Place: Italy

Summer Ennui: Sun-Soaked Writing from Around the World

Our antidote to the summer beach read listicles.

In May, we welcome summer with long reading lists, ambitious writing projects, and travel plans. But as the temperatures rise, books get abandoned, and drafts get lost. Slowly we leave ourselves to mid-day slumbers, timeless symphonies of cicadas, and a yearning for the early evening breeze. Summer ennui establishes itself around this time, and makes us wonder, when is this heat and everything about it going to end? Our blog editors Sarah Booker, Chloe Lim, and Ilker Hepkaner are joined by our guest contributor William Booker as they introduce their favorite writing about summer’s idleness and slowness.

Manuel Puig (1932-1990) was an Argentine writer best known for his novel Beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman, translated from the Spanish by Thomas Colchie) in which he showcases his ability to develop a complex narrative through conversation and his passion for film. Dwindling tropical evenings—sticky, never-ending, and buzzing with life and memories—are the setting in Puig’s final novel, Cae la noche tropica (Tropical Night Falling, translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine), for the conversations held between two sisters in the twilight of their lives. Indeed, the novel begins with a recognition of the melancholic nature of this particular moment: “There’s such a sad feeling at this time of day, I wonder why?”

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Announcing the Summer 2018 Issue of Asymptote

Introducing our thirtieth issue, which gathers never-before-published work from 31 countries!

We interrupt our regular programming to announce the launch of Asymptote’s Summer 2018 issue!

Step into our bountiful Summer edition to “look for [yourself] in places [you] don’t recognize” (Antonin Artaud). Hailing from thirty-one countries and speaking twenty-nine languages, this season’s rich pickings blend the familiar with the foreign: Sarah Manguso and Jennifer Croft (co-winner, with Olga Tokarczuk, of this year’s Man Booker International Prize) join us for our thirtieth issue alongside Anita Raja, Duo Duo, and Intizar Husain, and our first work from the Igbo in the return of our Multilingual Writing Feature.

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In Conversation: Andrea Sirotti on Translating Postcolonial Literature

For me, translating means communicating, interacting.

Translation is a political act and the texts that are selected to be translated—from stacks and stacks of books appearing all over the world every day—ultimately shape the literary market and conversations within a particular culture. With this clearly in mind, English-to-Italian translator Andrea Sirotti has made a career of translating postcolonial writers, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sujata Bhatt, Lloyd Jones, Margaret Atwood, Karen Alkalay-Gut, Hisham Matar, Alexis Wright, and Arundhathi Subramaniam into Italian, often introducing them to the Italian public for the first time. His translation of Carol Ann Duffy’s The Bees, translated with Giorgia Sensi, was awarded the best translation of a foreign work into Italian at the sixteenth Concorso nazionale di Poesia e Narrativa “Guido Gozzano” in 2015. In this conversation with Asymptote’s Copy Editor Anna Aresi, Sirotti talks about his passion for postcolonial literature, giving us precious insights into his translation workshop and the challenges he faces when transposing complex English texts into the Italian.

Anna Aresi (AA): How did your interest in postcolonial literature begin? Was there a particular author that first caught your attention? If so, who and why?

Andrea Sirotti (AS): My interest in postcolonial literature, especially poetry, began by chance. In the mid-1990s I started to collaborate, as a critic and translator from the English, with the Italian journal of comparative literature Semicerchio. Its director, Francesco Stella, asked me to review Sixty Women Poets, an anthology of women poets edited by Linda France and published by the UK-based Bloodaxe. Reading that book was illuminating; from the repertoire of rich and diverse female voices France anthologized, I was struck in particular by authors coming from the ex-Commonwealth, as people called it back then (and this brings another brilliant title to mindUncommon Wealth: An Anthology of Poetry in English, an even more specific anthology published by OUP in 1998). The uncommon wealth of these verses, their unprecedented freshness, lead me to deepen [my understanding of] the topic and, thanks to the internet, I read other anthologies and collections, by men and women, migrant or settled, “pioneers” of the English language as well as second- or third-generation speakers in anglophone contexts. I found myself in front of a fantastic poetry world to explore! If I had to name one poet from the group of excellent poets collected by France (among whom were poets of great worth and originality such as Moniza Alvi, Grace Nichols, Jean “Binta” Breeze, Mimi Khalvati, etc.), I would mention Sujata Bhatt. It was with her poetry that I began my career as a literary translator, publishing some of her poems in Italian translation in the journal Testo a fronte in May 1996. It is around her terse and passionate poetry, her ancient and ultramodern English, that I built my anthology of contemporary female Indian poetry, published by Le Lettere in 2000 (with a second edition in 2006). READ MORE…

Transcending Language Through Sports: Football Writers

Asymptote team members and readers share their favorite pieces of writing about the game.

We are well into the World Cup, which means endless amounts of football (or soccer, depending on your location) for the serious fans and a chance to dabble in that world for those less-serious fans of the sport. The group stage is coming to a close and there have been more than a few surprises, including Iceland’s humbling of Messi and Argentina, Poland going down against the tenacious Senegalese team—and Germany? Really?

The World Cup, an event that very much goes beyond the ninety minutes of twenty-two players and a ball, generates an endless amount of controversy, discussion, national pride, rivalry, and politics from all sorts of people, including our favorite writers. With that in mind, today we bring you a special treat as Asymptote team members and readers share their favorite pieces of writing about the game.

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From Austria: Elfriede Jelinek

Already, the 2018 World Cup has delivered its quota of surreal moments. Some have been joyfully surreal—the director of Iceland’s 2012 Eurovision video leaping to keep out a penalty from one of the greatest players of all-time; Iran’s failed attempt at a somersault throw-in during the final seconds of a crucial game against Spain—but others have had a more sinister edge. Among the defining images from the opening match was the handshake between Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman, two star players for the Axis of too-wealthy-to-be-evil.

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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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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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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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