Place: Mexico

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest in world literature can be found here in Asymptote's weekly roundup!

This week, our weekly dispatches take you to Poland, France, Mexico and Guatemala for the latest in literary prizes, and literary projects, featuring social media, and indigenous poets in translation.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Poland:

Hot on the heels of a US book tour for her International Man Booker Prize-winning novel Flights (translated by Jennifer Croft), the indefatigable Olga Tokarczuk appeared at a series of events to mark the UK publication of her newest book. The “existential thriller” Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, is fast garnering rave reviews, and London audiences had an opportunity for a Q&A with the author combined with a screening of Spoor, the book’s film adaptation. There was also a lively conversation between Olga Tokarczuk and, writer and chair of the International Man Booker judges, Lisa Appignanesi, at the Southbank Centre. Meanwhile, Flights has been shortlisted for the National Book Award for translation as well as for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, the shortlist of which includes another book by a Polish author, Żanna Słoniowska’s The House with a Stained Glass Window (also translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones).

Anyone who may have been afraid to tackle the classics of Polish literature will no longer have any excuse now that Adam Mickiewicz’s epic poem Pan Tadeusz has appeared in a new and highly readable English version. “I undertook this translation out of the conviction that Pan Tadeusz is fundamentally an accessible poem for twenty-first-century non-Polish readers. It’s witty, lyrical, ironic, nostalgic, in ways that seem to me quite transparent and universal,” writes multi-award-winning translator Bill Johnston in his introduction. At a book launch at the Polish Hearth Club in London on October 8, Johnston compared notes with poet and translator George Szirtes, who introduced his translation of the Hungarian classic The Tragedy of Man by Imre Madách.

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A Journey of Faith: Shūsaku Endō’s The Samurai In Review

Do you think He is to be found within those garish Cathedrals? He does not dwell there... I think He lives in the wretched homes of these Indians.

The Samurai by Shūsaku Endō, translated from the Japanese by Van C. Gessel, new edition by New Directions, August 2018

The Samurai is Shūsaku Endō’s 1980 historical fiction that won him the prestigious Noma Literary Prize in Japan in the same year. As stated by Endō himself, this novel’s purpose was not meant merely as historical illustration—it is the story of a spiritual journey through suffering and, in some ways, a story of Endō himself. The Samurai has been published in a fresh edition by New Directions, featuring Van C. Gessel’s original English translation.

The Samurai begins in a poor village in the marshlands of northeast Japan at the very beginning of the seventeenth century. Peasants slave in the fields to pay rice taxes to their feudal lords, often unable to keep any to feed themselves. The samurai, Hasekura Rokuemon, looks after the village dutifully and works alongside the peasants in the fields. Based on real historical events, the samurai is commanded by his feudal lord to leave behind his village and set sail to New Spain (now Mexico) as an emissary to establish trade relations. Along with three fellow Japanese envoys, an ambitious, Jesuit-hating, Franciscan missionary named Velasco, and a horde of Japanese merchants looking for profits, the samurai’s voyage takes him across the deserts of New Spain, Madrid, and finally to Rome, at the foot of the Pope. This voyage is modeled after the real historical journey known as the Keichō Embassy (1613-1620). This historic embassy was one of Japan’s last diplomatic outreaches before the Tokugawa shogunate enacted a strict isolation policy known as the Sakoku, which lasted for the next two hundred and twenty years.

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Fall 2016: A Fresh Opportunity to Talk

Asymptote’s power lies in its willingness to account for the inexpressible and use it as ground-zero for its vision.

