Place: Australia

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

In these dispatches, we see efforts in world literature to feature underrepresented voices.

World literature will be inclusive only through a continuous effort of organizing against the dominant, listening to the underrepresented, and making space for the unheard to bloom. This week our Editors-at-Large report such efforts from Australia, Hong Kong, and Slovakia. Read on to find out how the voices of women, indigenous and local peoples are being amplified around the world.

Tiffany Tsao, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Australia:

As part of an effort to resist the colonial systems that are the Australian publishing industry, the Australian media and arts industries, and modern Australia itself, the literary quarterly The Lifted Brow made the decision to hand over the entire production of their December issue to an all-First-Nations team of writers, editors, and ancillary staff. “We at TLB are too white, in all senses of that term,” read the magazine’s official statement on the matter. “[I]t’s way past the time that this should’ve changed. Our job and responsibility now is to push back against these oppressive and harmful regimes-within-regimes, not because we can undo the past, but because we can make better the present and the future.”

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In Conversation: Kim Scott (Ubud Writers and Readers Festival Feature)

Asymptote readers interested in seeing Kim Scott in person at UWRF can save 20% on a 4-day pass by entering 'MPAS' at the online checkout!

In collaboration with this year’s Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, which will be held from 24-28 October, Asymptote is pleased to present this interview with Kim Scott. An Indigenous Australian writer of Wirlomin Noongar descent, Scott has written five novels, two of which—Benang: From the Heart (1999) and That Deadman Dance (2010)—won the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award. His latest novel, Taboo (2017), was longlisted for the same prize. In addition to writing novels, he worked together with Noongar elder Hazel Brown to create the account Kayang & Me (2013), transcribing their conversations and interspersing her memories and his, her knowledge and his research, to create a family history of the Wirlomin Noongar people.

Scott is also involved in the Wirlomin Noongar Language & Stories Project—an initiative to reclaim Wirlomin stories and dialect for the purposes of fostering and promoting Wirlomin Noongar arts and culture, the wider Noongar community, and the Aboriginal community at large. Asymptote Editor-At-Large for Australia, Tiffany Tsao, had the privilege of interviewing him over the phone in late August 2018. What follows below is an edited transcript of their conversation. We hope you enjoy the first ever Asymptote blog post discussing the Noongar language!

Tiffany Tsao (TT): The power of language comes up often in your work: language’s ability to create and cohere a shared culture and community that will restore to the Indigenous characters of your novels a strong sense of who they are and where they belong. What was the process by which you came to this conviction about the necessity of language in Indigenous Australian identity building?

Kim Scott (KS): Particularly in Taboo it’s informed by the work I do with the Wirlomin Noongar Language & Stories Project. Earlier on, particularly in Benang, I was still working it out. Benang is in some sense an interrogation of the [Australian historical] archives, I suppose—a sort of deconstruction. And there was an awareness of if that’s all that you’re doing, then it’s a very reactive process. So the alternative, to find something deeper, more nurturing, is Indigenous language itself. And in that book, the sounds the narrator makes, which are so distinctly of place—that’s a metaphor in my mind for Indigenous language. That’s what grounds him so to speak, that’s what nourishes him. It’s almost inexplicable in the language of the archives.

There’s also very good research, particularly in Canada I think, that indicates a whole range of indigenous communities’ health and social indicators are much better based on the extent to which they are connected to their ancestral traditions, countries, and language.

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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “The Memory Artist” by Katherine Brabon

Presenting Micol Licciardello, winner of the inaugural Monash-Asymptote Literary Translation Competition

This week it gives us great pleasure to present the winner of a student literary translation competition hosted by Monash University in collaboration with Asymptote. Conceived by Monash University lecturer, Dr. Gabriel Garcia Ochoa, the contest was held as part of his third-year undergraduate course, Translating Across Cultures. Following Susan Bassnett’s idea that translation can help us better understand the features of different cultures (read our interview with her here!), the course teaches translation as a method for developing cross-cultural competence. The students—all of whom are language majors—are divided into seven different streams: Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Italian, French, German, and Indonesian (with Korean forthcoming in 2019). The three students who received the highest scores on the course’s final assignment were allowed to compete in the Monash-Asymptote Literary Translation Competition.

