This week’s reviews of the newest and most compelling translated literature include the latest work by Poland’s preeminent writer, Olga Tokarczuk, a fascinating portrayal of manic self-interrogation and class by Stéphane Larue, and a darkly dionysian tale of the female gaze by the award-winning Nina Leger. Our editors burrow into the philosophy, language, and atmosphere of these three novels to give you some extra additions to your reading list.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Riverhead Books, 2019
Review by Andreea Scridon, Assistant Editor
Janina Duszejko is the kind of woman that many would call “eccentric”: she’s in her mid-sixties, often bordering on paranoia, and she’s firmly convinced by astrology, absolute vegetarianism, and William Blake. In rural Poland, Janina—as she hates to be called—lives peacefully and in relative solitude as a guardian for the summer cabins surrounding her home. However, she quickly comes into conflict with the insensitive and barbarous hunters who reign over the area. The death of a neighbor escalates such tension, creating a series of mysterious murders that Janina will be privy to, and which will culminate in an unexpected twist.
Our editors pull both national bodies of literature and international exchanges into focus this week with a melange of events alive with tribute, celebration, and solidarity. In Toronto, a wide ranging arts and culture festival bring Iranian New Wave poetry and theatre to its stages. Valencia Poetry Festival proves a worthy debut with enthralling performances, experiments, and urgent messages. Tibetan literature and academia is featured with a comprehensive translation of a classic Buddhist text and a rich anniversary conference. This week’s dispatches are not to be missed!
Poupeh Missaghi, Editor-at-Large, reporting from New York City
Tirgan Festival, a celebration of Iranian art and culture, is held between July 25 and 28 in Toronto, Canada. This year’s festival includes some fifty events with participation of two hundred thirty guests, including performers, musicians, writers and poets, scholars, and others.
One of the events is a tribute to Iranian New Wave poet Yadollah Royaï (born 1932). Currently based in Paris, Royaï is one of the founders of “espacementalisme,” a poetry style influenced by Husserl’s phenomenology. The event will include scholars Farzaneh Milani and Khatereh Sheibani, editor and journalist Hassan Zerehi, Tirgan CEO Mehrdad Ariannejad, and Yadollah Royaï himself.
We have such an amazing collective of literary talent over here at Asymptote. Check out some of our news from the past quarter and stay tuned for more of the international literature you love! If you are interested in being a part of the team, please note that we will be extending our recruitment drive for two more weeks through May 21, out of consideration for those of you who are busy with end-of-semester work and graduation!
Communications Manager Alexander Dickow published a long poem, The Song of Lisaine, at the journal X-Peri.
Copy Editor Anna Aresi recently ran her Italian translation of Pulitzer-winning Forrest Gander’s “On a Sentence by Fernanda Melchor” on Interno Poesia’s Blog.
Criticism Editor Ellen Jones had an excerpt of her translation of Nancy by Bruno Lloret—forthcoming from Giramondo Publishing in 2020—showcased in a feature on Chilean domestic life in Words Without Borders. Her review of Samanta Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds was also printed in The Irish Times. READ MORE…
Tensions in the family bubble and boil over in this excerpt from The Lobster by the award-winning Monique Proulx, translated by Frances Pope. What happens when Marceau brings home a lobster he can’t afford? Read on to find out.
“Are you mad? What d’you expect me to do with those? How d’you even eat them?”
As always, Laura’s first words were recriminations. It has to be said that the creatures were no less threatening for being quite dead; amongst the tangle of legs, claws, and feelers which now filled the sink, you could make out here and there the glimmer of a small, black, malevolent eye—more alive than the others, you’d swear—peeking at you with belligerent hate. Marceau had stopped twice on his way home, hearing the wind flap against the big plastic bag, worriedly checking to make sure that the contents weren’t still wriggling, and that his hand wasn’t about to be sliced clean off by a claw.
Book*hug is an independent Canadian publisher based in Toronto. Since 2004, the press has been committed to bringing underrepresented voices into print and to pushing the boundaries of what literature can be. Book*hug’s first title was translated from the Danish and the press has gone on to publish numerous Scandinavian works in translation alongside French Canadian titles. Sarah Moses, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina, sat down with co-publishers Hazel Millar and Jay MillAr, to chat about their interest in works that take a risk, how translation fits in with what they’re doing as a press, and a few of the titles by French Canadian authors that they’re excited about.
Sarah Moses: How did Book*hug get started?