Halldór Laxness, Stefan Zweig, László Krasznahorkai—just when you think you are announcing just these three international literary superstars in the Fall 2016 lineup, it turns out you have four. On October 3, Italian journalist Claudio Gatti controversially unmasks Elena Ferrante as Anita Raja. But, even before Gatti’s unwelcome revelation, I had already picked out Anita Raja’s contribution as a highlight and intended to include her name in all our issue-related promotional materials. Fearing that we would be accused of riding the controversy, I drop a note to Criticism Editor Ellen Jones: “What do you make of all this Anita Raja = Elena Ferrante business? Is it opportunistic of us to feature her name in our publicity materials (which we already sent for printing) and on the cover (which can still be changed)?” The issue’s been on her mind as well. “We want to avoid the same kinds of accusations NYRB are getting in this morning’s papers,” Ellen says, “but I don’t think it would do too much harm to have her as one among many names in our promotion materials… I don’t think we need to bury a good essay on purpose, in short.” But what about in the promotional materials themselves? How much do we say about Anita Raja? Communications Manager Matthew Phipps decides in the end to take a risk and state matter-of-factly that Elena Ferrante has been unmasked as Anita Raja (which anyone who has been following literary news already knows). Too frazzled to make a call on the copy after staying up for 36 hours to put together the video trailer (it’s been a while since I made these for Asymptote, and I am rusty), I sign off on the newsletter. That’s how, in spite of a massive publicity blitz that involved printing and distributing 4,000 postcards; print and digital ads in the Times Literary Supplement that set us back by 900 GBP; 97 personalized emails to media outlets, 90 tweets, 20 Facebook posts, and seven blog posts about the Fall 2016 issue (all documented in then Marketing Manager Ryan Celley’s publicity report here), dear reader, we still came to be booed. Here to introduce our Fall 2016 issue is Assistant Editor Garrett Phelps. 

What a work of literature ‘means’ is always tough to get a feel for, let alone talk about. Of course a famous theorist or two have claimed this is an insurmountable difficulty. Maybe that’s true, I don’t know. Not being too slick with the theoretical stuff, I’ll just say that literature is meaningful to the extent it’s ambiguous and open-ended. And if any idea unifies Asymptote’s Fall 2016 issue, it’s the way interpretive problems result from this state-of-affairs.

For Anita Raja, ignorance is the reader’s point of departure and return. In “Translation as a Practice of Acceptance” she argues that “the translator must be above all a good reader, capable of diving into the intricacies of the text, taking it apart, discerning all its nuance. The translator is, in short, a reader required to puzzle over the complexity of the original text, line after line, and to piece it together in the new language—a fundamentally impossible task.” Good translators are, essentially, readers par excellence. Anyone who’s dabbled in the field probably won’t find this idea controversial. Sooner or later, though, even a top-notch translator hits the same wall as the average reader, who’s more okay letting intricacies, nuances and puzzle-pieces remain gut-feelings. Demanding much more is futile even if doing so is worthwhile. This is especially true of translation, where success is often the sum of accumulated failures. READ MORE…

Fall 2015: Taking the Spaceship Back

Time, the fourth dimension of our existence, threads through the whole Fall 2015 issue as its unifying motif.

The third quarter of 2015 is thorny with developments. On July 31, we announce the second edition of our international translation contest judged by Michael Hofmann (Poetry), Ottilie Mulzet (Fiction), and Margaret Jull Costa (Nonfiction—a new category), this time awarding a total of $4,500 in prizes. Technical Manager József Szabo (also one of the editors behind the fabulous Tumblr blog Writers No One Reads) completes a laborious site migration that has taken almost two years. Our website is now both adaptable to mobile devices and optimized for search engines. On October 1, I receive an invitation from The Guardian initiating a partnership that would see Asymptote simultaneously running our blog’s Translation Tuesday articles on their site for 76 weeks, starting from October 27. (Of the 11 Guardian Books Network Members announced on October 21, we are the only magazine dedicated to translation and also—I can’t help noting—the only one from Asia.) This turns out to be the first of three partnerships that we formalize in October (the other two being with PEN America and Lithub), all three of which we announce proudly via our first-ever Fortnightly Airmail, launched on October 29, thanks to then Communications Manager Matthew Phipps and then Graphic Designer Berny Tan (who valiantly turns around a new newsletter design within 24 hours after I veto the first). This inaugural newsletter doesn’t yet spotlight PEN/Heim grant winners (the first boatload of these would arrive on November 13). Instead, it carries Jennifer Croft’s essay “When the Author You Translate [i.e., Olga Tokarczuk] Gets Death Threats,” which Lithub republishes on their website on November 2. (We would also go on to be the first to excerpt Olga Tokarczuk’s 2018 International Man Booker Prizewinning Flights in our Winter 2016 edition before it hit bookstores anywhere.) October 2015 also ushers in our first-ever virtual event featuring Mexican author Albert Chimal’s “The Time-Traveller.” Originally composed in Spanish as a series of tweets, the English translation by George Henson, which also respects Twitter’s character limit of 140, is published twice: first, as a headliner in our Fall 2015 issue, and then via our English Twitter channel as a long string of tweets pushed out (by then Marketing Manager David Maclean) to the world over a span of 40 hours. If you were there for the tweetathon, thank you for being a part of the work. Here to introduce our Fall 2015 issue is Hong Kong editor-at-large Charlie Ng Chak Kwan.

