Language: Italian

Translation Tuesday: “The Classmate” by Elsa Morante

Our classmate was so indulged by nature that none of us doubted that he was so treated by fortune.

This Translation Tuesday, we continue to showcase the theme of childhood, this time through a story from 1940’s Italy about the ways that children form their own narratives about their peers. The quiet intensity of Elsa Morante’s “The Classmate” gives us a compelling glimpse of the disruption of such narratives. Be sure to also check out the Spring 2018 Fiction section, which also explores childhood. Robert Walser, Joanna Bator, and Jacques Fux, for example, all consider the formative nature of childhood memory (or lack thereof) on identity. 

I was a boy of thirteen, a student in junior high school: among my many classmates, most of whom were neither particularly beautiful nor ugly, there was one who was extremely handsome.

He was too rebellious and lazy to be the first in the class, but everyone knew that even the slightest of effort on his part would have been enough to make him so. None us demonstrated an intellect like his, so limpid and fortunate. I was the first in the class; I had a poetic disposition and, at the thought of my classmate, I had the idea of calling him Arcangelo.

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Section Editors’ Highlights: Spring 2018

Our Section Editors pick their favorite pieces from the Spring 2018 issue!

The brand new Spring 2018 issue of Asymptote Journal is almost one week old and we are still enjoying this diverse set of writing. Today, our section editors share highlights from their respective sections. 

The phrase “Once upon an animal” has been circulating in me for ​months, ever since I first read Brent Armendinger’s translations of the Argentine poet Néstor Perlongher. The familiar fairy tale opening​, ​”Once upon a . . .” asks ​one ​to think of a moment, distant, in time, when such and such happened—happened miraculously or cruelly and from which ​one might take (dis)comfort or knowledge of some, perhaps universal, human frailty or courage. But Perlongher/Armendinger replace “time” with “animal”—a body. Against time, in its very absence, we’re asked to look at this body, which is in anguish, now. Perhaps now too is in anguish.

I can’t read Spanish, but the translation suggests ​a poetry of ​complex syntactical structures and lexical shock:

Once upon an animal fugitive and fossil, but its felonies
betrayed the same sense of petals
in whose gums it stank, tangled, the anguish
impaled, like a young invader

​A feat of translation, no doubt. ​Armendinger writes that “this intensely embodied and unapologetically queer language” is what drew him to Perlongher, and now we too are drawn in.

Perlongher was a founder of the Frente de Liberación Homosexual Argentino, agitated against the military dictatorship, and, as an anthropologist, wrote about sex workers, and gay and transgender subcultures. All this—writing, work, and play—w​as perhaps​ yet another​ way of saying: “Be still, death:”​; “in the steam of that / eruption: ruptured play, rose / the lamé.”

—Aditi Machado, Poetry Editor

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Dispatch: Bologna Children’s Book Fair

Human representation has acquired a renewed central position, previously abdicated in favor of animals and such.

Four days of intense work within a whirlwind of smiling people who convene here year after year like old friends, while at the same time looking for, proposing, and selling stories that will hopefully enchant today’s children. It is the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the most important event for children’s literature in the world, taking place every year in Italy. This year’s edition ended almost three weeks ago. From March 26 to 29, seventy-seven countries and regions, 1,390 exhibitors, and 27,642 publishing professionals gathered in a bustle of illustrators, authors, publishers, agents, translators, booksellers, and journalists.

Walking through the stands, one can run into tidy lines of novice illustrators who, nervous and creatively dressed, are waiting to exhibit the works they clutch in their hands. One could also bump into celebrations of publishing houses’ “birthdays” or other anniversaries, while inside the stands, agents exhibit new books’ plates before the publishers’ and journalists’ attentive eyes. Just around the corner, interesting educational events are taking place while trembling crowds of aficionados await to meet their favorite artists in flesh and blood. The air is international: in just a few steps one can walk from the forests of Northern Europe to the colossal American stands, to the elegant French stalls. From there you can meet the Japanese artist who collects pebbles and encloses them in personalized books, along with artists, writers and editors from Iran, Chile, Africa and India.

