Posts filed under 'criticism'

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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In Conversation: Len Rix on Translating Hungarian

"Translation is itself an artistic enterprise, an act of co-creation, relying on empathy, intuition and imaginative insight."

Len Rix is best known for translating Antal Szerb’s works into English: Journey by Moonlight has been a long-time favourite, reissued many times. In recent years, Len translated Magda Szabó’s The Door and Katalin Street, both poignant novels about memory, integrity and the way history intrudes into the private realm. In February this year, he was awarded the PEN America Translation Award for Katalin Street. Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large Diána Vonnák asked him about his remarkable journey to the Hungarian language, his thoughts on Szerb and Szabó, and the translator’s craft.

Diána Vonnák (DV): Not that many people take it upon themselves to translate from Hungarian without family roots or some other connection. One of them is Ottilie Mulzet, who says Hungarian is “like a rubber band. It can expand and expand, until you think, well, this rubber band is going to break at any moment now, or it can shrink into just a few sparse words, where all the most important parts are left out and you just have to know.” What was it about the language that made you choose it? Do you agree with Mulzet and her emphasis on elasticity?

Len Rix (LR): It was initially the sheer sound that drew me to it, so strange and beautiful, with its soft and alluring vowels and diphthongs that simply do not exist in English, and its musical spoken rhythms. Then it became the elaborate and rigorously logical grammar, with its agglutinative case endings and “reversed” word order that drew me on. And all those wonderful new words!

This “elasticity” is partly to do with the age and historic isolation of the language, which have both acted to keep the case-endings and other suffixes intact. Old English and Anglo-Saxon were similarly agglutinative until the Nordic invaders arrived. They shared the same (Germanic) root words but had evolved different endings, which were soon set aside. Cut off from its Finno-Ugric cousins, Hungarian missed out on that. The one language to which it was exposed down the centuries, Latin, would have done nothing to diminish its tendency to ramify endlessly. Cicero’s “periodic” sentences can equal the best of Krasznahorkai. There is one in his Pro Milone, as I recall, that runs to fifty-seven lines of close print without a full stop.

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The 2018 Man Booker International Shortlist: the Subjective Nature of Literary Merit

"Fiction at its finest”, as the Man Booker tagline describes its self-imposed mission.

“A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a re-reader,” Vladimir Nabokov reminds us in his article “Good Readers and Good Writers”. There are so many books in this world, and unless your life revolves solely around books, it might be hard to be widely read and an active re-reader. Attaining this level of perfection that Nabokov describes is impossible, but the idea of re-reading as a tool to better understanding the value of a book underpins the philosophy of the Man Booker Prize International’s judging panel since its inception.

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The Man Booker International 2018 Longlist: At the Boundaries of Fiction

"Non-European works included in the longlist come highly recommended by readers and critics alike."

The 2018 Oscars may be over, but the awards season for the literary world has barely begun, with the Man Booker International Prize receiving the most international attention. In the world of translated fiction, the Man Booker International holds a prestige similar to the Oscars, which explains the pomp and excitement surrounding the announcement of this year’s longlist, made public March 12. The longlist includes thirteen books from ten countries in eight languages, from Argentina to Taiwan.

The MBI used to be a career-prize akin to the Nobel, awarded to a non-British author for his or her entire body of work every two years. Since its merger with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize its format has changed. Now the Prize seeks to honor the author and translator of the best book (“in the opinion of the judges”) translated into English and published in the UK for the eligible period. For 2018, all eligible submission were novels or short story collections published between May 1, 2017 and April 30, 2018. Much like its sister prize (known simply as the Man Booker Prize), the winner of the MBI tends to garner much attention and sees a boom in book sales. Its history accounts for its prestige, but just as importantly, the MBI is one of the few prizes out there that splits the monetary value of its prize between the writer and translator.

Part of the MBI’s unofficial mission is to raise the profile of translated fiction and translators in the English-speaking world and provide a fair snapshot of world literature. What does this year’s longlist tell us about the MBI’s ability to achieve that goal? Progress has been made from past years, especially with regard to gender equality: six of the thirteen nominated authors and seven of the fifteen translators are women. Unfortunately, issues arise when taking into account the linguistic and regional diversity of the prize not only this year, but with previous lists as well. For 2018, only four of the thirteen books come from non-European authors, with no titles from North and Central America or Africa. This is an issue that plagued the IFFP before it merged with the MBI and marks even the Nobel Prize for literature, as detailed by Sam Carter in his essay “The Nobel’s Faulty Compass.”

