Posts filed under 'community'

Translation Tuesday: “Comfort Is Expensive” by Mlenge Mgendi

Standing up alone in a nearly empty daladala, every passenger could see me. Those majambozi rascals had turned me into a public one-man show!

This week’s Translation Tuesday features the Swahili-language writer Mlenge Mgendi. “Comfort Is Expensive” comes from Mlenge Mgendi’s self-published collection Mama wa Jey: Hadithi za Uswahilini (Jey’s Mother: Stories of Swahili Life). Nathalie S. Koening’s nuanced translation captures the different registers of speech in this scatological tale, which weaves indispensable Swahili terms with well-timed slang that, in some ways, feels universal. The speaker captures the anxiety of youth squeezed under community expectations and bureaucratic pressure. Sober, infused with wry humor, and laced with charming off-beat metaphor, “Comfort is Expensive” shows a slice of life that points to the atmosphere of a place and the dispositions that form under specific pressures there.

That day, I was coming from school. My stomach, jeopardizing the love, unity and cooperation that had reigned in my bowels for centuries, was causing me real trouble. I had no choice but to hurl myself into a daladala bus and get home in a hurry. Don’t you know? Since our schools have no money for healing all that ails us, students get a “discount” when they ride the bus?

When I got to the stop, a daladala was waiting. It was totally empty, having been outsmarted by another bus that, zipping past like a toothbrush, had plucked up all the fares. As I was climbing in, the konda boy grabbed hold of me. “Hey, you! Stoo-denty! You taking up an actual seat coz you’re gonna pay full price?” The bus pulled away brush-empty, but even then, he wouldn’t let me sit. READ MORE…

Don’t Look Back in Anger: Virginie Despentes and Modern France

Despentes shows that evil is all too human.

Following our recently published review of Virginie Despentes’ Pretty Things, Barbara Halla takes on the Vernon Subutex Trilogy. In this essay, Despentes’ most recent work is seen to interrogate female anger, everyday life, and the power of community in new, thought-provoking ways.

In a 2017 profile of Virginie Despentes, Le Monde eschewed Despentes’ name, preferring to refer to her simply as Le Phénomène, The Phenomenon, throughout the piece. This epithet is no exaggeration: Despentes has held the French literary scene in her grip since the mid-nineties when she published her first book, Baise-moi (translated into English as Rape me, by Bruce Benderson), and then directed its 2001 movie adaptation, featuring two porn actresses in the lead. Manu and Nadine, the main characters and both victims of violence of some kind, embark upon a road trip where they lure, sexually exploit and kill off men. It wasn’t just the violent acts that made Baise-moi feel radical. It was the lustful pleasure the protagonists took in this violence that stunned audiences, leading to a temporary ban of the film in France. As Lauren Elkin points out in The Paris Review, when the movie came out, there was nothing else to compare it to, so critics fell back on Thelma & Louise, another feminist road film about two women on the run. But Despentes’ nihilistic and sadistic story has little in common with Thelma and Louise.

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What’s New in Translation: April 2018

Looking for your next read? You're in the right place.

It’s spring, the days are (hopefully) sunny, and this month we’re back to shine a light on some of the most exciting books to come in April, including works in translation spanning Colombia, Lithuania, Martinique, and Spain (Catalonia). 

tundra

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, translated from the Lithuanian by Delija Valiukenas, Peirene Press

Reviewed by Josefina Massot, Assistant Editor

In his Afterword to Shadows on the Tundra, Lithuanian writer Tomas Venclova draws a parallel by way of praise: Dalia Grinkevičiūtė’s account of the Gulag ranks with Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s and Varlam Shalamov’s. Those acquainted with Gulag survivor literature know that’s high praise indeed: Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales are paragons of the genre. And yet, I venture, Shadows on the Tundra transcends them both.

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Translation Tuesday: “Surface Effects” by Francesc Serés

The ivy recovered. It spent two years fighting off that ochre evil until it returned to its formerly exultant state.

This week the eminent Lawrence Venuti brings us a curious story from Catalonia about a house consumed by ivy. The existence and appearance of this menacing plant dominates this rural community and the people who inhabit it.

The house came with a garden—like all the others in the promotion. It was large, three floors, and had a slate roof. Not till Cinta and Pere bought the thing did it change. Ivy began to envelop the ochre façade. They had planted it after falling out with the neighborhood. The houses were painted in a bright earth tone, an ochre that possessed a concrete reference. The only distinguishing feature was the uneven discoloration that the sun caused to the paint. At community meetings, Cinta and Pere would dig in their heels against their next door neighbors on either side and, finally, against everybody else. They (she, and he too, although not as much) wanted the ivy.