These four days are a vortex of fatigue, legs grinding mile after mile among the stands and eyes taking in an extraordinary amount of illustrations, images, and stories. Once back home, it is necessary to take a few days to detox and reflect upon what one has lovingly noted.

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Asymptote Book Club: In Conversation with Jhumpa Lahiri

"I’m old enough to look back on my life and to think and to marvel, and also be terrified by the randomness of it all."

In our fourth Asymptote Book Club interview, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri spoke with Asymptote Assistant Editor Victoria Livingstone about her translation of Domenico Starnone’s Trick.

In this discussion about her work and the forging of her own artistic identity, Lahiri reveals why translating Starnone seemed like “a sort of destiny.” Lahiri draws us into Starnone’s fictional world, but also reflects on her own mutable relationship with language and writing, and on the marvelous yet precarious ways in which our lives unfold.

Victoria Livingstone (VL): I wanted to begin by asking you what brought you to translation. I just finished reading In Other Words in which you reflect on your decision to switch from writing in English to writing in Italian. Did you see translation as a natural progression after working between multiple languages and living in Italy? And what drew you to Domenico Starnone in particular? 

Jhumpa Lahiri (JL): During the initial part of my stay in Italy, I wanted to translate something, but I didn’t know what it would be. I was reading only in Italian for many years. As my reading progressed, I would think that I would like to translate this person, or that person. Once my Italian was stronger and my reading in Italian seemed to have a larger ongoing purpose and focus, translation was something that really intrigued me.

I was considering it in this vague way and then I read Lacci by Domenico [Starnone] and immediately felt that if I were to translate something, that this would be the book I wanted to translate. I felt very close to it. It spoke to me very deeply. It felt like the natural first step. That’s how it started. When he asked me to translate the book, we were already friends and I felt—I feel now—that it was a sort of destiny. Everything was properly aligned in the moment that I was drawn to the idea of translating and was ready to translate with the appropriate amount of distance. That was when Lacci, which became Ties, won a prize which enabled the translation to be funded. It was a series of fortuitous circumstances that led to the translation of that book a couple of years ago.

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What’s New with the Crew? A Monthly Update

Check in with the Asymptote crew's literary achievements!

We have such an amazing group of creative people over here at Asymptote. Check out some of our recent news and stay tuned for more of the international literature you love!

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado published a micro-review of Hirato Renkichi’s Spiral Staircase (translated by Sho Sugita) in The Kenyon Review.

Copy-editor Anna Aresi‘s Italian translation of Ewa Chrusciel’s poems from her new book, Of Annunciations (Omnidawn, 2017), appeared in El Ghibli, the first Italian journal of migrant literature.

Assistant Blog Editor David Smith presented original research on the life and work of Sherman Adams (an African-American activist, journalist, and author who migrated to Sweden in the 1960s) at the Lost Southern Voices festival in Atlanta on March 24. He will also be reading a paper at the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies conference in Los Angeles in May.

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Announcing our March Book Club selection: Trick by Domenico Starnone

Domenico Starnone’s Trick is the latest treat for Asymptote Book Club subscribers.

“A new book from Starnone is an event to celebrate,” according to Kirkus Reviews, and Trick—the second Starnone novel to be translated into English by Jhumpa Lahiri—is “his best yet.”

Lahiri introduces Trick as an intriguing blend of Kafka and Henry James, a mixture of James’s trademark meticulous elegance and Kafka’s “obsession with the body: with physical discomfort, with weakness, with disease.”

If you’d like to read our next monthly selection, head to our Book Club page for more information. If you’re already a subscriber, why not join the conversation on our online discussion group? To get you started, here’s Asymptote Assistant Editor Victoria Livingstone’s take on the novel…

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In Review: Banthology, edited by Sarah Cleave

Good stories help us to make sense of the world.

In January 2017, independent British publisher Comma Press announced that in 2018 they would only be publishing authors from ‘banned nations’. This was a response to President Trump’s directive to block entry to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries for ninety days. Whilst continuing to generate hate and divide people, Trump’s announcement did give rise to some positive news. Organisations around the world stood up to fight for the rights of the citizens of these countries. In a show of solidarity, Asymptote’s Spring 2017 issue featured writing from authors in many of the countries affected. And now, a new title from Comma Press, Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations, has just been published in this spirit.