The three finalists were asked to translate an excerpt from Katherine Brabon’s novel The Memory Artist, which won the 2016 Australian/Vogel Literary Award. Our warmest thanks to the author, the jury (made up of Monash University faculty members and Asymptote’s editorial staff), and the novel’s publisher Allen & Unwin for their kind support, in particular Emma Dorph and Maggie Thompson.

Without further ado, our heartiest congratulations to the winner Micol Licciardello, whose Italian-language translation we feature here (after the original text in English). Our applause also for the first runner-up, Beatrice Bandini, who also translated the passage into Italian, and our second runner-up, Andoni Laguna-Alberdi, who translated the passage into Spanish.

I was born in Moscow in 1964. Our apartment was a dvushka, two rooms and a small square of kitchen, in a Khrushchev-era concrete block. In that apartment of my childhood, uneven towers of paper, a precarious city, sprawled across the living room floor. On a glass-fronted bookshelf, photos of old dissidents, exiled writers and dead poets leant against the volumes and journals, looking out with silent faces. A narrow balcony faced the street.

Every child has their window, and from mine, in the kitchen, I could see only a narrow street, the tops of hats or umbrellas of people passing below, slanting shadows on the walls of the tower opposite and identical to ours, rain bouncing off bitumen, piles of snow and sometimes the old woman who cleared it away. On the windowsill were a few of those old meat tins—from the war years, my mother said—that now held pencils and fake flowers.

Life was our kitchen table. Rectangular, not very big, metal legs; draped in a cream cloth with latticed edges, stitched flowers in orange, brown and yellow. It was mesmerising, for me as a boy, to see how our rooms could transform between morning and late evening. In the morning, the table, and therefore the apartment, had a certain stillness; there were only a few ripples in the tablecloth where the base or a plate had nudged the material out of place. I could hear my mother’s slippers on the linoleum floor, the tick of the gas boiler on the wall, the soft knock of tea glasses placed on the wooden shelf. Pasha, drink your tea, my mother would say to me.

By evening our kitchen table would be another place, crowded and always, it seemed to me, made more colourful by the noise and the people gathered there. Rather than a first memory, I grasped a first feeling, an impression of those evenings in my childhood.

Oleg would usually arrive first. He had broad shoulders but was thin, the sinews of his neck stretched as if to their limits. The veins on his hands resembled river lines on a map. His hair, neatly parted, was slightly wispy, and his eyes were a striking shade of light blue. There was one night, or many, when I was very young and Oleg was talking as usual with the adults gathered in our kitchen. From my seat I watched as he casually reached for a cloth to dry the very plate from which I had moments ago eaten my dinner, that my mother had washed in the sink. In its ease, the unspoken closeness of old friends, it was a gesture that comforted me. We had probably lost my father by then. Perhaps I craved the figure of another parent that Oleg seemed to embody.

And then the others would arrive for the gathering—or underground activist meeting, as I would later learn to call these evenings in our apartment. They greeted one another, taking glasses from the table or shelf, some talking loudly as they walked through the tiny entranceway from the hall, pausing by the door to take off their boots, others quieter, patting me on the shoulder. I could smell makhorka tobacco as if it drifted in with those tall figures, riding on the warmth of their wheezing laughs or the cold of the draught from the hallway. Since the table was so small, most stood leaning against the wall, the doorway, or the edge of the sink. Certain papers were sometimes lifted from beneath the linoleum on the floor. Oleg would turn the radio on, wink at me and say, Let’s find out what’s happening to us today, Pasha. And then voices from Radio Liberty, Voice of America, or the BBC would speak from the shiny mint-green Latvian radio that was moved to the table for those gatherings—another object, like the kitchen table, that became so deeply woven into events of those years that it was something of a character in my memories. Such things seemed to hold an emotional personality as real as those of the people who, after all, would themselves become only memory objects of a kind.

