Language: Serbian

Fall 2013: Translators Talk to Us

Here is yet another dimension of Asymptote which has only begun to emerge: it is becoming an invaluable historical record.

October 2013 marks a turning point: for the first time since our debut, I am not editing at least five sections (as I have for each of the first eleven issues), only two (fiction and nonfiction). Ironically, my workload only increases. A larger team means more housekeeping tasks (some delegatable, some not): asymptotejournal.com accounts to create, staff dossiers to maintain, orientations to conduct, internal surveys to chase after, recommendation letters to write. Most of all, supervising so many new staff in a virtual environment proves a Sisyphean task. Some are not used to being held accountable to pledged hours; others, passionate though they may be about our mission, quickly realize that magazine work is actually rather gruelling. Morale during this transitional period is low, with more than a few recruits falling off the radar. Still, each time a personnel does not work out is a valuable HR lesson learnt, better than any management book can teach. On 6 September, the first-ever draft of our orientation manual is produced by then part-time Managing Editor Tara FitzGerald in close consultation with me and circulated among senior team members; on 23 September, a revised version is released to the entire team, now 45-strong. At 31 pages (as opposed to 66 in its current incarnation), this groundbreaking document represents a hopeful beacon of synced work protocol. Among the milestones this quarter: Poetry Society of America publishes an interview with me; we make our first appearance at ALTA; our daily blog (yes, this one!) is launched at the same time as the October 2013 edition, featuring, among others, an interview with Anne Carson and Robert Currie, and poetry by Wanda Coleman, who passes away—we note with great sadness—five weeks after said issue launch. A quick look at the first month’s blog offerings reveals: A new translation of Louis Aragon (via Damion Searls), a review of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, dispatches from International Translation Day in London and Frankfurt Book Fair, as well as Florian Duijsens’s inspired “Pop Around the World” column. As with the quarterly journal, then, we tried to set a high bar from the get-go. Here to introduce the Fall 2013 issue is contributing editor Ellen Elias-Bursac.

I first heard about Asymptote when my translation of an essay by Dubravka Ugrešić was published in the Fall 2011 issue, the journal’s fourth. But it was only with the Fall 2013 issue—and a short story by David Albahari which I’d translated from the Serbian—that I began an ongoing collaboration as a contributing editor.

I agreed to come on board because I was drawn to the extraordinary number of languages and literatures represented in each issue (17 in Fall 2013), the caliber and inventiveness of the editorial staff, and the ways the journal makes the most of its online presence by including both a recording of the work read aloud in its original language and the original text. (Have a look, here, for instance, at the Isthmus Zapotec of Natalia Toledo’s poems, or here, at Vyomesh Shukla’s poem “What I Wanted to Write” in Hindi.) I was also wowed by the stunning illustrations in every issue.

As a translator myself, I am always interested in reading what my peers have to say about their writers and the challenges they have faced. To demonstrate the many ways translators can talk to us through Asymptote, below I offer several quotes from their notes in the Fall 2013 issue. READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation: September 2018

Readers of English are introduced to four fresh titles, and to their takes on conflict, whimsy, and the human condition.

Even as we celebrate 30 issues, join us at Asymptote as we bring you new reviews of exciting fresh releases. Dive into four titles here with us, featuring work set in Russia, the former Yugoslavia, Syria, and Argentina. Keep on following our blog in September to witness the journey our team has been through in the last seven years.

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Checkpoint by David Albahari, translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursać, Restless Books, 2018

Reviewed by P.T. Smith, Assistant Editor

On the jacket copy for Ellen Elias-Bursać’s translation of David Albahari’s Checkpoint, Restless Books cites Waiting for Godot and Catch-22 as comparisons. I’ll take them, especially the latter, but if I’m pitching this book to people, I’d offer up authors instead of books, and César Aira and Kurt Vonnegut. They better suggest the whimsy and quick-play changes that fill the brief pages of this novel, the sense that anything might happen, that the rules of the narrative can change in a sentence. Aira brings the freedom and the pace that Checkpoint has and Vonnegut the gentler, more passive characters than the strange and bold people who make up Catch-22.

Checkpoint is a quick book, coming in at under 200 pages in small format, and written entirely in one paragraph. It’s the latter that sets the pace. There are no pauses, sentences come and come and come, and so, though it seems as though at times nothing happens, events can rise and fall in an instant. This pace fits a war novel that’s about the absurdity of war, which Checkpoint determinedly and obviously sets out to be. A group of around 30 soldiers marches with their commander to guard a checkpoint, but they have no idea who they are guarding it against, who they are at war with, or even which side of the checkpoint they marched from. They have no known orders, and no way to communicate with their superiors. It’s a paralyzing life, one which soon includes mysterious deaths, refugees, attacks by soldiers of unknown allegiance, severe weather, and misfortunate forays into the surrounding forest.

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What’s New with the Crew? A Monthly Update

Keep up with our staff's impressive literary news as the summer comes to a close!

As we celebrate Asymptote‘s 30 issues in September, join us in congratulating our team members who also kept themselves busy with spreading our love of translation and literature. Take a look at this list and see where else we are bringing you the latest and the best of the literary world.

Communications Manager Alexander Dickow has released a new collection of poetry, Appetites, with MadHat Press.

Drama Editor Caridad Svich received the 2018 Ellen Stewart Award for Career Achievement in Professional Theatre from ATHE (Association of Theatre in Higher Education), and she has also been awarded a Tanne Foundation Award.

Assistant Interviews Editor Claire Jacobson had her translation of a short story by Mortada Gzar published by Words Without Borders.

Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursac will participate in the Boston Translators Group’s (aka Dolet’s) International Translation Day/Month on 27 September at Cambridge Public Library.

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What’s New with the Crew? A Monthly Update

A monthly peek at what our superstar Asymptote team members have been up to!

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado’s debut collection of poems, Some Beheadings, “exploring territories as disparate as India’s Western Ghats and the cinematic Mojave Desert,” has just been published by Nightboat Books.

Drama Editor Caridad Svich’s Red Bike has been selected for NNPN’s 2017 National Showcase of New Plays this December.

Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursac was given an award by the Serbian PEN Center for her work translating Serbian writers into English.

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A Dispatch from European Literature Days 2016: On Colonialism and Literature

Two writers and a publisher from three different places around the world shared the same story: each, at age sixteen, felt their life was changed.

In early November, the picturesque, if rather overcast hills and vineyards along the Danube in Spitz, Austria provided a luscious backdrop to literary discussions ranging from Haiti to Hungary, Brazil to Burkina Faso, Slovenia to South Africa and Brazil to Zimbabwe. Headlined “The Colonists”, the European Literature Days 2016 brought together writers, translators and literary critics to debate cultural appropriation and colonialism in literature in both the literal and metaphorical senses, with literary readings and wine tastings to boot.

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© Julia Sherwood

“Every country in the world is a hostage of its history from which there is no escape,” German reportage writer Hans Christoph Buch declared in his keynote speech (reproduced in full in the daily Die Presse). Since first visiting Haiti—the country of his father’s birth—in 1968, Buch has traversed the world, concluding that, although he might have written about the Caribbean and Africa, experience is not transferable across continents.  But isn’t a white author writing about Haiti stealing the country’s stories? Do writers have the right to write about countries that are not their own or does it turn them into colonists? Media and cultural scholar Karin Harrasser posed these questions to Zimbabwean lawyer and novelist Petina Gappah and Cuban author and cultural journalist Yania Suárez.

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Hans Cristoph Buch © Sascha Osaka

They certainly do, according to Gappah. But with the privilege to tell stories, especially those that are not yours, comes responsibility to tell the truth, she added. She deemed Hans Christoph Buch to have passed this test with flying colours.  She stressed the value of the external gaze but warned about striving for authenticity, which is the death of fiction: “If you go down the rabbit hole of authenticity you end up with memoirs.”  Suárez agreed that people have the right to write about other countries but only if they’ve spent enough time there to get to know their surroundings properly. Those who haven’t immersed themselves in the culture often misrepresent and fetishize Cuba, for example, creating fantasy narratives and appropriating its recent history to support their own romantic ideas (ideas echoed only a few weeks later by the accolades heaped upon the late Fidel Castro).

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Petina Gappah © Sascha Osaka

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KROKODIL Literary Festival: A Dispatch

"Every year in mid-June, in front of the Yugoslav Museum in Belgrade, a strange sect gathers: made up of friends whose names you don’t know."

When organizing an open-air festival, it is easy to realize how religions first came into being: man gazed into the sky and yearned for weather to save the harvest. For seven years now, we—the organization team of the Krokodil festival—have been just-as-obsessively peering at the sky and weather forecasts, always clutching to the one that predicts the worst possible weather. Finally, on the opening day, we phone the Hydrometeorology Institute every two hours. We’re on a first-name basis with its employees.

The festival takes place in the open-air amphitheater in front of the Museum of Yugoslav History, which makes for great atmosphere and an exceptionally high turnout. Krokodil (an acronym loosely translatable as “regional literary gathering which does away with boredom and lethargy”) is conceived as a reading festival and a festival of contemporary literature. More than 120 authors, from over fifteen European countries, have participated thus far.

This year’s theme was “Centers of Periphery.” We aimed to examine the relation between the “center” and the “margin” in literature, as well as in society and politics, exploring the geographical aspects of banishment from the mainstream. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Two Poems by Miodrag Stanisavljević

Translated by our editor-at-large Mirza Puric

Omarska

Omarska.

Death likes pretty names.

 

Pelvic bones make good stirrups.

Gypsies’ cruelty to jades Madame Geneticist has always admired.

Lamp him across the gob, Joshka.


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Translation Tuesday: “A Fistful of Walnuts” by Bojan Krivokapić

Translated from the Serbian by Mirza Puriç

In September 1992, I started school. We lived in the country back then, in one of those Voivodinian villages headed for extinction. Small, fat and grubby-faced, I dragged my green, cube-shaped, double-buckled rucksack—emblazoned with apples, a motif from Snowy White, I suppose—full of Serbian, maths, science and social studies text books. I may have also had a container of that white glue, the one that came with a plastic spatula, the one that smelt of dairy products.

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Asymptote Spring 2014 Issue – Out Now!

…and it's packed with the most exciting new literary translations, critical pieces, and more from around the world.

What are you waiting for? Highlights from Asymptote’s Spring 2014 issue include new work by Nobel laureate Herta MüllerDavid Bellos (author of “Is that a Fish in Your Ear?”), and Prix Goncourt-winner Jonathan Littell. Plus, our annual English-language fiction feature spotlights Diasporic literature from Bosnia, China, India, Japan, and Singapore.

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Translation Tuesday: A Poem by Biljana Stajic

This twisting narrative from Serbia delves into our deepest fears and anxieties

Tickets for America

 

I am walking down the street

someone is following me

the heart is beating

it is dark

no one around

dread all over

I shiver

getting near

I start to run

the front door is locked

I ring the intercom

keep running

just so I am not standing still

such darkness

such a town

READ MORE…