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What’s New with the Crew? A Monthly Update

Check out what the team has been up to thus far in 2018!

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado has created a teaching guide for her recent book of poetry, Some Beheadings (Nightboat Books, 2017). She was also interviewed by Chicago Review of Books about the translatability of poetry.

Communications Manager Alexander Dickow released a short monograph in French on Max Jacob called Jacob et le cinéma (Paris: Nouvelles Editions Jean-Michel Place, 2017).

Guest Artist Liaison Berny Tan’s first solo exhibition, ‘Thought Lines’, opened last month. She also currently has work displayed in an exhibition called ‘Journeys with “The Waste Land”’ at the Turner Contemporary in Margate, UK.

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Announcing the Winter 2018 Issue of Asymptote

Celebrate our 7th anniversary with this new issue, gathering never-before-published work from 30 countries!

We interrupt our regular programming to announce the launch of Asymptote‘s Winter 2018 issue! Here’s a tour of some of the outstanding new work from 30 different countries, which we’ve gathered under the theme of “A Different Light”:

In “Aeschylus, the Lost,” Albania’s Ismail Kadare imagines a “murky light” filtering through oiled window paper in the ancient workroom of the father of Greek tragedy. A conversation with acclaimed translator Daniel Mendelsohn reveals the “Homeric funneling” behind his latest memoir. Polish author Marta Zelwan headlines our Microfiction Special Feature, where meaning gleams through the veil of allegory. Light glows ever brighter in poet Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s “syntactically frenetic” “Arachnid Sun”; and in Erika Kobayashi’s fiction, nuclear devastation blazes from Hiroshima to Fukushima.

The light around us is sometimes blinding, sometimes dim, “like a dream glimpsed through a glass that’s too thick,” as Argentine writer Roberto Arlt puts it, channeling Paul to the Corinthians in The Manufacturer of Ghosts. Something dreamlike indeed shines in César Moro’s Equestrian Turtle, where “the dawn emerges from your lips,” and, as if in echo, Mexican writer Hubert Matiúwàa prophecies for his people’s children “a house made of dawn.” With Matiúwàa’s Mè’phàà and our first works from Amharic and Montenegrin, we’ve now published translations from exactly 100 languages!

We hope you enjoy reading this milestone issue as much as everyone at Asymptote enjoyed putting it together. If you want to see us carry on for years to come, consider becoming a masthead member or a sustaining member today. Spread the word far and wide!

*****

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Translation Tuesday: “The Future Perfect” by Paolo Zardi

You are sitting up straight, and don’t know that in less than a minute you are going to die.

The narrator of “The Future Perfect” is riding the bus, listening to the Beatles on an iPod, when a tragic accident occurs on the street outside. Paolo Zardi doesn’t tell us which album it is, but perhaps we can speculate that it is Sgt. Pepper. As a shattering portrait of parental loss and a terrifying vision of the randomness and finality of death, Zardi’s story recalls the songs “She’s Leaving Home” and “A Day in the Life,” respectively. Like those songs, the reverberations of “The Future Perfect” stay with us long after the final line.