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Sono nato a Mosca nel 1964. Il nostro appartamento era una dvushka, due camere e una piccola cucina quadrata, in un palazzo di cemento dell’epoca di Kruscev. In quell’appartamento della mia infanzia, torri di carta irregolari, una città precaria, erano sparse sul pavimento del soggiorno. Su una vetrinetta, foto di vecchi dissidenti, scrittori esiliati e poeti morti erano poggiate su libri e riviste e ci guardavano con volti silenziosi. Un balcone stretto si affacciava sulla strada.

Tutti i bambini hanno una finestra e dalla mia, in cucina, vedevo soltanto una strada stretta, le cime dei cappelli e degli ombrelli della gente che passava giù, ombre oblique sui muri della torre di fronte identica alla nostra, la pioggia rimbalzare sul bitume, mucchi di neve e a volte la vecchia signora che la spalava. Sul davanzale c’erano alcune scatolette di carne—quelle degli anni della guerra, diceva mia madre—che ora contenevano matite e fiori finti.

Il tavolo da cucina era la nostra vita. Rettangolare, non molto grande, con gambe di metallo; avvolto in una tovaglia color crema con un motivo a quadretti sui bordi e fiori ricamati arancioni, marroni e gialli. Quando ero piccolo, restavo incantato vedendo come le stanze si trasformavano fra la mattina e la tarda serata. Di mattina il tavolo, e quindi l’appartamento, erano immersi in una quiete immobile; c’era soltanto qualche increspatura sulla tovaglia dove il vaso o i piatti avevano piegato leggermente il tessuto. Sentivo le ciabatte di mia madre sul pavimento di linoleum, il ticchettio della caldaia sul muro, il tocco lieve delle tazzine riposte sulla mensola di legno. Pasha, bevi il tè, mi diceva mia madre.

Di sera il tavolo diventava un altro posto, affollato e reso sempre, ai miei occhi, più ricco di colore dal rumore e dalle persone che vi si riunivano. Piuttosto che un primo ricordo, afferrai una prima sensazione, un’impressione di quelle sere della mia infanzia.

Di solito Oleg era il primo ad arrivare. Aveva le spalle larghe ma era magro, i tendini del collo tesi quasi al limite. Le vene sulle sue mani somigliavano alle linee che segnano i fiumi sulle mappe. Portava i capelli sottili con una riga ordinata e i suoi occhi erano di un’ammaliante sfumatura di azzurro. Una notte, o molte notti, quando ero appena un bambino, Oleg parlava come ogni sera con gli adulti riuniti in cucina. Dalla sedia lo guardavo allungarsi disinvolto verso un panno per asciugare il piatto che proprio qualche istante prima avevo utilizzato a cena e che mia madre aveva sciacquato nel lavandino. Con quella disinvoltura, il tacito legame dei vecchi amici, era un gesto che mi confortava. Probabilmente mio padre era già morto in quel momento. Forse desideravo ardentemente la figura di un genitore che Oleg sembrava incarnare.

Più tardi arrivavano gli altri per la riunione—o incontro degli attivisti clandestini, il vero nome di quelle serate a casa nostra che scoprii successivamente. Si salutavano mentre prendevano un bicchiere dal tavolo o dalla mensola, alcuni parlavano a voce alta attraversando l’entrata stretta, fermandosi vicino la porta per togliersi gli stivali, altri, più silenziosi, dandomi un colpetto sulle spalle. Sentivo l’odore del tabacco makhorka come se venisse trasportato dentro da quelle sagome alte, aleggiando sul calore delle loro risate affannose o sulla corrente fredda che arrivava dal corridoio. Dato che il tavolo era molto piccolo, la maggior parte di loro stava in piedi appoggiandosi al muro, sulla porta o sui bordi del lavandino. A volte prendevano dei giornali dal pavimento di linoleum. Oleg accendeva la radio, mi faceva l’occhiolino e diceva, Scopriamo cosa ci sta succedendo oggi, Pasha. E poi voci di Radio Liberty, Voice of America o della BBC parlavano dalla radio lettone di un colore menta brillante che spostavano sul tavolo per quelle riunioni—un altro oggetto, come il tavolo da cucina, che si era fittamente intrecciato con gli eventi di quegli anni tanto da diventare quasi un personaggio dei miei ricordi. Queste cose parevano avere una personalità carica di emozioni vera quanto quella delle persone che, dopotutto, sarebbero diventate soltanto oggetti nei miei ricordi.

