Place: Russia

What’s New in Translation: November 2018

Need recommendations for what to read next? Let our staff help with their reviews of four new titles.

Join us on this edition of What’s New in Translation to find out more about four new novels, from Amsterdam, Colombia, Russia, and Azerbaijan.

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Childhood by Gerard Reve, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett, Pushkin Press, 2018

Reviewed by Garrett Phelps, Assistant Editor

The narrators in Gerard Reve’s Childhood are at that credulous stage of youth where hazy moral lines are easily trespassed, where curiosity and cruelty often intersect. All of Reve’s usual themes are here: taboo sexualities, the illusion of moral categories, the delicate balancing acts that prevent erotic love from teetering into violence. But the two novellas in Childhood transgress in unexpected ways, insofar as children’s very inexperience puts them outside the sphere of sin.

The first novella, Werther Nieland, is told by a boy named Elmer, who bounces between friends’ houses and other neighborhood locales, and whose longing to form a secret club is less a wish than an absolute necessity. After feeling an affinity for local boy Werther Nieland, he decides: “There will be a club. Important messages have been sent already. If anybody wants to ruin it, he will be punished. On Sunday, Werther Nieland is going to join.” Why exactly Elmer is attracted to Werther never really gets explained. More confusing is the fact that as early as their first meeting Elmer feels the urge to abuse him.

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Documenting Translators: The Political Backstage of Translation

These films make protagonists out of the ultimate supporting actors in history, the translators.

Translators are often represented as mediators, actors in the communication of a text who are subordinate to the author. However, translators have often played crucial roles in politically pivotal moments. Denise Kripper tells us more about these translators, and the films in which their stories feature.

Coming soon this year is Les Traducteurs, directed by Regis Roinsard, a high-profile French thriller inspired by the true story behind the translation of Dan Brown’s novel Inferno. During this process, several international translators were shut away in a bunker in an effort to avoid piracy and illegal editions while aiming to launch the book simultaneously in different languages, all over the world. In real life, the book ended up generating $250 million, but in the action-packed film, “when the first ten pages of the top-secret manuscript appear online, the dream job becomes a nightmare – the thief is one of them and the publisher is ready to do whatever it takes to unmask him – or her” (IMDb).

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Fall 2017: The Last Space For Resistance

Asymptote’s most precious gift to readers: each issue guarantees a rich dastarkhan that fully embraces and celebrates diversity.

Asymptote is more than a journal—it’s a one-stop portal for world literature news. September 2017 marks a milestone for two essential columns: the second anniversary of our monthly What’s New in Translation? reports, compiling in-depth staff reviews of the latest world literature publications; and the first anniversary of our weekly Around the World with Asymptote roundups, gathering literary dispatches from every corner of the globe (not aggregates of news hyperlinks culled from elsewhere, mind you, but actual reporting by staff on the ground). Though we do reviews better than most, I’m especially proud of the latter column, which has provided first-hand literary coverage from more than 75 countries by now thanks to Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan, Senior Executive Assistant Daljinder Johal, and of course our valiant blog editors who upload, edit, and proofread every single dispatch. Inconveniently (because I have been invited to speak at five panels in four cities in the last quarter of 2017, and also because the then-erratic social media team will soon need to be replaced entirely), the lump in my neck turns out to be thyroid cancer, my doctor summons me back to his office to tell me in August 2017. A few days before the first of my three hospitalizations that quarter, I share the news with my team. Just as I’m about to be wheeled into surgery, one concerned colleague emails me to say that the same influential person who demanded I pay translators two years ago is making new noise about Asymptote on social media; some PR intervention might be called for. Well, if the work my team and I’ve done doesn’t speak for itself by now, I think to myself sadly, if no one comes to Asymptote’s defence, then let it be. Though my life expectancy—one year on—remains the same as before the diagnosis, the mortality scare from that time has made me confront what to do with Asymptote—as it stands right now, we are still a long way from sustainability; no one would willingly step into my role. Will readers rally to keep us alive, if push comes to shove? Here to introduce the Fall 2017 issue and the French New Voices Feature that I edited is French Social Media Manager Filip Noubel.

I joined Asymptote in the fall of 2017. This old dream finally came true as I was sitting in Tashkent, struggling with flaky Uzbek Internet and reflecting on how my nomadic life across cultures and languages was mirrored in the history of that city where identity has always been both plural and multilingual, and where literature has often turned into the last space for resistance.