And so they planted it and installed an American mailbox, which wasn’t permitted either. That broke the perpetual peace that reigned over urbanization in the countryside. They contracted a gardening firm to fertilize the grounds and plant ivy all around the house. The ivy liked the place: it grew like a shot. From my house, just beyond the development, the ivy on the east wall seemed quite like a hand or paw clinging to it. Time passed quickly for the neighboring houses, and the hand continued to grow nonstop till its entwining tentacles reached the nearby façades.

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There is Nothing Anymore: Auden in the Saint Lucian Countryside

No end also to loss, yes, but no end to our tragic struggle against despair.

In this personal essay, a young poet attends a funeral in his native Saint Lucia, where a spontaneous funeral chant puts him in mind of a poem by Auden. To Vladimir Lucien, the funeral chant and the Auden poem constitute different approaches to the finality of death. In their juxtaposition, we learn something not only about the language and customs in the Saint Lucian countryside, but about the universal human yearning for the transcendence of our finitude.

Alloy’s funeral was packed. It had to be. In the village of Mon Repos, Saint Lucia, he had been everything: head of the local “friendly society,” choir member, bus driver, community organiser and activist, folk singer. The church, however, was an unusually small and claustrophobic Catholic Church with a low ceiling; it felt like a house converted into a church and hurriedly sacralised. Alloy’s daughter—who was a lecturer, my colleague—delivered the eulogy.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Bringing this week's greatest hits from the four corners of the literary globe!

Our weekly news update continues in the dawn of this exciting and unpredictable year, but before we get down to business, Asymptote has some very important news of its own (in case you missed it): our new Winter 2018 issue has launched and is buzzing with extraordinary writing across every literary genre! Meanwhile, our ever-committed Editors-at-Large—this week from Brazil, Hungary and Singapore—have selected the most important events, publications and prizes from their regions, all right here at your disposal. 

Theophilus Kwek, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Singapore:

2017 ended on a high note as Singapore’s literary community celebrated the successes—and homecomings—of four fiction writers who have gained international acclaim: Krishna Udayasankar, Rachel Heng, JY Yang, and Sharlene Teo. At a packed reading organized by local literary non-profit Sing Lit Station on December 30th, the four read excerpts from their recent or forthcoming work, from Yang’s Singlish-laced speculative short fiction, to fragments of Teo’s novel Ponti, winner of the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writer’s Award. The following weekend, Udayasankar and Heng joined other Singapore-based writers such as Toh Hsien Min and Elaine Chiew for two panel discussions on aspects of international publishing, which aimed to promote legal and ethical awareness among the community here.

Other celebrations in the first fortnight of 2018 took on more deep-seated local issues. Writers, musicians and artists from among Singapore’s migrant community presented a truly cosmopolitan evening of song and poetry to a 400-strong audience that included fellow migrant workers, migrant rights activists, and members of the Singaporean public. Among the performers were the three winners of 2017’s Migrant Workers’ Poetry Competition, alongside Rubel Arnab, founder of the Migrants’ Library, and Shivaji Das, a prominent translator and community organizer. Several days after, indie print magazine Mynah—the first of its kind dedicated to long-form, investigative nonfiction—launched their second issue with a hard-hitting panel on ‘History and Storytelling’. Contributors Kirsten Han, Faris Joraimi and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow all spoke persuasively about contesting Singapore’s official narratives of progress and stability, and the role of writers in that truth-seeking work.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly literary news from around the world.

Our team is always keen to keep you up to speed on the most recent prizes, festivals, and publications regarding the most important writers around the world. With this in mind,  we are excited to bring you the latest news from our editors-at-large in Mexico, Central America and Indonesia. Stay tuned for next week! 

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

The Tsotsil Maya poetry and book arts collective Snichimal Vayuchil held a book presentation for its latest publication, Uni tsebetik, on November 30 at the La Cosecha Bookstore in San Cristobal de las Casa, Chiapas, Mexico. A collection of works by the group’s female members, the volume was introduced by the Tsotsil sculptor and multimedia artist Maruch Méndez and anthropologist Diane Rus. The event is part of a big month for the group, which includes the publication of their selected works translated into English, and a reading of works from Uni tsebetik at the Tomb of the Red Queen in the Maya archeological site of Palenque.

The same night, the State Center for Indigenous Languages, Arts, and Literature (CELALI) held a book presentation for its latest publication, Xch’ulel osil balamil, by poet and artist María Concepción Bautista Vázquez. The anthology Chiapas Maya Awakening contained her work in an English translation by Sean S. Sell, who was interviewed in Asymptote in April.

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In Review: Abdulai Sila’s novel confronts the future of Guinea-Bissau

She wants to create a school unlike those she attended, which were born out of the “civilizing” arm of the colonial regime.