Katherine Brabon was born in Melbourne in 1987 and grew up in Woodend, Victoria. The Memory Artist, her first novel, won the 2016 Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award.

Micol Licciardello is a student at Monash University and the winner of the inaugural Monash-Asymptote Literary Translation Competition.

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Read more translations from the Asymptote blog:

What’s New with the Crew? A Monthly Update

Check out the latest exploits of our stellar international team!

In the midst of sunny summertime beach reading in the north and cozy fireside reading in the south, intense world cup viewing, and political activism, the Asymptote team has been as creative as always! Below are some recent updates from the crew as well as exciting information for all you emerging translators!

Criticism Editor Ellen Jones contributed an article on Junot Díaz to Hispanic Research Journal. Her translation of Juan Pablo Roncone’s short story “Children” was published in the Bogotá39 anthology (Oneworld, June 2018). She also participated in a translation slam with Rosalind Harvey at Oxford Translation Day, where the two of them discussed their different versions of Chilean writer Nicanor Parra’s poem “Manchas en la pared.”

Blog Editor Sarah Booker contributed a translation of Cristina Rivera Garza’s “Simple Pleasure. Pure Pleasure” to The Paris Review.

Australia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao’s new novel Under Your Wings was published on July 2 by Viking Australia, and has been reviewed at Readings.

Singapore Editor-at-Large Theophilus Kwek presented his paper “(Trans)National Service: Conscripting Second-Generation Migrants in Neoliberal Singapore” at the biennial conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. In addition, his undergraduate dissertation discussing race in Singapore’s history textbooks will become a chapter in the forthcoming book Southeast Asian Education in Modern History (ed. Pia Maria Jolliffe, Thomas Richard Bruce) from Routledge.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Albania, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

It is a summery Friday in the Northern Hemisphere and that means sun-filled afternoon beverages and literary updates from around the world! Barbara Halla discusses recent publications from Albania and delves into the political debates with which they engage. Daljinder Johal discusses conversations about libraries and marketing that were held at literary festivals around the United Kingdom. Finally, reporting from Australia, Tiffany Tsao discusses the controversy surrounding a recent literary journal cover and provides information on opportunities for emerging writers.

Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Albania:

At barely three million people living in Albania, it has become a national sport of sorts to look for traces of Albanians and Albanian influences in other cultures. In this vein, one of the most anticipated books of the season has been Luan Rama’s Mbresa Parisiane (Parisian Impressions). Luan Rama is both a writer and a diplomat. Between 1991 and 1992 he was the Albanian ambassador to France, where has spent most of his life since, writing several titles on Albanian culture and its ties to France. A good portion of this new book veers toward familiar territory, dwelling on the lives of famous authors that made Paris their home. Yet its real appeal is Rama’s research into Albanians who lived in Paris and, more simply, reading the perspective of an Albanian writing about his life in Paris.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of the world's literary news brings us to Albania, Kosovo, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

We wrap up an exciting week for the Asymptote team—and for the book club in particular—with our weekly roundup of world literature. This week, Barbara Halla gives us the latest on authors and festivals in Albania and Kosovo, including Ismail Kadare, who was featured in the Winter 2018 issue. Cassie Lawrence explores the latest in British publishing, including an exciting diversity endeavor from Jacaranda Books. Finally, Kate Garrett shares the latest literary award winners in Australia. Enjoy a reading-filled weekend!

Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Albania and Kosovo

Kadare might have been snubbed for the Nobel Prize once more last year, but 2018 is going well for him already. We are barely two months in and Kadare is collecting prizes. In January, he won the Italian Nonino International Prize, whose previous winners include Claude Lévi-Strauss and V. S. Naipaul. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development launched its first literary prize as well, with Kadare’s The Traitor’s Niche making the inaugural shortlist. As if this weren’t enough, the English-speaking public will receive two new books by Kadare, both published in early 2018. A Girl in Exile (translated by John Hodgson) is both an adaptation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and a nostalgic look at Tirana during Communism. Restless Books, on the other hand, is issuing for the first time in English a collection of Kadare’s essays aptly titled Essays on World Literature: Aeschylus, Dante, and Shakespeare, translated by Ani Kokobobo. For those interested, an excerpt can be read in Asymptote’s latest issue.