As I looked at the Fall 2017 issue of Asymptote, I felt as if I had just been invited to a literary dastarkhan. In Central Asia, when guests arrive and are invited into the interior of a traditional house to sit on the floor, a large tablecloth is thrown on the ground and rapidly filled with a mix of delicacies and treats from various parts of the region. Fruits (fresh and dry), cooked meats, drinks (hot and cold), vegetables, sweets, bread and rice are all displayed to please the eye. Despite being very different, they all contribute to the same feast. Just like any issue of Asymptote in fact: a collection of diverse texts from various corners of the world all united by an underlying theme, and carefully curated to satisfy the most curious minds. As I read this issue, I sensed it had been especially designed to please my literary taste buds.

Marina Tsvetaeva opened the gates of translation for me when I was studying translation theory in Prague, and in one of her Four Poems I could once again hear the rebellious voice that had seduced me back then: READ MORE…

Spring 2014: The Space Between Languages

Translation requires an inner urgency that will make that which is different as close to the original as possible.

By April 2014, Asymptote has snowballed into a team of 60. Though I never signed up to lead so many team members, expansion is a matter of inevitability for a magazine that publishes new work from upwards of 25 countries every quarter (and that prides itself on editorial rigor). After all, if Asymptote section editors only relied on personal connections, it would only be a matter of time before available leads dried up. There is simply no substitute for local knowledge and, more importantly, local networking, since getting the author’s permission to run or translate his or her work is often the hardest part. (For the English Fiction Feature in the Spring 2014 issue alone, I sent solicitations, directly or indirectly, to Rohinton Mistry, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ha Jin, Chang-rae Lee, Tash Aw, Akhil Sharma, and Tao Lin—all in vain alas.) An entire book could probably be written about how Asymptote wooed author X or translator Y or guest artist Z to come on board as contributor. One particularly memorable (and—I assure you—not representative of the way we operate) episode comes to mind: When her phone call to an author was intercepted and met with a flat rejection by his secretary, a particularly persistent team member signed up for a two-day workshop conducted by said author. At an intermission, she casually makes the ask. The author agrees to discuss the matter the next day, at a restaurant. During dinner, our team member is subjected to intensive grilling before permission is finally granted to run and translate his work. Here to recount how we managed to ask Nobel laureate Herta Müller to come on board as contributor (and to give us permission to translate her moving essay into 8 additional languages) is editor-at-large Julia Sherwood:

I was invited to join the Asymptote team as editor-at-large for Slovakia after volunteering to translate into Slovak Jonas Hassen Khemiri´s Open Letter to Beatrice Ask, which appeared in 20 languages in the Spring 2013 issue of Asymptote. The journal had only been around for two years, but it had already established a reputation for featuring translations from a staggering array of languages and authors who had never been published in English. Slovak, my native language, had yet to make an appearance, so I immediately set out to source suitable texts in high-quality translations. My first success came when “Where to in Bratislava”, a story by Jana Beňová and translated by Beatrice Smigasiewicz, was chosen for the Winter 2014 issue. Soon after that I managed something of a scoop: bringing to AsymptoteThe Space Between Languages,” an essay by Nobel laureate Herta Müller. READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation: September 2018

Readers of English are introduced to four fresh titles, and to their takes on conflict, whimsy, and the human condition.

Even as we celebrate 30 issues, join us at Asymptote as we bring you new reviews of exciting fresh releases. Dive into four titles here with us, featuring work set in Russia, the former Yugoslavia, Syria, and Argentina. Keep on following our blog in September to witness the journey our team has been through in the last seven years.

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Checkpoint by David Albahari, translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursać, Restless Books, 2018

Reviewed by P.T. Smith, Assistant Editor

On the jacket copy for Ellen Elias-Bursać’s translation of David Albahari’s Checkpoint, Restless Books cites Waiting for Godot and Catch-22 as comparisons. I’ll take them, especially the latter, but if I’m pitching this book to people, I’d offer up authors instead of books, and César Aira and Kurt Vonnegut. They better suggest the whimsy and quick-play changes that fill the brief pages of this novel, the sense that anything might happen, that the rules of the narrative can change in a sentence. Aira brings the freedom and the pace that Checkpoint has and Vonnegut the gentler, more passive characters than the strange and bold people who make up Catch-22.

Checkpoint is a quick book, coming in at under 200 pages in small format, and written entirely in one paragraph. It’s the latter that sets the pace. There are no pauses, sentences come and come and come, and so, though it seems as though at times nothing happens, events can rise and fall in an instant. This pace fits a war novel that’s about the absurdity of war, which Checkpoint determinedly and obviously sets out to be. A group of around 30 soldiers marches with their commander to guard a checkpoint, but they have no idea who they are guarding it against, who they are at war with, or even which side of the checkpoint they marched from. They have no known orders, and no way to communicate with their superiors. It’s a paralyzing life, one which soon includes mysterious deaths, refugees, attacks by soldiers of unknown allegiance, severe weather, and misfortunate forays into the surrounding forest.