“It was the first time the Sepoys had seen such a cowardly Chief of Post. It left them very disillusioned. They told everyone in the tabanca what had happened, adding a little salt of course.”

No “salt” appears to be lost in Jethro Soutar’s translation of The Ultimate Tragedy, which is the first Bissau-Guinean novel to be translated into English.

Reflecting the Bissau-Guinean oral traditions that influenced Abdulai Sila’s writing style, the novel reads like an uninterrupted conversation about what the future holds for this nation, seemingly on the verge of liberation.

Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine protagonist Ndani’s life (re)told in an oral narrative as she transforms from cursed outcast to abused servant, to the wife of a wealthy régulo in whose village she will meet her true love. With every change in Ndani’s environment, we are introduced to a different facet of colonial-era Bissau-Guinean society: rural, under-served poor; white, colonial elite; powerful, indigenous leaders; and finally, Church-educated citizens.

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In Review: Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man by U.R. Ananthamurthy

Asif he had become a stranger to himself, the Acharya opened his eyes and asked himself: Where am I?

NYRB Classics’ reissue of this book comes at an opportune moment, as societies around the world face the dangers of religious extremism and its focus on ritual and regulation rather than humanity. U.R. Ananthamurthy, in A.K Ramanujan’s translation from the Kannada, tries to teach Indian society a lesson in this story about the trouble with prioritizing tradition over compassion.

Samskara begins with one of the central cleansing and purification rituals in the rites of Hindu worship. Praneshacharya, the most respected Brahmin in his traditional and conservative agrahara, begins each day by bathing the sickly and desiccated body of his infirm wife.  Praneschacharya has faithfully carried out this ritual for more than twenty years. He views sexless marriage as a penance and a sacrifice that will deliver salvation in this life and in the next.  But the death of an impious and sinful Brahmin, Naranappa, in the agrahara brings Praneshacharya to a spiritual crisis of his own that makes him question his long-practiced rituals and beliefs. The cleansing ritual that he performs on his wife at the beginning of the story is the last time that he will perform this expiating routine; this is the beginning of the end for Praneshacharya’s spiritual cleanliness and purity.

Samskara—the compulsory rite given to Brahmins at their passing—becomes the central controversy of the novel. Naranappa has renounced the Brahmin rituals of the agrahara and has carried out the most outrageous and offensive acts to show his disapproval of his fellow worshippers and neighbors. He’s taken up excessive drinking, spent time with Muslims and ate meat with them, and caught fish from the sacred temple pond. The most impious of his actions, however, was casting off his lawful wife and his choosing to live with a lower class, outcast woman named Chandri.  Despite his hedonistic behavior, the Brahmins never excommunicated Naranappa from their small, conservative village.

It is Chandri, Narranappa’s low-born lover, who delivers the news of his death to the agrahara.  This announcement causes an immediate conflict over the performance of the death rites for this blasphemous man whom they continued to allow to live among them. The Brahmins’ failure to act in the face of Naranappa’s sacrilege can be viewed as the first of Ananthamurthy’s many criticisms of the Brahmins way of life; their laziness or fear or lack of conviction, or a combination of all three, prevent them from expelling Narranappa from the agrahara.  Now that he has died, none of them want to be responsible for performing the death rites for his body.

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In Conversation with Ferrez, the Father of Literatura Marginal

We don't wait for writers to come to the periphery, we create our own kind of art.

Brazil’s São Paulo is the largest city in Latin America, with a population of around 20 million people. Where Rio de Janeiro, a few hours up the coast, delights tourists with its beautiful scenery and relaxed beach lifestyle, São Paulo often horrifies visitors. Dubbed ‘blade-runner in the tropics’ by the Serbian-born musician DJ Suba, who was one of Brazil’s most important producers, the city can seem, at first, like a dystopic mess of concrete towers and roads which continue endlessly into a shimmering grey horizon.

What makes the city so vast is the miles and miles of densely packed poor neighbourhoods that border the city. Locals call this a peripheria—the periphery—or as margins—the margins. This border was built over the last few decades by immigrants to the city. Finding jobs but nowhere to live they began building their own homes on the outskirts of São Paulo. Poorly constructed houses and unplanned streets with very few amenities, the periphery has been described as medieval by some local commentators. Life here is often characterised by violence, crime and isolation. Locals with low-paid service jobs in the centre of the city often commute four or five hours a day to get to work because of problems with roads, transport, and traffic.

All of this makes the fact that the São Paulo periphery is home to one of the most popular Brazilian literary movements in recent years all the more surprising. Poetry salons, called Saraus, happen all around the periphery every day of the week, where writers and poets recite compositions detailing life in their neighbourhoods. The best of these events are packed with people of all ages and from all backgrounds. There are very few established writers who have not made the pilgrimage to a periphery Sarau. The movement even has its very own bookshop, devoted to all that is marginal, located in the centre of the city.

