Place: Turkey

Announcing our October Book Club selection: Like A Sword Wound by Ahmet Altan

The novel is a breathless portrait of late-19th century Istanbul — the corrupt, violent and authoritarian core of a failing empire...

Our October Asymptote Book Club selection is the first novel in a quartet that aims to reveal “the dark and bloody face of history.” Earlier this month, a Turkish court upheld a life sentence for the quartet’s author, Ahmet Altan, on charges of aiding the plotters behind the failed military coup in 2016. He continues to work on the final volume of the quartet from inside his cell. Like a Sword Wound can be read as an autopsy on “the sick man of Europe”, the ailing Ottoman Empire at the turn of the last century, but also as a powerful indictment of despotic regimes across history.

We’re proud to be bringing our subscribers a novel of incredible courage, inspired by a belief that literature is close as we can come to finding “an antidote to the poison of power.

If you’re already an Asymptote Book Club subscriber, head to our official Facebook group to continue the discussion; if you haven’t joined us yet, Garrett Phelps’ review should give you a brief taste of the novel, and all the information you need in order to subscribe is available on our Book Club site.

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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…

One Author, Many Selves: Murathan Mungan in conversation with Filip Noubel

On how many pages have I appeared and disappeared?

Murathan Mungan likes to describe himself as a polygamous writer: not only does he write plays performed across Turkey and Europe, including his widely acclaimed trilogy, The Mesopotamian Trilogy; he also writes essays, song lyrics, poetry, and novels that have brought him national recognition as one of the most inventive Turkish authors for the use he makes of the Turkish language. Being himself of mixed origins (Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish and Bosnian), he is very sensitive to the life of underrepresented groups such as women, Kurds, the LGBTQI+ community, and explores taboo themes in his creative writing. I interviewed Mungan in the Czech Republic in the Month of Authors’ Reading Festival where the guest country was Turkey. His latest works include a novel called The Poet’s Novel and a play, The Kitchen. He is currently working on a novel describing the urban aloofness of Berlin.

Filip Noubel (FN): Murathan, you embody a plurality of personal origins, and seem to favor characters from various minorities. Why is diversity essential in your life and in your work? And how is it perceived in Turkey? 

Murathan Mungan (MM): Many people live inside of me. I come from the city of Mardin, in the southeast of Turkey, a city close to Syria and not too far from Iraq. Mardin mirrored the diversity of my own family: my father’s ancestors came to Turkey in the 17th century from Syria, my paternal grandmother’s mother came from the Kurdish regions; my mother’s side is from Sarajevo, which is in Bosnia today. Though I was born in Istanbul, I grew up in Mardin and within a mix of cultures and religions, mingling with people who are Turks and Kurds, but also Assyrians, Alawites, Yezidis, and Armenians.

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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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Translation Tuesdays: Two Stories by Muzzafer Kale

And what on earth could that mean, to only want some water?

After Flavia Teoc took us to ancient Constantionople last week, I’m thrilled to present two microfictions by Turkish writer Muzzafer Kale. Deceptive in their outward simplicity, these perfectly poised stories hinge on the unsaid and work beautifully in English thanks to translator Ralph Hubbell’s precise language.

—Lee Yew Leong, Translation Tuesdays editor

 

Incident

I wasn’t from that mountain village.

What brought me there was work, and by work I mean looking at carpets and kilims. There were plenty of people from the village that I knew.

So we were sitting in the July heat, trying to cool ourselves off in the shade of a walnut tree—me, Ibrahim and Lazy-Eyed Salih.

That Salih, he was a cheerful one. He had a different way of looking at things. Leaping from one topic to the next, he talked of this, that and the other thing while we all laughed it up. These two friends of mine were good shots too. They were wagering who could hit a half-lira piece with a thirty-two caliber from forty meters away…

And then she appeared, with her donkeys, coming off the mountainside path. She’d loaded the animals piecemeal with some sagging goods, which swung all over the place.

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Translation Tuesday: “Constantinople” by Flavia Teoc

More fragrant are the grapes slowly growing sour on a vendor stall in Yerebatan

We are thrilled to feature Flavia Teoc’s poetry for the first time on Translation Tuesday. Teoc’s lines visit Yerebatan—the magical site in Istanbul where the Basilica Cistern hides a special sighting of Medusa. Under the dim lights of Yerebatan, Teoc’s fragrant lines shine brighter. 

Constantinople

More fragrant than the righteous ones perfect in all of their ways
Are the grapes slowly growing sour on a vendor stall in Yerebatan.
Under their cracked skin a sweet potion of sounds is distilled,
Memories from back when they were early sour berries or less,
An equal proportion mixture of screams from a woman flogged
Up against their vine, the bell of a leper who took shelter in the split leaves’
Shadow one late afternoon, and a stray dog’s quick nap nearby.
I’m telling you—
More fragrant are the grapes slowly growing sour on a vendor stall in Yerebatan,
For those perfect in all their ways will never touch them.

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What’s New in Translation? July 2017

We review three new books from France, Turkey, and Switzerland that are available in English for the first time.

 

myhearthemmedin

My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump, Two Lines Press

Reviewed by Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor

Think: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper meets Han Kang’s The Vegetarian meets Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge; then for good measure, throw in a bit of Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing. Marie NDiaye’s My Heart Hemmed In defies categorization. And yet, the novel’s crux lies in the unspoken categorization of its main characters—the schoolteacher couple, Nadia and Ange—who the townspeople have inexplicably (and violently) turned against. Not long after the reader arrives in this novel, Ange sustains a critical injury and Nadia must find a way to live in this new, hostile world. Told entirely from Nadia’s limited perspective, this forced intimacy between reader and paranoid narrator leaves us feeling curious, suffocated, and unsettled.