Jay MillAr: The first book that we ever published was a translation. The Toronto International Festival of Authors always has a country of focus and in 2004 it was Denmark. A focus of the festival that year was on Denmark and there were all these writers coming to Toronto that didn’t yet have books translated in English so the assistant to the director was calling publishers and asking them if they would consider applying for money from the Danish Arts Council and then producing a book in English by one of the authors coming to the festival. I was working at Coach House Books at the time but they didn’t want to do it so I asked if it would be okay if I did it with my imprint, BookThug, which was at that time more or less a chapbook press. They said sure, go ahead, so I applied for the money and received a grant to cover the translation of a book called Pencil of Rays and Spiked Mace, selected poems by Niels Lyngsø, which was translated by Gregory Pardlo, an American poet who had been living in Denmark for some time and was interested in translation.
As we welcome the New Year in, join our Editor-in-Chief, Yew Leong, and one of our Assistant Managing Editors, Janani, as they review the latest in world translation news. From the trials and tribulations faced by indigenous languages to new literary journals and non-mainstream literature, there’s plenty to catch up on!
Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief:
Though it was actually in 2016 that the UNESCO declared this year, 2019, to be the Year of Indigenous Languages, recent unhappy events have revealed how of the moment this designation has proven to be. A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who was unable to communicate how sick she was died while in U.S. Border Patrol Custody—only one of several thousands of undocumented immigrants who speak an indigenous language like Zapotec, Mixtec, Triqui, Chatino, Mixe, Raramuri, Purepecha, or one of many Mayan languages, according to The Washington Post. Jair Bolsonaro, the new Brazilian president who has made insulting comparisons of indigenous communities living in protected lands to “animals in zoos,” wasted no time in undermining their rights within hours of taking office and tweeted ominously about “integrating” these citizens. On a brighter note, Canada will likely be more multilingual this year as the Trudeau administration looks set to enforce the Indigenous Languages Act before the Canadian election this year. The act will not only “recognize the use of Indigenous languages as a ‘fundamental right,’ but also standardize them,” thereby assisting their development across communities. Keen to explore literary works from some of these languages? With poems from indigenous languages ranging from Anishinaabemowin to Cree, Asymptote’s Fall 2016 Special Feature will be your perfect gateway to literature by First Nations writers.
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‘s poem “Epistle” appeared in Boston Review, and another poem of hers, “Archaic”, was reprinted by the Poetry Society of America.
From May 1 – 5, Romania and Moldova Editor-at-Large Chris Tanasescu aka MARGENTO organized DHSITE, a bilingual event introducing new computing technologies and their uses in education and research, at the University of Ottawa. Later this month, he will present a paper at the Kanada Koncrete poetry conference in the same school.
Both Assistant Editor Lizzie Buehler and Blog Editor David Smith have accepted offers to attend the University of Iowa’s Literary Translation MFA this coming fall. David also wrote a review of an early Jon Fosse novel, Boathouse, for Reading in Translation.
Indonesia Editor-at-Large Norman Erikson Pasaribu spoke with Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan about his conception of horror, the diversity of Indonesian literature, and the rebirth of the New Order in Mekong Review.
Assistant Managing Editor Sam Carter published an essay at Music & Literature on Jorge Barón Biza’s The Desert and Its Seed.
Blog Editor Sarah Booker‘s translation of Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Iliac Crest (Feminist Press and And Other Stories) was included on the long list for the Best Translated Book Award.
Singapore Editor-at-Large Theophilus Kwek contributed work to Carcanet Press’s latest New Poetries anthology. He also published a piece in The Straits Times comparing citizenship opportunities in the UK (where he was able to vote in the European Union referendum as a Commonwealth citizen) and Singapore.
For more news from the Asymptote blog:
The newest issue of Asymptote has just dropped and it is beautiful. In the physical world, the literary world is abuzz with festivals and publications around the world. We are back with another round of the newest and most exciting translation gems coming to bookshelves this month. This month, we bring you reviews of recent publications from Norway and Canada. And if you are looking for even more, carefully selected translations, check out the Asymptote Book Club!
Little Beast by Julie Demers, translated from the French by Rhonda Mullins, Coach House Books, 2018
Reviewed by Emma Page, Communications Manager
Julie Demer’s Little Beast (translated by Rhonda Mullins) is a dark fairy tale, more Grimm than Disney, set in the forbidding landscape of wintery rural Quebec. The shape of the story is familiar. A child, an absent parent, a “curse,” fumbling adults to be outwitted, a quest, a return home. Demers never flinches away from her young narrator’s perspective and yet Little Beast slowly emerges as a tale about the end of childhood and the intersection between experience, self-perception, and cultural narrative.