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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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The Asymptote Book Club: An Update!

Our Editor-in-Chief takes some questions about the Book Club!

What an overwhelming ten days since the launch of the Asymptote Book Club! We received queries from as far afield as Australia and Canada—so much interest from Canada, in fact, that we decided to open our book club to Canadians four days ago. But why a book club in the first place? some asked. Well, in a nutshell: the idea was to take the important work we have done with our award-winning, free online journal and our Translation Tuesday showcases at the Guardian—that is to say, showcasing the best new writing from around the world, and giving it a physical presence outside of the virtual arena. We also wanted to celebrate (as well as support) the independent publishers who work hard behind the scenes to make world literature possible.

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What sets your book club apart from others?

Curation is a big part of what makes the book club special. We have a large team of editors based in six continents to research and pick the best titles available from a wide variety of publishers. Subscribers will receive a brand-new (just published or, in many cases, not even in the bookshops yet), surprise work of fiction delivered to their door each month. This is another thing that distinguishes us from a few other book clubs before us: we choose from new releases only—nothing from a backlist that readers may already have on their bookshelves.

Subscriptions are for three or 12 months (for as little as USD15 a month, shipping included!) and, depending on the package the subscriber picks, they may receive additional perks in the form of Asymptote merchandise and ebooks (see below), but the real focus here is on creating a serious book club for a dedicated reading public. Many subscription services focus as much on the gifts as the books themselves, but we do not see ourselves as experts in tea or socks, so we’re concentrating rather on ensuring our readers get their hands on the most amazing literature we can source, applying the same curatorial instincts that won us a London Book Fair Award in 2015. READ MORE…

Dispatch from Boundless 2017: A Festival of Diverse Writers

"We are the Other with a capital 'O'; we are the back corner of the book shop; we are the addition, we are the afterthought."

It is difficult to convey just how excited I was when I learned that a festival devoted to Indigenous and culturally diverse Australian writers would be taking place this year. I immediately blocked off the date in my calendar, eagerly followed announcements of the festival’s lineup and official program, and counted down the days. On the long-awaited morning, I cheerfully thanked my spouse in advance for minding our toddler, clambered into my car, and sped off to the western suburbs of Sydney to have my mind blown by the incredible experience that would be Boundless 2017.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The most important literary news from the US, Australia, and the Czech Republic.

In addition to our usual roundup this week of the latest and most exciting prizes and competitions, our Editor-at-Large in the USA, Madeline Jones, shares some important news about sexual harassment in the nation’s media and publishing industry; Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao draws our attention to the online harassment of an Indigenous poet, just over a week before the start of Australia’s first Indigenous literature festival; Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood fills us in on the most exciting new works being released in Czech Republic, and pens a short obituary for a legendary and fearless translator who rubbed shoulders with some of the mid-century’s greatest authors and defied the Czech Soviet authorities. We hope you find this week’s news informative, and we express our solidarity with all women around the world who are standing up to abuse.

Madeline Jones, Editor-at-Large, reporting from the USA: 

The American publishing and media industries have been rocked by an outpouring of sexual harassment and assault accusations against powerful men who have used their standing and infl-uence—and in some cases millions of dollars—to silence women’s complaints. The New York Times and The New Yorker reported the first stories implicating Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in a number of harassment and assault charges on October 5th, which sparked a revolution. Over fifty women have since come forward with complaints about Weinstein’s behavior, he has been fired from his own company, and Hachette Book Group promptly shut down Weinstein Books. The hashtag #metoo sprung up in the wake of these first accusations, demonstrating the sweeping extent of harassment across all areas of work and life, and a list started circulating among women in journalism and media called “Shitty Media Men” where women shared specific names of male perpetrators who had made unwanted advances or offered quid pro quos and who are still employed at prominent magazines and newspapers.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your news from the literary world, all in one place.