I’m sitting on a plastic chair on the number 7 bus, on Corso Stati Uniti, heading towards the station, laptop case in hand, and a sense of satisfaction for the great deal I just closed. You are riding a scooter, an Aprilia SR, with a black leg cover over your legs, a bunny-eared helmet on your head, and a windshield to protect you from the rain. You are sitting up straight, a common female stance, and don’t know that in less than a minute you are going to die. Opposite me, there is a woman who is the carbon copy of a girl who was in elementary school with me, but ten years older; you, in the meantime, drive up alongside the huge window where I’m watching Padua’s drenched industrial area flash by—I can also see a Seat León waiting to exit a side road, five hundred meters ahead of us—and I smile when I see the huge bright “Serramenti Cacco” sign; then, I look down at you, but the visor of your helmet is dark, and I can’t see the lines of your face. You continue driving in your lane, next to us, under a trickle of rain, while on the bus a black kid offers his seat to a man who had no idea he was that old. We will pass you soon, and you, trailing behind us, will crash into the front of a car that will not have yielded the right-of-way; we will only hear the muffled sound of sheet metal buckling, and we will ask ourselves what the noise was; someone will say it was two cars crashing; someone else will add, in the dialect of Padua, “That was some crash!” and then we will all go back to reading our books, to listening to the Beatles on our iPods, to asking ourselves why we hadn’t noticed we had aged. While your mother is preparing the pasta for dinner, a doctor will be trying to reanimate you, pressing his hands down on your chest 103 times a minute, the time it takes to cook the Barilla farfalle noodles; they will be throwing in the towel just as your mother is draining the pasta and is starting to ask herself why you are so late. At eight thirty, sweaty-palmed, she will call you on your cell phone, and on the other end a man will sit down and wait for it to ring just once more, just one more time before working up the courage to answer and explain to the person who brought you into this world what has happened to you; and on this side of the world your mother will slip to the ground and will scream, without understanding, “Oh God, oh my God!” Your father will get up off his armchair, where he had started watching the news of Obama’s victory on channel 2 and, heavy-hearted, he will go to the kitchen; and when he sees his wife sitting on the floor, he will understand everything, immediately; then he will kneel next to the woman he has always loved, and he will hold her as if she were made of fine glass, and, incredulous, they will cry, together; your mother will remember the day she gave birth to you and your father the first time you told him you loved him. Then, in time, your room will become a shrine and your things small relics; your mother will spend her next years listening to your CDs, stuck forever in 2009, hugging the first teddy bear she ever bought for you; your father will slip into a silence that is more and more dismal. But in the meantime, we, the passengers on the bus, will have already arrived home: when your mother was dialing the phone, I had already eaten dinner; when she slipped to the floor, I had finished brushing my teeth; when your parents were driving to the hospital, accompanied only by the sound of their sobs, I was finishing the book on my night stand. And while they were identifying your face, disfigured by death, I had just closed my eyes, thanking the Lord for such a beautiful day.

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What’s New in Translation: January 2018

The new year kicks off with new releases from Japan, Germany, and Italy.

Every month, our staff members pick three notable new releases in world literature to review. The first month of 2018 brings us short fiction from Japan and novels from Germany and Italy.

bear and the paving stone

The Bear and the Paving Stone by Toshiyuki Horie, translated from the Japanese by Geraint Howells, Pushkin Press

Reviewed by Theophilus Kwek, Editor-at-Large for Singapore

Mention ‘contemporary Japanese fiction’ to the average reader and bestselling names like Haruki Murakami, Ruth Ozeki, and Keigo Higashino might come to mind; or indeed last year’s Nobel laureate, the British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. From that perspective, at least, Toshiyuki Horie can be considered one of the modern Japanese canon’s best-kept secrets, happily resurfaced for an Anglophone audience by the ever-intrepid Pushkin Press. A critic, translator, and professor of literature, Horie has garnered numerous accolades for his fiction and essays, and is also—as the three novellas collected here reveal—a masterly prose stylist, a ruthlessly effective narrator, and a seasoned traveller between the real and imagined geographies of experience and history, dream and memoir, and past and present.

The first and longest section of the volume contains Horie’s novella “The Bear and the Paving Stone,” which won the Akutagawa Prize in 2001, and lends this volume its title. The tale opens in a strange, allegorical dream-sequence that ends just as abruptly when the narrator wakes, alone, in a rural farmhouse in Normandy. Drawing on Horie’s own time as a graduate student at the Sorbonne, the story unfolds with exquisite pacing into a long-awaited reunion between two unlikely college pals: the narrator (then a student from Japan, now a professional translator) and Yann, a free-spirited, petánque-playing photographer. As they embark on a breakneck drive to see the sun set over Mont St Michel from Yann’s favourite spot on the coast, we are plunged as if into another dream: this time, comprising the layered narratives of French intellectual history, the Holocaust and its aftershocks, and a post-modern, international friendship. Ghostly historical figures such as Émile Littré, Jorge Semprún, and Bruno Bettelheim haunt these pages with a sense of driving, almost teleological purpose, but the two friends’ conversation somehow remains light, and movingly human, throughout.