If I were able to travel back to 2013 and meet my younger self, I would enthusiastically tell her that she was about to become part of a community devoted to breaking cultural and linguistic borders in the literary world and that she would never regret joining a journal whose mission was translating and publishing works written by people far and wide. It is unbelievable that I have now been a Hong Kong Editor-at-Large for Asymptote for more than five years. The many issues of Asymptote have seen me face a few life hurdles—graduating from my Ph.D., securing my first job as a translator, and becoming a full-time university teacher—and still I stay with Asymptote. Time definitely changes a lot of things—for good or for bad—but the ever-expanding archive of Asymptote tells me there are some things that remain constant, like the journal’s perseverance.

Time, the fourth dimension of our existence, threads through the whole Fall 2015 issue as its unifying motif. The issue’s pieces transport us to a wide range of times, from the Armenian genocide in Gostan Zarian’s “The Traveler and His Road” to the forensic anthropological investigation of the dead in Leila Guerriero’s “The Trace in the Bones”. We are not restricted by conventional time frames that confine our experience as words allow us to exist in the past, the present and the future simultaneously. The first line of Alberto Chimal’s “The Time Traveller” actually says it all: “Good morning, afternoon, evening, says the Time Traveller when his machine is moody and doesn’t ask him where (or to when) he’s going.” The Time Traveller’s trouble, in other words, is not where to go but rather the lack of a good temporal compass. Chimal’s story—comprised of a series of the Time Traveller’s wild and witty Tweets—portrays a compassionate titular character with ample knowledge of history and literature. Although its protagonist is no Gulliver—he is much more sophisticated than that 18th century traveller—Chimal’s story amuses and fascinates as much as Swift’s, even as it avoids the latter’s satiric bitterness. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news focuses on Latin America.

It was a busy week for literature in Latin America. Festivals, conventions, and prize ceremonies brought writers and translators together, and our team members are soothing our fomo with their reporting. Find the latest news about world literature on the Asymptote blog every Friday!

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil:

The hottest summer I ever saw was the winter I spent in Rio de Janeiro. That is likely what writers and readers say as they flock to the tropical state for major literary festivals this July and August.

Brazil’s most important literary event of the year, the Paraty International Literary Festival (Flip), took place from July 25–29 in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro. The festival organizer, Joselia Aguiar, explains in an interview that this year’s edition focused on interiors—“love, death, desire, God, transcendence.” Aguair also sought to include other artistic genres at the event, inviting guests such as actor Fernanda Montenegro. Also in Paraty and simultaneous to Flip, a group of publishers hosted book releases and even more literary programming in an event called Casa Paratodxs.

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Section Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2018

Our Section Editors pick their favorite pieces from the Summer 2018 issue!

The brand new Summer 2018 edition of Asymptote is almost one week old and we are still enjoying the diverse offerings from 31 countries gathered therein. Today, our section editors share highlights from their respective sections: 

2501 Migrants by Alejandro Santiago” is a powerful meditation on the US-Mexico border, compellingly written by Cristina Rivera Garza, and beautifully translated by Sarah Booker. Rivera Garza writes gracefully about sculptures made by Oaxacan artist Alejandro Santiago and his team. Each of these clay vessels contains the spirit of a migrant who, having tried their luck at crossing the border, now stands in mute testimony to the absences and deaths that striate both America and Mexico. In this essay, Rivera Garza explores the multi-faceted meanings of these sculptures and uses them to explore the intricacies of the border-condition—the nostalgia of those who leave Mexico, and the melancholy of those who remain. At this juncture in American history, I can think of no more valuable essay to read today than this one.

—Joshua Craze, Nonfiction Editor

The King of Insomnia, who first appeared as graffiti on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, has now become a central character in the fictional world of the Insomnia people, a creation of artist Tomaz Viana—known as Toz. Life-size three-dimensional Insomnia figures, with a history and traditions drawn from Brazilian and African sources, inhabited the Chácara do Cée Museum and its grounds in 2017. Lara Norgaard, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large in Brazil, introduces the imaginary culture of Insomnia and interviews the artist who discusses his influences, including the Afro-Brazilian religion candomblé, and explains the evolution of these “fictional people with connections to the night, to the big city, but also to the jungle and the forest.”

