal in pain at the mere task of tying up my hair
sewn-up to this chest, they can only wait
for the saviour to stop its never-ending sob READ MORE…
Ubud Writers and Readers Festival may have concluded last month, but our series, A World with A Thousand Doors hasn’t! In our penultimate installment of the series, we are proud to present a short story by Dewi Kharisma Michellia.
“Dad, have you found the keys?”
I often hear grateful people say that each day in life has its own blessing.
“Son, put in the luggage in the trunk. Why do I have to tell you this? Where is your brother?”
If those people really admire the mystery of time, then it’s only fair if they extend the same admiration to space.
“If we leave now, will we still be able to see the sunrise, Dad?”
Each place has its own value, which can only be felt by those attached to that place.
On the night of October 28, the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) wrapped up after four consecutive jam-packed days. Mornings, afternoons, and evenings were filled with stimulating conversations and lively panel discussions, film screenings and book launches, poetry slams and musical performances, all set in the culturally fertile town of Ubud in Bali, Indonesia. Australia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao and Indonesia Editor-at-Large Norman Erikson Pasaribu were invited to speak in their capacities as writers. In this retrospective dispatch, each of them reflects candidly on their experiences at this year’s UWRF.
One Brain, Multiple Selves (Tiffany Tsao)
There was so much about participating in UWRF that was wonderful and exhilarating, but as I (Tiffany) write this, I’m realizing how exhausted I am! It’s mostly a good exhaustion—the kind that one experiences after being exposed to so many interesting ideas, books, and people. My head and heart are still abuzz, and the festival concluded several days ago!
There’s certainly some physical exhaustion thrown into the mix as well: I brought along my 10-month-old son, Azure. The festival was immensely supportive and bought him an infant plane ticket and made sure there was a crib in the room. Plus, my heroic father flew from Jakarta to babysit while I was busy participating in events and meeting people. Unfortunately, Azure slept fitfully during the nights before deciding at around 5:00 am each morning that it was time to rise and shine, which meant that I gained a new appreciation and appetite for coffee. Glorious, glorious coffee.
Welcome to the sixth installment of A World with a Thousand Doors—a multi-part showcase of hitherto untranslated contemporary Indonesian writing. Curated by Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao, this series is a joint initiative between Asymptote and the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. This week, Ratih Kumala, author of Cigarette Girl, spins a story in two voices—one belonging to a grieving widow and the other to her late husband’s grieving mistress. New to this series? Then do read installments one, two, three, four, and five. Stay tuned for more.
The first thought that entered my head when my husband gave up what remained of his ghost was how that woman might actually have felt more grief than me, his wife. At that moment, the clock hands shifted. It was three in the morning. My daughter sobbed, crying out for her Papa, her heartrending shrieks echoing down the hospital corridor. I wept quietly, while my son went very mute and cold.
I don’t know where she got the news, but suddenly here she is, standing outside the hospital room. Her face is darkened with grief. She attempts to enter, to approach my husband’s body, but I don’t let her in.
“Please. Have some respect for our family as we mourn,” I hiss. She stops short and looks at me for a while. Then she turns and walks away, probably crying as she goes.
Welcome to the fifth installment of A World with a Thousand Doors, a showcase of contemporary Indonesian literature brought to you in partnership with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. This week it gives us great pleasure to present a story by the award-winning author Nukila Amal, translated by internationally published writer, InterSastra founder, and past Asymptote contributor Eliza Vitri Handayani.
If you’ve just discovered A World with a Thousand Doors, you can find an introduction and the first installment here. And we invite you to read the second, third, and fourth works in the series as well.
Batara—or Bunny Battery to his pals—likes to hold a festive and meticulously prepared smokol (a.k.a. brunch) once or twice a month, depending on how often the Brunch Fairy has graced him with her visits.
According to Batara, this Manadonese fairy is the ruler and protector of brunches, brunch cookers (like Batara), and brunch fanatics (like Batara’s pals Syam, and the twins Anya and Ale). However, his three pals suspect that this fairy is really Batara’s own invention. All Ale can report after actually visiting Manado is that the locals do indeed eat brunches, which consist of tinutuan, a kind of porridge, accompanied by banana fritters and fried anchovies dipped into dabu-dabu, a chili paste so hot that it makes their eyes weep, their ears ring, and, if prone, their minds hallucinate.
To Batara, however, brunches aren’t that simple. With surplus imagination and a passion for perfection, Batara comes up with odd themes and dishes for his brunches. His three pals can never guess what will appear on his table.
Greetings from the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF), which has just concluded its second day. Here’s a bit of historical background: founded in response to the 2002 Bali bombings, the festival celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year. Since then, UWRF has successfully surmounted several challenges: In 2015, the local government censored festival discussions of the 1965 mass killings in Indonesia; last year, volcanic activity took a toll on festival participation, with many attendees and speakers canceling their flights. This year, we (Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao) were both invited to speak at the festival in our capacity as writers, and we thought we would share some of our impressions so far.
On Wednesday, the festival held a press call immediately before the festival’s official opening gala event. The press call featured festival founders Janet DeNeefe and Ketut Suardana, as well as some of the festival’s speakers, including Hanif Kureishi, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Avianti Armand, and Norman Erikson Pasaribu (hooray!). Ketut Suardana spoke about how they coined this year’s theme, Jagadhita – the world we create, and how we should live life according to dharma (goodness) and strive to attain ultimate happiness. When Norman was asked what he expected his writing to achieve, took the opportunity to observe that perhaps “goodness” and “happiness” shouldn’t be so universalized. Quoting a line from Marianne Katoppo, that “language is where theology begins,” he noted how we rarely refer to either concept in plural form. Such language places limitations on what it means to be happy and good, pressuring queer communities in Indonesia to conform to society and engage in self-erasure. Reni, when asked what advice she had for Indonesian feminists, humbly answered that she isn’t in a position to suggest anything to them without listening to them first since their experiences are very culturally specific and very different from hers as a British-Nigerian woman.