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My 2017: Diána Vonnák

“Fiction, nonfiction—the two are bleeding into each other all the time.” They do, and the result is often great.

Editor-at-Large for Hungary Diána Vonnák, who joined us in October this year, moved between fiction and nonfiction titles in 2017. Some of these books blurred the lines between both and probed the relationship between invented worlds and our own. 

I spent much of this year reading books I would have trouble classifying either as fiction or nonfiction. They reminded me of Geoff Dyer, who began his “Art of Nonfiction” interview with the Paris Review by protesting the division: “Fiction, nonfiction—the two are bleeding into each other all the time.” They do, and the result is often great. Here are my favourites from 2017.

I started the year with Philippe Sands’ East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, an engrossing family memoir-cum-intellectual history. Sands, a human rights lawyer, sets off on a journey to recover his own family history—which leads him back to Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine. Before the Holocaust eliminated its prolific Jewish life, Ralph Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, who would later become legal scholars, both studied there. Just like Sands’ own grandparents, Lemkin and Lauterpacht left their hometowns and were spared from the massacre that eradicated their entire families. Sands combines a precipitating personal memoir with a vivid reconstruction of how the Holocaust led these two thinkers to develop the notions, in Lemkin’s case, of genocide and, in Lauterpacht’s case, of crimes against humanity. Sands shows how their ideas originated from their personal lives, and as he follows Lemkin and Lauterpacht through emigration, he reconstructs their respective intellectual environments. It all culminates in the milestone legal debates that took place after the Holocaust—Sands shows us how Lemkin’s and Lauterpacht’s own compelling circumstances shaped their arguments. It is rare to see legal history woven so seamlessly into personal reflection.

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What’s New with the Crew? A Monthly Update

Stay up to date with the literary achievements of the wonderful Asymptote team!

Contributing Editor Adrian Nathan West has two new translations out: Rainald Goetz’s Insane published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, and reviewed in The Economist; and Juan Benet’s Construction of the Tower of Babel, published by Wakefield Press.

Writers on Writers Editor Ah-reum Han‘s flash fiction, “The Last Heifer,” was published in Fiction International, for its 50th Issue.

Copy Editor Anna Aresi’s translation of Gifts & Bequests by Carol Aymar Armstrong was published on the Italian poetry blog InternoPoesia (IP). She also edited “Poetry in Translation,” the 2017 issue of Mosaici: Learned Online Journal of Italian Poetry, which went live in November.

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The Nobel’s Faulty Compass

After all, it seems hard to believe that the magnetic north of the literary lies in Europe or in the languages that have emerged from it. 

In the will he signed in Paris on November 27, 1895, Alfred Nobel established five prizes in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and the promotion of peace. In the sciences, the key characteristic of a laureate’s contribution to the larger field was that it should be the “most important” discovery or improvement, while the peace prize was intended to recognize “the most or the best work” performed in pursuit of fostering what he called the “fraternity between nations.” Yet when turning to the award for careful work with language, Nobel would distinctly modify his own: he specified that the literary prize should go to whichever writer had produced “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.”

From 1901 to 2017, women have exemplified that ideal direction a mere fourteen times. Although that dismal distribution has somewhat improved in recent years, it is nothing to brag about: only five women have won since 2004, and only six in the past twenty-one years. Such disappointing diversity continues when we turn to languages: of the 113 laureates in that same period, twenty-nine have written in English. That number does not even include three laureates who each wrote in two languages, one of which was English: Rabindranath Tagore, the songwriter who won a century before Bob Dylan and who also wrote in Bengali; Samuel Beckett, whose most famous work is titled En attendant Godot in the original French; and Joseph Brodsky, whose poems appeared in Russian and whose prose was written in the same language as the documents certifying the American citizenship he had acquired a decade before winning.

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