—Eva Heisler, Visual Editor

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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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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Romania, Mexico, and Singapore.

We are in the thick of the World Cup, but that does not mean that everything else stops! We are back with the latest literary updates from around the world. MARGENTO reports from Bookfest Bucharest on the latest of Romanian publishing and Romanian-US connections that emerged during the festival. Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn discuss the latest publications from the Yucatan Peninsula, focusing on indigenous writers. Finally, Theophilus Kwek tells us about recent news in the Singaporean literary world. Happy reading!

MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Romania: 

Bookfest Bucharest is one of the largest international book festivals in Europe, growing larger and larger by the year. This year it featured over 150 publishers. Although expanding, the festival seemed less loud this time for a quite mundane reason: the organizers placed the beer patios further away from the pavilions than they did in the past. The atmospherics and the events felt really animated, though, and sometimes even intense. The guest of honor was the United States, with a centrally placed and welcoming space hosting four to six events every day. One of the most popular panels was chaired by the ambassador himself—HE Hans Klemm—on the life and work of Romanian-born American critic and fiction writer Matei Călinescu (and the dedicated Humanitas series).

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and Indonesia.

June is upon us and we are settling in for some summer reading. Join us as we catch up with our international correspondents about the literary happenings around the world. This week brings us the latest on indigenous literature from Colombia and Mexico, book fairs in Argentina, and new artistic endeavors in Indonesia!

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors at Large, reporting from Colombia and Mexico:

From April 25 to 29 in Bogotá, Colombia, indigenous writers and scholars and critics of indigenous literatures from throughout the Américas came together in the 5th Continental Intercultural Encounter of Amerindian Literatures (EILA). The theme for this iteration of the bi-annual conference was “Indigenous Writing, Extractivism, and Bird Songs.” The centering of these concerns reflects a turn in the field of Indigenous literatures towards recognizing indigenous ways of writing that take place beyond Latin script, as well as ongoing ecological concerns that are at the heart of a good deal of indigenous literatures and Indigenous activism. In addition to literary readings and panels held at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, writers and critics presented to the general public at Bogotá’s International Book Festival (FILBO), and indigenous poets gave a reading in the town of Guatavita, home to a lake sacred to the Muisca people. Among the writers in attendance were (K’iche’) Humberto Ak’abal, (Yucatec) Jorge Cocom Pech, (Wayuu) Vito Apüshana, (Wayuu) Estercilla Simanca, (Wayuu) Vicenta Siosi, and (Yanakuna) Fredy Chicangana.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week we report from Mexico, Guatemala, and the UK.

We’re still elated over the launch of our Spring 2018 issue, but that doesn’t mean the work of compiling literary news ever stops. Our weekly roundup brings us to Mexico, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom.

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors at Large, reporting from Mexico

April has been an exciting month for the Tsotsil Maya poetry collective Snichimal Vayuchil. First, on April 12 the collective participated in a transnational indigenous poetry reading with Kimberly L. Becker, a poet of mixed Cherokee, Celtic, and Teutonic descent. Poems were read in English, Spanish, and Tsotsil, with collective coordinator Xun Betán translating several of Becker’s works into Tsotsil. The event was sponsored by Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, United States, and Abuelita Books in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

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Translation Tuesday: “English Lessons” by Mónica Lavín

"Stepping into the United States was stepping into order and cleanliness, Patricia always thought."

This Tuesday brings us a story that straddles the US-Mexico border. In Mónica Lavín’s “English Lessons,” a Mexican woman travels to San Diego for an all-too-brief reunion with her brother. Her notions of America, a “better world” glimpsed in the Dick and Jane stories from her childhood, are upended in an unexpected, heartrending manner. 

For more great short works like this, check out the fiction section and special Korean literature feature in the Spring 2018 issue of Asymptote.