This week, our Editors-at-Large bring us up to speed on literary happenings in South Africa, Central America, and Brazil.

Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large, South Africa: 

South Africa has eleven official languages, a fact not often evident in local literary awards and publications, which generally skew towards English and Afrikaans as mediums. However, the announcement of the 2017 South African Literary Awards (SALA) has done much to change this perception.

In addition to including five contributors to narratives in the extinct !Xam and !Kun languages (drawn from the Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd archives), a biography in Sepedi (Tšhutšhumakgala by Moses Shimo Seletisha) and poetry collections in isiXhosa (Iingcango Zentliziyo by Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu) and the Kaaps dialect (Hammie by Ronelda S. Kamfer) have been shortlisted.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your news from the literary world, all in one place.

We’re back with another week full of exciting, new developments in the world of literature! Our Editor-At-Large for Australia, Tiffany Tsao, updates us with a fresh report of prizes and publications and the inauguration of an exciting new festival. Julia Sherwood, Editor-At-Large for Slovakia, is filling us in on the latest exciting news in neighbouring Poland, involving prizes, authors and translators. Last but not least, our Editor-At-Large for Indonesia, Valent Mustamin, serves up a full platter of festivals, publications and awards. 

Tiffany Tsao, Editor-At-Large, with the latest updates from Australia: 

Congratulations to Josephine Wilson, author of the novel Extinctions, for winning the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia’s most prestigious literary prize. The results were announced early last month.

Felicitations also to Stephanie Guest (former Asymptote Australia Editor-at-Large) and Kate Riggs on the publication of their piece “An Architecture of Early Motherhood (and Independence)” in The Lifted Brow’s September issue. The piece received the The Lifted Brow and non/fiction Lab Prize for Experimental Non-Fiction (announced at the end of August) and was lauded by the judges for its “determined fidelity to the banality and logistics of early motherhood—states of radical and ongoing beholden-ness—juxtaposed against reflections from an autonomous life in the margins.”

The shortlist for this year’s Richell Prize for Emerging Writers was announced earlier this week. The five finalist entries are: Michelle Barraclough’s “As I Am”; Sam Coley’s “State Highway One”; Julie Keys’ “Triptych”; Miranda Debljakovich’s “Waiting for the Sun”; and Karen Wyld’s “Where the Fruit Falls.” The prize was launched in 2015 as a joint initiative by the Emerging Writers Festival and the Guardian Australia. The winner will be announced November 1.

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What’s New in Translation? March 2017

Our team reviews some of the newest translations published in English this month

heretics

Heretics by Leonardo Padura, tr. by Anna Kushner, FSG

Review: Layla Benitez-James, Podcast Editor

Leonardo Padura’s novel, Heretics, has finally made its way to North American shores and English speakers everywhere thanks to translator Anna Kushner’s work for Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Originally published by Tusquets Editores of Spain as Herejes in 2013, Heretics is a startlingly, and in many ways disturbingly, relevant work for 2017—as rising levels of xenophobia and nationalism are straining already tense relationships across many borders and affecting refugees throughout Europe and North America. Padura’s novel opens in the Havana of 1939 with the rejection of the St. Louis, a German transatlantic liner sailing from Hamburg whose 937 almost entirely Jewish passengers were fleeing the Third Reich. Their tragic return to Europe—a effective death sentence—is watched by Daniel Kaminsky, the first character introduced and the namesake of the first of the novel’s four sections. Daniel has high hopes in his nine-year-old heart that his parents and sister aboard the ship will make it to land.