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Fall 2012: A Whirlwind Blend of Poetry, Fiction, Loud-mouthed Drama, and Phantasmagorical Art

The pieces from the issue play off of each other’s fears and discoveries so well that it is almost uncanny.

Michael Henry Heim, the translator who introduced to English readers Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being—and my personal favorite, The Joke—dies on 29 September 2012. Not only do we mourn his passing, we regret not being able to publish the interview Heim agreed to months before. Michael Stein of Literalab, who has been researching interview questions for Asymptote when news breaks of Heim’s death, writes a tribute instead, which we publish on Tumblr (this being before the arrival of our blog). On the other hand, Yiyun Li—whom I have been courting since the beginning of Asymptote—finally agrees to grace the pages of our eighth issue (listen to a snippet of her conversation with Clare Wigfall here). Haven’t read Li? Start with “Love in the Marketplace” from A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Sometimes, in my more indulgent moments as editor, I think of that story and channel the question that the narrator asks of her mother, who prides herself on the care she takes to make the very best hard boiled eggs that she has been selling for forty years: Who even notices?

The Fall 2012 issue was the first issue of Asymptote that I encountered when I decided to reconnect with literature after a long hiatus. And I’ll be perfectly candid: as a skeptic who has never been afraid of ghosts, I was somewhat bemused by the Halloween-tinged theme of fear and the supernatural. But when I delved a little deeper I found no Disneyfication of the old pagan ritual but rather an exploration of fear that encompassed both the everyday and the extraordinary. In a whirlwind blend of poetry, fiction, loud-mouthed drama, and even phantasmagorical art, readers encounter the ghosts of of memory, AIDS, old age, Alzheimer’s, lost cultural identity, and so much more.

The pieces from this issue play off of each other’s fears and discoveries so well that it is almost uncanny. Afzal Syed Ahmed’s poem, which begins “In your language every line begins from an opposite end,” responds to Aamer Hussein’s fear of returning to a ‘home’ that no longer feels like home—and not simply because both are translated from Urdu. As Hussein explains, “I’m losing my mother tongue. I’m a vagabond, I carry my home on my back. Now I shall turn this foreign tongue into a whip and lash them with their words.” When discussing in her interview why she doesn’t feel ready to be translated into Chinese, Yiyun Li demonstrates a similar fear of losing one’s language, of being misinterpreted, of being pushed out or forgotten. READ MORE…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Read more translations from the Asymptote blog:

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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In Conversation: Alexander Cigale

Mandelstam's “argument” is inseparable from his music and, for me, it is that music that has always been primary.

The post-symbolist Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, as dazzling and immediate as he is daunting and complex, is best known in English for the early formal work of Stone (1913) and Tristia (1922). Mandelstam would mature into a poet of visionary modernity in the late 1920s and 1930s. Translator Alexander Cigale is working on an as yet unpublished new volume of selected works by Mandelstam and considers himself part of a Silver Age of Mandelstam translation, after the Golden Age of the 1980s and 90s. While earlier translations established Mandelstam’s reputation in English principally through Tristia and Stone, Cigale chooses to render many of the middle-period “Moscow” poems by Mandelstam, written in the late 1920s and 1930s, and heretofore less well-known in English.  

Cigale has also translated Daniil Kharms, a contemporary of Mandelstam and a poet of nonsense and absurdity akin to Lewis Carroll and Samuel Beckett, a poet who seems, at first blush, almost diametrically opposed to Mandelstam in temperament and aesthetic. Both Mandelstam and Kharms have become pillars of Russian twentieth-century poetry. Since publishing a volume of selected works by Kharms in 2017, Cigale seems poised to become an esteemed translator of the greatest Russian poets of the twentieth Century—and, perhaps, of the twenty-first, since Cigale is also at work on the contemporary poet Mikhail Eremin thanks to an NEA Fellowship in Literary Translation.  

As a longtime reader of Mandelstam and Kharms, poet Alexander Dickow asks Cigale about the difficulties and rewards of scaling the highest peaks of Russian poetry, and especially that of Mandelstam’s glittering verse.

Alexander Dickow (AD): Alex, you just published in February 2017 a new translation of selected work by the OBERIU (Russian absurdist) writer Daniil Kharms, Russian Absurd: Selected Writings, from Northwestern University Press. Your latest project is a volume of selected poems by the celebrated Acmeist Osip Mandelstam. I’d like to start with a question about the historical situation of these writers who both reached their poetic maturity in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Kharms and Mandelstam were both destroyed by Stalin. How do you think this manifests differently in these poets’ work?