French literary star, NDiaye, has been my writer crush ever since Ladivine, which was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize. She published her first novel when she was just eighteen years old and has since received the Prix Femina and the prestigious Prix Goncourt. Written in NDiaye’s distinctive, phantasmagorical style, My Heart Hemmed In is an unrelenting look inward in a world where the psychological manifests itself externally. Whether it’s the food Nadia devours or Ange’s mysterious, gaping wound, we are confronted with things that are consumed and the things they are consumed by; the things left for dead, and the things they birth. NDiaye’s details are so seductive and unforgiving, lavish and grotesque, it leaves you reeling.

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What To Do With an Untranslatable Text? Translate It Into Music

Translators and musicians team up on a sweeping audio interpretation of Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake, the final book by Irish writer James Joyce, is a bit like the alien language in the movie Arrival. As the film’s spaceships tower mysteriously over the Earth, so Joyce’s book casts its strange shadow over world literature. Most literary minded people are aware of the text’s presence, but no one actually knows how to read the book, save for a select few who claim it is the greatest thing ever written.

In order to read Finnegans Wake, you must become a translator. You must translate the text out of it’s idiosyncratic, multilingual semi-nonsensical language, and into… music? For example, see Rebecca Hanssens-Reed’s interview with Mariana Lanari, about the process of translating the Wake into music.

For the last three years I’ve pursued the music that is Finnegans Wake. I organize an ongoing project called Waywords and Meansigns, setting the book to music. This week we release our latest audio, which is 18 hours of music created by over 100 musicians, artists and readers from 15 countries. We give away all the audio for free at our website (and you can even record your own passage, so get involved!)

Listen to a clip of the project here!

It might sound strange, but translating the book into music is easier than, say, translating it into another foreign language. But that hasn’t deterred Fuat Sevimay, who translated the book into Turkish, nor has it stopped Hervé Michel, who calls his French rendering a “traduction” rather than a “translation.”

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In Conversation with Fuat Sevimay, Turkish translator of Finnegans Wake

"[Joyce], the master builder, says something in so-called English, but the same word indicates something else if you read half of it in Gaelic."

Despite his relatively recent arrival in the Turkish literary world, Fuat Sevimay is a highly promising writer and translator. After graduating from Marmara University with a degree in business and working as a sales manager for two decades, he began writing in his spare time six years ago “just to get rid of boredom.”

Sevimay was encouraged to keep writing, however, because his work quickly began to garner awards. In 2014, his short story collection Ara Nağme won the Orhan Kemal Short Story Book Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in Turkey, and in 2015, his novel Grand Bazaar won the Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar Novel Prize. His novel AnarŞık was also adapted for the stage this year, premiering last month in Istanbul. A devoted father of two, Sevimay has also written numerous children’s books, including Haydar Paşa’nın Evi.

Sevimay has translated  two of Italo Svevo’s novels, Senilità and La Novelle del Buon Vecchio E Della Bella Fanciulla, from Italian. Sevimay has also translated Oscar Wilde’s 1891 essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Pandora by Henry James, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the collection of Joyce’s essays entitled Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing. In 2015, Sevimay was the Translator-in-Residence at Trinity College Dublin, hosted by the Ireland Literature Exchange and the Centre for Literary Translation.

Over a course of emails we interviewed Sevimay about his current project, translating what may very well be the most complicated book ever written, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

***

Derek Pyle and Sara Jewell: Fuat, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Let’s start with hearing a bit more about yourself. What is your background as a writer and translator?

Fuat Sevimay: To be frank, I never dreamed of becoming a writer or translator. Until six years ago, I had been working as a sales manager and was simply a good reader. Then I wrote a story just to get rid of my boredom. If I had a nice voice instead, I could try to sing but it would be a kind of torture for my friends. The story was not bad. I made some redactions and then sent it to a competition. Two months later, someone called me and told that my story was awarded. Let’s call it fate. Then I had novels, a short story collection, books for children and some translations published, including Portrait of the Artist and Joyce’s Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing. READ MORE…

July Issue Highlight: On Rainbows and Resistance

Blog editor Katrine Øgaard Jensen recommends one of her favorite reads from our brand new issue

In case you’re hungry for more recommendations after reading the blog’s 5 Must-Read Pieces from our New July Issue, here’s a write-up about something that’s stuck with me since its publication last Wednesday.

In our latest issue of Asymptote, I was particularly excited to discover three poems by Turkish Gökçenur Ç, author of six poetry collections and Turkish translator of Wallace Stevens, Paul Auster, and Ursula K. Le Guin. I was drawn in by Gökçenur Ç’s first poem, “We’re in the World, So Are Words, How Nice that We’re All Here,” in which intriguingly short, self-contained thoughts such as “Morning is hissing like an empty tap” and “The shadow of a hawk strikes your shadow, / neither you nor the hawk is aware of this” make up the entire piece. This is also the format of the third poem, “I Watch with Love Like a Stupid Student,” which wraps up the three poems nicely.

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Translation Tuesday: “Spring’s Doings” by Orhan Veli Kanık

Just a few days ago, I overheard a woman. 'In my opinion, poetry,' she said, 'is a white automobile.'

I wanted to write something. I picked up paper and pen, and I walked out to the terrace. What I call terrace is on the top floor of the hotel where I live. The weather was spitefully tempting. A warm March sun penetrating all the way to your bones. Weather like this makes many a person happy at the end of winter. What is happiness? Has everyone in the world known it? Questions like this can be debated at length. Who knows, maybe if I did debate this one, I would take back what I said. So what if I imagine myself to be happy every once in a while? Since it seems certain that I won’t be getting my share of great fortune, I’ll make do with whatever comes my way.

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