English Lessons

Stepping into the United States was stepping into order and cleanliness, Patricia always thought. A sense of well-being settled in her chest when she crossed the border. It was like entering a story, a fiction, proof that a better world existed. Like the world her first grade English books had shown: the house with a garden, the family with a dog named Spot and a cat called Puff. Sally, Dick and Jane played with a “red wagon.”  “Red” was rojo, “wagon” carretilla? She’d never seen one except in the color illustrations of those books. The mother called them in to dinner, with her styled hair, her big smile and an apron over her full-skirted dress. Not that Patricia wasn’t critical of many things about the gringo lifestyle—their detachment from family life and excessive practicality, their sense of being the center of the world. But in her experience, U.S. highways had no potholes, there were fewer rattletrap cars, and San Diego’s landscaped roundabouts were a pleasure to see. She suspected her idea was childish, so it was a conception she didn’t dare confess. Certainly, after standing in the tedious line, and feeling like a convict when the guard took her papers and examined her, knowing she was safely “on the other side” made her breathe more calmly. She anticipated enjoying this trip especially because she’d visit her friend Laura in California, and her brother Daniel was also coming to San Diego for two days. They hadn’t planned it, but it was a happy coincidence. He lived in Guadalajara, further from the border, loved and knew San Diego. He’d promised to take her for a drink at the Hyatt at sundown to see the bay. And she would accompany him on his mission to buy household goods: sheets, towels, kitchen things, placemats for his bachelor breakfast table. She liked his attitude, how he was determined to make a pleasant abode for himself, treating it as a new project to be enthusiastic about, instead of being depressed by his divorce.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Guatemala, Mexico, and Poland.

Wondering what is going on around the literary globe? You are in luck! This week we have reports from our amazing Editors at Large from Guatemala, Mexico, and Poland. Keep on reading! 

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Guatemala:

We’ve got new winners and new publications coming from Guatemala!

F&G Editores just announced the latest winner of their biannual short-story collection award, BAM Letras, Marlon Meza with his book Coreografía del desencanto. Additionally, the jury suggested the publication of Hijos del pedernal y la brea by Gerardo José Sandoval and Voices aisladas by Mario Alejandro Chavarría. Sadly, the BAM Letras award, which has recognized the work of great writers such as Arnoldo Gálvez Suárez and Valeria Cerezo has come to an end, according to F&G Editores’ director, Raul Figueroa Sarti.

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On Translators in Translation: Spanish Novels About Translators Available in English Translation

The increasing need to understand the importance of translation in our globalized world manifests in works of fiction that feature a translator.

In our globalized world, translation seems to be everywhere. In subtitles, instructions, signs, menus, in meetings, and walking down the street. And recently, in fiction too. The representation of the act of translation and the task of the translator has become a recurrent topic in literature. In English, novels such as Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear and Rachel Cantor’s Good on Paper, both from 2016 and with translator protagonists, were very well received by readers as well as critics; and the latest anthology Crossing Borders, edited by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, brings together stories on translation and translators by acclaimed writers such as Joyce Carol Oates and Lydia Davis, among others. Translation was even at the center of the Academy Award nominee film Arrival (based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”) in which Golden Globe nominee Amy Adams plays a translator tasked with communicating with heptapod aliens. The increasing need to understand the importance of translation in our globalized world has manifested in a recurrence with which works of fiction feature a translator or interpreter as the main character. In Spanish, too, there have been dozens of novels with translator protagonists written in the last few decades by both mainstream and cult authors, and by both translators who write and writers who translate. With this newly found interest in translation, more and more of these novels are being translated into English. Here are five novels on translators originally written in Spanish that are available to read in English translation.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Bringing you the latest in world literature news.

Never is there a dull period in the world of literature in translation, which is why we make it our personal mission to bring you the most exciting news and developments. This week our Editors-at-Large from Mexico, Central America, and Spain, plus a guest contributor from Lithuania, are keeping their fingers on the pulse! 

Paul M. Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large, reporting from Mexico: 

On February 21, numerous events throughout Mexico took place in celebration of the International Day of Mother Languages. In San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, CELALI (the State Center for Indigenous Language and Art) held a poetry reading featuring Tseltal poet Antonio Guzmán Gómez, among others, and officially recognized Jacinto Arias, María Rosalía Jiménez Pérez, and Martín Gómez Rámirez for their work in developing and fortifying indigenous languages in the state.

Later in San Cristóbal, at the Museum of Popular Cultures, there was a poetry reading that brought together four of the Indigenous Mexican poetry’s most important voices: Mikeas Sánchez, Adriana López, Enriqueta Lúnez, and Juana Karen, representing Zoque, Tseltal, Tsotsil and Ch’ol languages, respectively. Sánchez, Lúnez, and Karen have all published in Pluralia Ediciones’s prestigious “Voces nuevas de raíz antigua” series.

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