Alexander Cigale (AC): Stalin was cognizant of and acknowledged the genius of Mandelstam (in a phone conversation with Pasternak). I’m not sure Kharms was on anyone’s radar. He outlived most of his friends because the authorities dismissed him for a madman.

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In Conversation: Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky on Words for War

There’s a way in which great poetry goes beyond the specifics of language, time, and place, illuminating patterns.

Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky are award-winning poets from opposite ends of Ukraine, writing in Ukrainian and Russian, respectively. They work together as translators from Russian and Ukrainian to English, having lived in the US for over a decade. When Crimea, where Max is from, was annexed by Russia, and the war started in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the geographic and linguistic differences they embody became markers of a conflict they were detached from, yet that was intimately close. The war gave Ukrainian poetry an impetus they could not ignore as translators, prompting them to assemble a collection that documents the war in its multiplicity, from various positions, modes of involvement, across languages. Words for War (Academic Studies Press, 2017), the resulting anthology, replants poetic testimonies of the war away from the local ground—there, the war loses some of its singularity—at once a document of this particular conflict and poems that speak of loss, pain and anger across borders. Today, Asymptote‘s Editor-at-Large for Hungary, Diána Vonnák, discusses this groundbreaking project with Oksana and Max.

Diána Vonnák (DV): When I read the title of your collection, Wilfred Owen came to my mind as one of those poets who became iconic for English war poetry. He wrote this in 1918, just before he died: “This book is not about heroes. English Poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War. Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War.” These claims are strong and for me they resonated with what you wrote in the preface: “Like broken furniture and mutilated bodies, these poems are traces of what had happened, as well as evidence that it did really happen.” What do you think about the relationship between poetry and war, the aesthetic and the political?

Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky (OM/MR): Words for War is a provocative title. It’s also a difficult title to pull off, in that it can appear glib, easily interpreted in a hortative aspect: “Let’s get ready for war, sing some war songs, and say some war words!” For better or for worse, it’s not that kind of book. Our starting point was a series of observations: there’s a war in Ukraine, and people there think about it and talk about it. Politicians and administrators make speeches about it. Journalists and reporters cover it. It fills news channels and newspapers. Youtube users upload amateur videos from cities affected by war, and your own Facebook friends take different sides. In the streets, you see people in military uniforms; and you see civilians reacting to them, expressing a range of responses from gratitude to overt hostility. You see young men with missing limbs, with deformed faces. And then there are the endless witness reports. Because many people have been to war, and still more have been to the war zone, and they have stories to tell, and stories they prefer to be silent about. In short, war is ever-present, and it uses up a lot of words.

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Translation Tuesday: “Place” by Dmitry Danilov

Sit at home, in the shadows, in the empty, shadowy flat. The empty, dark flat, things hung on the rail stir softly.

This week’s Translation Tuesday comes from the amazing Russian author Dmitry Danilov. For more microfiction, head over to the brand new Winter 2018 issue of Asymptote!

Sit at home, in the shadows, in the empty, shadowy flat. The empty, dark flat, things hung on the rail stir softly. Only in one corner of the empty, dark, shadowy flat does life smoulder with a red-yellowy glimmer. In the corner of the empty, dark flat nestles a human being, a calculating machine works. A lamp illuminates this space in the corner of the empty, shadowy flat; all the rest of the flat is empty and dark.

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Blog Editors’ Highlights: Winter 2018

Our blog editors pick their favorite pieces from the Winter 2018 issue!

To celebrate our seventh birthday here at Asymptote, the blog editors have chosen some of our favorite pieces from the Winter 2018 issue to showcase. This issue truly shines with a diversity of voices and literary styles, including a special feature on micro fiction, and it was such a pleasure for us to read through it. With work from thirty different countries, this issue has been gathered under the theme of “A Different Light.” Enjoy these highlights!

I’ve always admired Asymptote‘s advocacy for literatures that not only are underrepresented, but that take chances, resist easy reduction or interpretation by the reader. Poems that dare to be “the awkward spectacle of the untried move, not grace” (to borrow a phrase from American poet Don Byrd). Poets like Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine. The poems from Arachnid Sun shock me with their bold imagery, impelling me to read again and again. I latch on to certain repeated images: insect, illusion, blood. And definitely a noticeable theme of authoritarian rulers: “spider-eggs perfuming the silence the dictator” and “harpoon the king-shark who flees the riverbeds of polar scrubland.”

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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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