Place: Australia

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.

READ MORE…

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.

READ MORE…

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.

*****

Read More Recommendations from Asymptote Staff:

“They Cannot Be Pigeonholed”: Julie Koh on Racial Nepotism and Asian Writing

I’m not overly interested in waiting around for reform to take place in publishing in the West. Instead, I’d prefer to create a new center.

This month sees the launch of BooksActually’s Gold Standard 2016—the first edition of a new annual anthology comprising what indie Singaporean bookstore BooksActually considers to be the best short fiction from cult writers of East and Southeast Asia, and the diaspora. Most significantly, the anthology is overtly political: a protest against how Asian writing is curated in the West and an effort to establish a new center for Asian writing within Asia.    

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Julie Koh, the inaugural editor and co-founder of the Gold Standard. I’ve long been troubled by the problems that arise from editors and publishers outside Asia curating Asian writing (a topic I explored at length here). I was naturally excited when Koh invited me both to translate for and contribute to the anthology, but it was only through our conversations that I got a fuller sense of the passion fueling the anthology’s creation and goals.

                    Tiffany Tsao, Indonesia Editor-at-Large, Asymptote

Tiffany Tsao (TT): In its promotional matter, the BooksActually’s Gold Standard anthology describes an attempt at a literary reformation: an effort to “redefine how Asian voices are promoted—providing a counterweight to the often tokenistic way in which Asian writing is curated in the West.” In your opinion, what is wrong with how Asia is currently promoted and curated in the West, and how exactly does the anthology counter it? 

Julie Koh (JK): The best way to begin to explain the rationale behind BooksActually’s Gold Standard is with reference to the controversy surrounding The Best American Poetry 2015, where the editor Sherman Alexie discovered that one of the poems picked for publication, by a “Yi-Fen Chou,” was in fact by a white male poet named Michael Derrick Hudson submitting his work under a pseudonym—more specifically, a name he had stolen from a former high school classmate. Hudson was trying to make a point about how the political correctness of contemporary literary culture unfairly favors Asian writers. Alexie ultimately decided to retain the poem, along with the pseudonym, admitting “racial nepotism” as a major reason for his choice.

As an Australian writer of Chinese-Malaysian descent, my reaction to this controversy was one of shame. It cast a different light on the curation of work by writers of East and Southeast Asian descent across the West. To me, the decision suggested that achievements by such writers were attributable to some external agenda, not to the quality of our writing.

There was also the egregiousness of Hudson’s claim—that Asian-Americans get ahead of white male writers because of their race. This is patently untrue. Any writer of color in the West knows the difficulties inherent in trying to ascend the literary ladder. In the Australian context, for people of East and Southeast Asian descent, the “bamboo ceiling” exists across many sectors—the literary industry being no exception. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many good experiences with Australian publishers, the fact remains that there are generally few people of color in positions of power in the literary game, and this has a direct impact on the type and quantity of work by writers of color that makes it to publication, how writers of color are promoted, and how their work is understood. This in turn can influence what writers of color believe they must write to get published.

In considering the logic of Alexie’s decision, I came to the conclusion that “racial nepotism” was a jolly good idea, and that it should be taken even further—that there was a clear gap in the market for an edgy “best of” collection originating in Asia and transparently curated by “nepotists.”

I decided it was important to question whether we, as writers of Asia and the diaspora, should always to look to the West for cues on how literature should be read, what kinds of literature should be valued, and what our place is within it.

And I’m not overly interested in waiting around for reform to take place in publishing in the West. Instead, I’d prefer to create a new center which doesn’t rely on others to curate us—and the BooksActually’s Gold Standard is an effort to contribute to the work already being done in Southeast Asia to create this new center.

READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The magazine was being “silenced not by direct attack or overt censorship but [by] the use of the arms of bureaucracy to paralyse its functioning.”

The first stop on our world tour takes us Down Under with Editor-at-Large Beau Lowenstern, who brings us the latest on book awards and the state of the arts industry in Australia. Switching hemispheres, we then join Blog Editor Nina Sparling in the US, where she has the update on must-see, Spanish-language author events and hot new publications. Then we’re off to Nepal where Social Media Manager Sohini Basak reports on everything from the shrinking freedom of the press to poetry slams.