At 525 pages, Padura has ample space to leap through an ever thickening plot as his characters become more and more entangled in a seemingly unlikely series of events. Yet the read is a quick one, driven forward by drastic jumps between Havana and Amsterdam and a narrative structure which throws the reader several curveballs in the pages where a more traditional detective story might feel the need for resolution. It’s especially relentless in its final two dozen pages. This book, addicting in and of itself, will also compel readers to dive into the real history of the events on which it centers; they are oftentimes much stranger than any fiction could hope to be, even though Padura tells us right before we embark that “history, reality, and novels run on different engines.” However, to describe the work as a historic thriller, or even to focus on the mystery of a stolen Rembrandt that is woven throughout the larger plot, only hits at one level of Padura’s game. He lets us fall through history almost effortlessly, revealing the inevitable repetition of human cruelty from biblical times through the 17th century, the 20th and up through our own muddy 21st. He neither sugar coats nor exploits these horrors, to his credit.

While the novel takes one of Padura’s recurring characters, Mario Conde, as its hero, a reader uninitiated into this Cubano’s world will have no trouble becoming quickly acquainted. His prose style is elliptical; events and ideas are repeated by different characters as if Padura holds each piece of plot up to the light like a precious stone, turning it this way and that to appreciate its different angles and facets. Though Salinger undoubtedly receives the most attention, influences from Chandler, Hemmingway, Murakami, Kundera, and the occasional phrases from Voltaire’s Candide, which perhaps even inspired the name of Conde’s most pious friend, Candito, also find their place. Readers will note quite a bit of Nietzsche, too, as our hero is forced to try and make sense of the emo subculture springing up on the Island, not to mention a healthy dose of Blade Runner and Nirvana references to even things out.

Perhaps one of the most delightful plays between reality and fiction is the one Padura plays with the genre itself.  Despite some dark passages, the work is deeply humorous and self-reflective, especially in the periodic wish of our narrator to compose his own hard-boiled thriller as he continually feels trapped in one himself. No stranger to taking on huge historical figures (from Adiós Hemmingway to The Man Who Loved Dogs, which stars Leon Trotsky), Padura’s Rembrant is compelling and once again does that work of blurring fact and fiction that inspires a desire for the work to have come wholly from the real world.

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Reading Resolutions from the Asymptote Team (Part II)

More reading resolutions for 2017


Hannah Vose, Social Media Manager

I confess: 2016 was not a great reading year for me. Settling into a new job, traveling frequently—not to mention living through the U.S. election season!—made me retreat into videogames and the comforts of the suffering, over-handled paperbacks on my bookshelf. So in order to kick myself back out into the world of literature, I have two Reading Resolutions for 2017.

The first is to buy and read at least one book by an author from every continent, although since Antarctica is not awash in literature, Central America will be stepping in to play the role of the seventh. At a time when nationalism and xenophobia are rearing their ugly heads across the U.S. at an alarming rate, it feels more important than ever to remind myself of the incredible breadth and depth of international literature and to support the missions of the presses who publish and promote it by being an active consumer.

The second resolution is much simpler: to read at least one book in Spanish, because “rusty” is starting to become a generous description of my skill level.

hannah

Luckily, I’ve got my Spanish-language, European title all lined up. In Asymptote’s April 2016 issue, we published Close Approximations 2016 runner-up Ona Bantjes-Ràfols’s sample translation of El Mundo Sobre Ruedas by Albert Casals. As a sucker for travel narratives—and funny ones, at that—I was hooked. And since there’s no full English translation available, this is the perfect opportunity to work on my Spanish.

Africa also already has a spot on the reading roster. When Rochester Knockings by Hubert Haddad (trans. Jennifer Grotz) came out in 2015, it jumped straight onto my ever-growing wishlist. Written originally in French by a Tunisian author, it concerns the Fox Sisters, fraudulent mediums and Rochester, New York residents. As a former student of the University of Rochester, where Open Letter Books is based, and a two-time former Open Letter intern, this one is right up my alley. Supporting a favorite indie press and getting to read about fake mystics? Win-win!

Thinking ahead, I’m anticipating difficulties choosing an Australian title. Ideally, I would like to read something in translation from a native Australian language, but I’m having trouble finding something. Failing in that mission, I do want to read something by a native Australian author. As of now, The Swan Book by Alexis Wright and Swallow the Air by Tara June Winch have both entered consideration.

2017 should be a good year for reading. Two books picked out, five to go, and—sorry in advance for the cringe you’ll get out of this—a whole world to explore.

*****

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