Our narrator is a young girl who has been ostracized from her village since sprouting a full, bushy beard. The bearded child has been living in an abandoned cabin for a month, foraging for food in and obsessively recording her tale in writing. Running out of fuel in freezing weather, she burns her makeshift home to the ground and sets off in search of a new dwelling. She eventually comes across two hunters with a captive bear, stealing food from them until they spot and capture her. Although at first they are determined to bring her back to the village, they eventually have a change of heart and release her. The child must then make a choice of her own, whether to return to society or disappear into the wilderness for good.
Groundwood Books is a Toronto-based publisher of children’s and young adult literature. The press was founded by Patricia Aldana in 1978 and almost from the start has been publishing Canadian literature alongside titles from around the world in translation. Groundwood’s catalogue includes books from Egypt, Mexico, and Mongolia, to name a few, and the press is particularly interested in publishing marginalized and underrepresented voices. Though Aldana sold Groundwood to House of Anansi Press in 2012, she remains active in the area of children’s literature. She is currently president of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) foundation and collaborates with the China Children’s Press and Publications Group, where she is responsible for bringing international literature to Chinese children. In an interview that took place in Buenos Aires during the TYPA Foundation’s workshop on translating literature for children and young adults, Aldana spoke with Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina, Sarah Moses, about the qualities she looks for in books for children and the challenges of translating for young readers.
Sarah Moses (SM): When did Groundwood Books begin publishing children’s and young adult literature in translation?
Patricia Aldana (PA): Quite early, by 1981, I started doing translations of books in French from Québec. There were subsidies for translation from the Canada Council, which made it easier—especially novels. I was also going to Bologna and selling rights, and there I started finding books from other languages that were interesting to translate.
The Canadian market was quite healthy at that time and you could bring in books from other countries. But in 1992 provincial governments started to close down school libraries which affected the entire ecosystem of the Canadian market and we had to go into the U.S. market directly and publish books there ourselves. A lot of our authors were known in the States because we had sold rights to them, to compete with the U.S. giants and to differentiate ourselves from them as by that point they had virtually stopped translating anything—we seized the opportunity to publish translations for a much bigger market. The Canadian market had deteriorated to such a point by then that it couldn’t really justify publishing a translation—other than of a Canadian author from Québec.
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.
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…
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.
As a postdoctoral research fellow at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Education, Law, and Society, Cristina Serverius continues her lifelong quest to “understand humans, understand the self, and understand community,” while promoting educational environments that encourage all its participants to thrive. Native to Belgium, she earned an M.Ed in Contemplative Inquiry and Approaches from SFU and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Brown University. Cristina currently works as an educational consultant. Asymptote for Educators Lindsay Semel interviews her about the questions driving her interdisciplinary inquiries and how they manifest in the classroom.
LS: From the perspective of a border-crossing scholar (in terms of discipline, country, and language), can you speak about the extent to which education is or isn’t a field/practice rooted in place? How does your foreignness impact your relationships within the schools?
CS: I think it is extremely important for education to be rooted in place, and for children to learn about the world through their immediate surroundings. We do children (and the environment!) a great disservice by denying them an intimate knowledge of their surroundings in favor of studying the world “at arm’s length,” as physicist Arthur Zajonc calls the learning enforced in many schools, which adhere to a rigid barrier between self and object of study. How are we supposed to learn to care for a neighbor or a local marshland when we are taught in a context of separation; how can we examine the far-away before we explore that which is close by? In Belgium, we call secondary school “humaniora,” a place where one becomes a human. Most schools, for a variety of structural, systemic, and societal reasons, have forgotten their role in this process and have been reduced to places where (a certain kind of) knowledge transfer either happens or, frustratingly, doesn’t happen.
Obviously, when looking at place-based education, we have to consider that places (and the communities that inhabit them) change over time. Place-based education in Belgium, for example, must include exploration of the large Maghrebi communities; the village church and the mosque are both opportunities for place-based learning. As such, it is representative of contemporary society for Canadian schools to have staff who did not attend Canadian elementary or secondary schools, and a great deal of the children attending school now are first-generation Canadians. Bringing in staff who do not have a Canadian background can lay bare and put up for debate some of the things we do “because they’ve always been done this way,” and that can only be healthy for any organization. My (or any other foreigner’s) learning about the school system starts a conversation that necessarily leads to self-reflection for those who have been embedded (in this case) in the Canadian system. Those are wonderful conversations that advance learning for both parties.