Welcome to the third installment of A World with a Thousand Doors—our Translation Tuesday series showcasing Indonesian literature, brought to you in partnership with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. This week’s feature: poetry by festival guest Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas, translated by past Asymptote contributor Mikael Johani. If you are joining these amazing writers and translators, don’t forget that you can save 20% on the 4-Day Pass by entering the code MPAS at the online checkout!
soap bubbles float in the air explode
on the tip of my toes
a scavenger collects rubbish from tiny barrels crams them into oversized
plastic hessian bags
washes his hands with water from a half-empty mineral
mums run around, carry hello kitty backpacks, ben ten water bottles,
an extra change of clothes, a tiny towel
kids scream and shriek they want to buy baby turtles kept in colourful transparent
a tourist photographer presses the shutter on his camera
ten thousand rupiahs per photo
and always you forget to smile
Excerpted from the novel Nayla by award-winning Indonesian writer Djenar Maesa Ayu, this piece continues our series, A World with a Thousand Doors—a showcase of contemporary Indonesian writing. This showcase is brought to you in partnership with this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, where Djenar will be appearing as a guest. For more on the ethos behind A World with a Thousand Doors, read our preface to the series, and stay tuned for further installments.
Choosing the Perfect Safety Pin
Nayla looked closely at the safety pins neatly arranged on the table in front of her.
In the past, whenever Nayla saw these sharp objects, her body would tremble in fear. She would remain quiet for a long time until her mother eventually forced her to pick one. Her frequent hesitations led her mother to reach out and slap her hard across the face to force her to choose.
In the past, whenever Nayla saw her mother strike a match, her body would shake in terror. Her mother would take Nayla’s chosen safety pin—obviously the smallest one—and burn it long enough to rid it of bacteria. Once Mother was satisfied that the pin was sufficiently sterilized, she would plunge it into Nayla’s groin. Nayla would squirm and squeeze her thighs as tightly as she could, attempting to minimize the pain. She would cry. She would struggle against her mother’s actions, which made Mother even more furious.
Continuing our collaboration with the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, Asymptote is pleased to present this interview with Bath-Novel-Award-winning writer Clarissa Goenawan. Her novel, Rainbirds, released earlier this year with Soho Press, has garnered much praise from readers and critics alike. It has already been translated into several languages, including Indonesian, French, and Hebrew. Set in Akakawa, a fictional town near Tokyo, Rainbirds follows Ren Ishida as he retraces the life of his recently deceased sister. Navigating between sudden drizzles, cram school, and a strange arrangement between his late sister and a local politician, he attempts to make sense of her life and death.
Asymptote‘s Editor-at-Large for Indonesia, Norman Erikson Pasaribu, had the opportunity to converse with Clarissa Goenawan before her appearance at this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. In the following interview, we discuss how Clarissa has moved between languages and places, her Indonesian-Singaporean background, and her choice to set the novel in Japan.
Norman Erikson Pasaribu (NEP): Rainbirds is about the relationship of two Japanese siblings and how one discovers the other post-mortem. What inspired you to write about it?
Clarissa Goenawan (CG): The idea for Rainbirds started from a simple thought: “What if someone I cared about unexpectedly passed away, and I realized too late I never got to know them well?” The question left a deep impression, and I knew I had to tell this story.
In partnership with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, we’re very proud to present A World with a Thousand Doors, a series showcasing writing from Indonesia hitherto unpublished in English—including some from authors featured in this year’s festival.
Curating this series had its challenges: it was impossible to do full justice to Indonesia’s diversity through a selection of only eight writers’ works. But each of these pieces excites us and we hope with all our hearts that this series will not only highlight just a few of the many talents on today’s Indonesian literary scene for our readers, but also provide a critical intervention in discussions of how to best disseminate Indonesian literature in the world, which tend to advocate reliance on government-sponsored initiatives and large institutions.
Although assistance from these quarters is undoubtedly invaluable, even the most wonderful of writers may fall through the cracks and remain untranslated. The editors of this Translation Tuesday series, Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao, sincerely hope that A World with a Thousand Doors will encourage writers and translators of Indonesian literature to consider pairing up directly and submitting widely to literary journals and publishers, of which Asymptote is only one. The ‘thousand doors’ of the series’ title is a metaphor for the immense diversity of Indonesian writing. But it could also stand for the thousand routes that Indonesian-language writers and translators might take to reach the wider world.
Without further ado, it is our pleasure to kick off our series with this short story by beloved author and Ubud Writers and Readers Festival guest Dee Lestari.
There should be a wise saying that goes something like this: Never take two if you only want one. One brings completion—but two, oblivion. It may sound a little strange, but it’s the truth. Such sayings aren’t mere literary cotton candy—all fluff, no stuff. It takes bitter experience to formulate each one. It takes a person to practically perish paddling upstream before they can appreciate the serene swim to shore, as the old adage goes. Or to draw on yet another maxim—it takes someone to fall flat on her face, then have the ladder land on her as well. It takes an entire tureen of milk to prove a drop of ink will spoil the whole lot. In this case, it took a Hera who was searching for a Herman.