Editor-at-Large Beau Lowenstern brings us the latest in lit from Australia:

Spring in Australia kicked off with the announcement of the winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award on the opening night of the Melbourne Writers Festival. The award, established in 1954, is Australia’s most prestigious literary honor and celebrates uniquely Australian works. A.S. Patrić won for his debut novel Black Rock White City, which explores the immigrant experience amidst the carnage of war and isolation.

The festival offered a full week of incredible events. Maxine Beneba Clarke, known as one of the boldest and most prolific literary voices in Australia today, opened the first night. Her forthcoming memoir, The Hate Race, frames topics like violence and racism in the Australia of her childhood and opens a dialogue much-needed today. The remainder of the festival saw contributions from such names as PJ Harvey, Geoff Dyer, Lionel Shriver, A.C. Grayling, Eimear McBride, and Lev Grossman, with special showcases on identity and feminist writing.

Literary festivals like those that take place each year in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide have increasingly become the backbone of the country’s literary community. Australian arts and literature have been the victims of significant budget cuts in recent years, with 2015 seeing a more than 20 percent reduction in funds to one of the nation’s leading arts organizations. Against this backdrop, it’s even more encouraging to see the positive response to such literary events and the vibrant cultural scene continuing to flourish in new ways.

Blog Editor Nina Sparling has the scoop from the United States:

This week in North America, as we stagger under the heavy weight of this contentious election season, writers, critics, and literary folks are celebrating Banned Books Week. It seems a fitting moment to focus on the voices of those courageous, innovative writers whose work has been censored, and to meditate on the political and cultural moments that produced their repression. In Washington, D.C., the public library system hid hundreds of copies of banned books in bookstores in a citywide scavenger hunt. The New York Public Library kept it digital with a multiple-choice quiz where readers can guess the reason for a book’s prohibition.

READ MORE…

The Belarus Free Theatre takes its highly politicized “Burning Doors” on the road

In order to transmit the trauma experienced by Pavlensky, Sentsov, and Alyokhina, playwright Nicolai Khalezin also traumatizes the audience.

This hell-bent play by what The New York Times has called “[t]he world’s most visible and lionized underground theater” keeps finding ways to pull the rug from under the feet of astonished audiences. 

“It will not be his balls, but ours, behind the door,” a buffoonish technocrat rants to his doppelgänger, as the two leisurely defecate in their ministerial toilets, in unison. Moments later, the other one expounds on the evils of modern art: “Before Picasso, art was normal.” (As it turns out, he owns two of the deviant’s paintings.) When they finish shooting the shit, and shitting, they pull up their government-issued trousers to discover a lack of toilet paper. Following the pair’s exit, masked bandits inexplicably slip onto the stage to replenish the needed supplies in a sort of winking parenthetical—or, better still, a puckish middle finger.

These gag lines satirizing the absurdities and hypocrisies of dictatorships—specifically the Putin regime—are the sort of irreverent zingers that some of us relish: comedic relief with a reactionary backhand, using both shock and shtick to slice through inaction and fear. It’s a particular specialty of Burning Doors, performed by the UK-based Belarus Free Theatre, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year despite being banned in its home country. Currently in the second staging of its UK tour at the Soho Theatre, one of London’s essential performing arts labs, the show is a wielding and warped montage of vignettes based on the testimonies of artists targeted by Putin. These include the Russian artist Petr Pavlensky, who nailed his own testicles, referenced above, to the cobblestones of Red Square; the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is currently serving a twenty-year prison sentence in the Russian Far East; and the feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina.

READ MORE…

A Winter’s Night in Sydney: Poetry Plurilingual

Reporting from the front lines of poetry, translation, and performance

I walked through Sydney’s back streets and upstairs to the crowded room where “Poetry Plurilingual” was about to begin. We sat on mismatched armchairs and wooden benches and squeezed up against each other. The night started with a series of readings of poems in foreign languages, followed by English-language translations. The focus of these readings was on the “original,” foreign, text. But the night took a sharp turn when two readers—Jack Breukelaar and Toby Fitch—boldly shifted the audience’s attention to the process and text of translation.

Jack introduced the audience to the work of Japanese writer and manga artist Kiriko Nananan, showing us a “1994 cool female authors” edition of Garo, an avant-garde manga periodical that began in the sixties, that he bought for a dollar at a discount bookshop. The book was visually striking—Jack didn’t know the work’s significance when he bought it—“but was drawn to [the] cover image by Nananan, reminiscent of Schiele or Baudelaire.” More of Nananan’s work has been translated into French than into English, and Jack had not found any previous English translation of his chosen poem:   READ MORE…