The author Ferrez is known as the father of the Literatura Marginal movement. His novel, Capão Pecado, published in 2000, was one of the first contemporary accounts of life in the periphery by an author who grew up there. Its descriptions of violence, use of city and hip-hop influenced slang, and characters who often seem to have no future made the book a classic and Ferrez himself a household name. When he coined the phrase Literatura Marginal, he became a symbolic role model for a generation of marginal writers.

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“The Fable of God’s Servant, the Unemployed Mr. Fistulka,” by Lidia Amejko

When Fistulka had a job, no one on our housing block contemplated the meaning of life.

The unemployed Mr. Fistulka came by our housing bloc, and leaning against the buzzer he pressed all the call buttons at once.

And all at once all went to the buzzer

And all at once all answered

And at once all in different voices, each in their own intonation, melody and pitch, in their own way bellowed loudly into the buzzer:

“Helllllooo?”

“Who is it?”

“Hello?”

“Who’s there?”

“You little fucker, what do you want in the middle of the night?”

As the symphony of voices echoed though the housing block, Fistulka asked in a hushed voice:

“Why am I here?”

I mean to say Fistulka asked about the meaning of his life. Night after night, sounding that same sentence in our heads.

Even Mr. Bolczyk, who survived all the occupations and somehow got a good night’s rest each night, would now only lay in bed staring at the ceiling, then get up nervously and lighting a cigarette, he would bounce around the apartment like a moth beating its wings against a glass lampshade.

And Lalek, the sheet metal worker stopped going to work. He closed down his car repair shop and now sits on the bench under the Osieka Epiphany, fixing his gaze on the periwinkle blue ceiling.

Fistulka infected our housing block with his question. Each of us walked around pale like vampires, tripping from a lack of sleep on the holes in the sidewalk; unemployed because it’s understood that before a person can really start living they have to answer that fundamental, “why?”

Only two places got busier, the church and the supermarket, Jericho. A few even started hanging themselves.

And it’s all because of unemployment: when Fistulka had a job, no one on our housing block contemplated the meaning of life.

In an emergency meeting, our housing block community convened. All heads agreed and a decree was reached to occupy Fistulka with “something.”

But I have to confess that nothing came of it. A strong fraction rose up against the decree. The owner of the supermarket claimed that what differentiates a man from an animal is that a man can search for his own meaning. The priest agreed in collusion like never before, and the one from the Galaxy funeral home chimed in, too.

So Fistulka continued walking around the housing blocks, tormenting people with his stupid question. He probably would have continued for a long time and I don’t know what would have happened to our housing block if the rabbit didn’t finish him off with his ears.

It was like this: Mr. Krasik the hunter that lived on the 20th floor—right next to Ms. Janina, Mr. Obrabek’s and the blunt smoker’s servant— killed a rabbit and hung it out in the freezing cold to get him ready for Christmas eve. The rabbit hung head down, stiff as an icicle, and just as Fistulka walked up under Krasik’s house about to pronounce his, “Why am I here,” the rabbit slipped out from between the rope and speared his ears like two blades into Fistulka’s head.

Then the question became irrelevant because Fistulka was no more.

That’s how the matter resolved happily and on its own. The priest said in a sermon that it was the housing block that we all carry inside us that killed Fistulka along with his question and he declared Fistulka a saint who died a martyr’s death in the hands of the rabbit, a symbol of our housing block’s wickedness (or something like this). And now we live peacefully, without questioning anything.

Only sometimes, when the buzzer rings in the middle of the night do we jump to our feet and wonder about the meaning of life.

Translated from the Polish by Beatrice Smigasiewicz

Lidia Amejko is a playwright and a short story writer. Her publications include When the Mind is Asleep–the Answering Machine Turns On, The Passion in the Bottle, and Stories Out Loud, among others.  She has been nominated multiple times for the prestigious literary NIKE award and translated into German, French and Bulgarian. She often adapts her stories for stage and radio production, and it’s this practice that seems to inform her use of language. Her fabulist style has been compared to Olga Tokarczuk’s. This story is taken from her second book, The Lives of Housing Block Saints, (2008), which was a winner of the Polish Book Editors Prize.  

Beatrice Smigasiewicz is a Fulbright scholar living in Warsaw and an editor-at-large for Asymptote. Her work has appeared in Denver QuarterlyArt PapersWords Without Borders, and BODY, an international online literary journal, among others. She holds an MFA from the Nonfiction Writing program at the University of Iowa, where she also studied literary translation. 

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