Place: Venezuela

Translation Tuesday: “Inventory for After the War” by Raquel Rivas Rojas

"One day the treasures will be exchanged for food."

Our showcase this week is a short story by Raquel Rivas Rojas, a writer who masterfully stretches the limits of language to catalogue what is left of life in the aftermath of an atrocity. 

“Inventory for After the War” by Raquel Rivas Rojas

For Gina Saraceni

To fight against death in the open air, in the midst of the ruins of a war that has just ended or that continues somewhere else.

The noises of the far-off war that advances or that retreats.

The animals that surround us. Birds of prey, wild dogs, rats, winged insects. Caymans in the rivers. Venomous snakes under the stones and the sticks.

Rags. Old cloths are used on top of one another. The oldest cloths disintegrate and fall apart by themselves, into pieces. The loose strips are lifted at times in the breeze.

The smell of burning. Always and everything smells of burning. Until it rains. Then it smells of soaked ashes and running blood.

The earth roads. Dusty or muddy. Walking on them is always torture. They don’t seem to lead anywhere. And yet, sometimes, a ruin is crossed by on the way.

Bare feet. Nobody has shoes any more. There are some thick rags left that are tied with other rags. And then, always and without fail, bare feet.

The absence of desire beside the surprising and sudden shock of desire.

Hunger. Guts filled with air. The air that circulates round the empty guts producing an uprooted pain. A pain that starts in the gums and ends in the anus. A pain that is prolonged outside as you urinate three drops and expel droppings as hard as stone.

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Section Editors’ Highlights: Spring 2017

Insights from the experts on the Spring 2017 Issue of Asymptote

Looking for new entry points into the latest issue of the journal? The section editors of this behemoth cash of international literature, out just last week, are here to guide you!  

In this spring issue, the drama section features two complementary pieces—one from Catalonia and the other from Poland. Both portray hellish, nightmarish worlds in a distinct, unique theatrical manner. Grzegorz Wroblewski’s The New Colony in translation by Agnieska Pokojska depicts a claustrophobic asylum where patients/citizens live out their days in a state of restless, mocking unease. Wroblewski’s text is typical of what has been deemed “post-dramatic” theatre (in Hans Lehmann’s terms). It is an open text which offers its audience an intentionally disorientating roadmap to a contemporary world that is fractured and broken, where individuals seek wholeness despite all signs that such a search is hopeless.

Written as a proto-feminist cabaret, Beth Escudé i Gallès’s Diabolic Cabaret in translation by Phyllis Zatlin, looks at an elemental Eve, channeling visions of historical female icons throughout history. Is guilt a woman? To whom will society place its blame in times of war? Helen of Troy? Other alluring, bewitching sirens up to no good? Escudé i Gallès teases and cajoles her audience in a piece that through anarchic humor questions the roles we all play to claim concepts of territory, identity, and ownership. Both Wroblewski and Escudé I Gallès are from the same generation, even though they represent different cultures and sensibilities as dramatists. It’s fascinating to see two skilled and provocative playwrights, in fine translations, address states of fear and anxiety all too prevalent in the modern world.

—Drama Editor Caridad Svich

Among three exceptional essays—including one that introduces readers to the brilliant but tortured Swiss writer, Hermann Burger, and another that briefly loiters at the fork in Iran’s contemporary literary scene—I found myself particularly drawn to Noh Anothai‘s generous and intimate reflections on a world turned akimbo, seen through the eyes of Thai poet, Saksiri Meesomsueb. As we follow Anothai through the pages of Meesomsueb’s award-winning collection, That Hand is White, and from north Bangkok to Chicago and back, I’m reminded once more of literature’s gift in transgressing borders, its necessary lucidity, kindness, and prescience; and consequently, its call for response. Only with clean hands can we clean the world, Meesomsueb tells us. Dear Reader, what will you do next?

—Writers on Writers Editor Ah-reum Han

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Patria o Muerte by Alberto Barrera Tyszka

“Everything is fiction, even reality"

A striking meditation on the power of affective marketing to infiltrate and manipulate the national and individual psyche delivered in a gripping, suspenseful narrative web, Alberto Barrera Tyszka’s Patria o Muerte, winner of last year’s Tusquets Prize, is among the many novels that are garnering praise among Spanish language readers but have not yet reached American readers. Offering an intimate glimpse into a climactic moment in Venezuela’s sociopolitical trajectory, it resonates eerily with the media’s current stronghold in American politics.

The novel’s intertwined narratives unravel between 2011 and 2013, amidst the secrecy and suspense surrounding Chávez’s cancer diagnosis, treatment in Cuba and eventual death, during a propaganda campaign that sustained his political grip in a country plagued by mass unemployment, a housing crisis, extreme media censorship, unprecedented violence and an astounding fifty-two deaths a day. Chávez’s physical absence through most of the novel paradoxically strengthens his cult of personality and his power over the Venezuelan citizenry as uncertainty about the future imbues the character’s lives with constant, palpable paranoia, insecurity, and fear of the menace of violence. After his diagnosis, catastrophic collapse appears imminent but its approach is excruciatingly slow.

The action centers on Miguel Sanabria, a melancholic retired oncologist suffering from insomnia, who lives in Caracas with his wife, Beatriz, a fervent antichavista, in a building he manages. He attributes his psychic unease to his advancing age until it dawns on him that its real source is Venezuela’s state of suspense—a symptom of the national psyche in the vacuum of information about Chávez health.

At various points throughout the novel, Miguel and his brother Antonio, a fervent Bolivarian, argue about the legitimacy of Chávez’s revolution—the viability of the transition from capitalism to socialism—as the country dissolves into poverty and violence. As Chávez undergoes chemotherapy in Cuba, Vladimir, Antonio’s son and one of the president’s trusted officials, fearing the president’s mounting paranoia, asks Sanabria to keep a cell phone with compromising recordings of the gravely ill Chávez from the operating table, entangling Sanabria, who had always willfully abstained from involvement in politics, in the president’s fiction of immortality.

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Making Narrative Witness: A Caracas-Sarajevo Collaboration

A revolutionary collaboration spanning countries, languages, and memories

THE SCENE

The scene is an online video meeting. (Does that qualify as a scene?) In it are several Venezuelan writers and photographers gathered in a classroom in Caracas (all men but one, though not everyone is present) and their counterparts in and around Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, gathered mostly in twos and threes at laptops in apartments (all women but two; everyone is present).

A couple of Caracas photographers also tune in from what appear to be their flats. One Bosnian is in the town of Bihać. A Croatian writer from the Sarajevo group joins from Spain.

The Venezuelans in the classroom are having technical difficulties with their audio, and people move close to the room’s single computer to be heard. We make introductions. A few jokes. We lay out our plans. At least one Sarajevan, a redhead perched on a sofa, enjoys a cigarette.

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Our New Podcast Is Here!

Travel with us from indigenous Venezuela to Ancient Greece to modern Amsterdam in our first episode...

Mythology – Part One

At Asymptote we always try to experiment with different kinds of multimedia, and celebrate the full spectrum of language from the written to the visual to the spoken… So one day we thought: let’s make a podcast!

And here it is, our all-new audio adventure in which we explore some of the most fascinating ideas and issues in international literature. In each episode we’ll be making use of our global scope and travelling far and wide to bring you an eclectic sampler of interviews, readings and mini-documentaries from all over the literary world.

This quarter, we’re delving further into the Mythology theme of our October issue. These myths may be ancient, but they are far from dead. They’re the stories that define who we are today, our fantasies and our fears, our memories and our misconceptions. READ MORE…