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Section Editors’ Highlights: Winter 2018

Our editors choose their favorites from the Winter 2018 Issue.

Asymptote’s new Winter 2018 issue is replete with spectacular writing. See what our section editors have to say about the pieces closest to their hearts: 

It’s a struggle to pick ​just one poet to highlight from this momentous issue of our journal, but perhaps I will mention the Infrarealist Mexican poet José Vicente Anaya ​whose work Heriberto Yépez described as “revelation, a sacred practice against brainwashing and lobotomy” (source: translator​’s​ note). Much as each poet in this issue and ​the set of circumstances in which they write are distinct, I read all their works as sacred, necessary attempts to counter the forces of obliteration and oblivion against which they—and ​we—strive. In Anaya’s case, a core element of the ritual is híkuri (​”peyote” in ​the ​indigenous language of​ Rarámuri), the ingestion of which makes the speaker spiral, psychedelically, inward and outward​,​ so that nothing is quite separate from everything else. The revelation is this: we’ve overbuilt the world and left ourselves broken. Joshua ​Pollock’s translation recreates the visionary​ spirit​ of the hyperlingual source text to bring us the ferocity of lines such as these:

On Superhighways we hallucinate
in order to carry on living, Victor,
let’s build an anti-neutron bomb
that leaves life standing
demolishing suffocating buildings /
new machines working for everyone
so that time raises us
from joy
to Art
to joy / and
HUMANity governs without government

—Aditi Machado, Poetry Editor

“[there are also] a number of young writers who are emerging, for instance, in the Gambia, who are also catering a lot to the local market. They are to come.” — Tijan M. Sallah at an interview at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, 2012

It is impossible to think of Gambian literature without thinking of the poetry, short stories, and essays of Tijan M. Sallah. Sallah is The Gambia’s most renowned and prolific literary figure, but what makes him most remarkable is his generosity. Sallah, like many of the great Gambian writers before him, balanced his “day job” while continuing his tireless support of other writers and The Gambia’s burgeoning literary scene. For writers such as Lenrie Peters, it was being a medical doctor, while holding literary workshops for aspiring young Gambian writers; for Tijan M. Sallah, it was a successful career as an economist at the World Bank, while continuing to foster community among the Gambian diaspora’s literary voices, his early contributions to the Timbooktoo Bookstore, or even—lucky for us at Asymptote—his willingness to write this essay on some of The Gambia’s emerging poets. Sallah’s essay is both a tribute to the previous wave of Gambian writers and a passing on of the baton to the next generation of poets. In this essay, he spotlights three of the exciting new voices in the Gambian literary landscape today. It’s a must-read from this issue.

—Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor

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Section Editors’ Highlights: Fall 2017

Our editors choose their favourites from this issue.

Asymptote’s new Fall issue is replete with spectacular writing. See what our section editors have to say about the pieces closest to their hearts: 

As writer-readers, we’ve all been there before. Who of us hasn’t been faced with that writer whose words have made us stay up late into the night; or start the book over as soon as we’re done; or after finally savoring that last word, weep—for all the words already written and that would never to be yours. The feeling is unmistakeable, physical. In her essay, “Animal in Outline,” Mireia Vidal-Conte describes this gut feeling after finishing El porxo de les mirades (The Porch of the Gazes) by Miquel de Palol: “What are we doing? I thought. What are we writing? What have we read, what have we failed to read, before sitting down in front of a blank sheet of paper? What does and doesn’t deserve readers?” There are the books that make you never want to stop writing, and the books that never make you want to write another word (in the best way possible, of course). Vidal-Conte reminds writers again that none of us is without context—for better or for worse. Her essay is smart, playful, honest, and a must-read from this issue.

—Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest in literary news around the globe, all in one place.

If, like us, you can’t start the weekend without knowing what the literary world’s been up to this past week, we’ve got your back. We have dispatches from Central America, the United States and Indonesia with a real tasting board of talks, events and new publications. Wherever you’re based, we’re here to provide you with news that stays news. 

Editor-At-Large for Guatemala, José García, reports on events in Central America: 

Today Costa Rica’s book fair, the twentieth Feria del Libro 2017, kicked off in San José. During its nine days, CR’s fair will offer concerts, book readings, release events, and seminars. This year’s Feria will have the participation of writers like Juan Villoro (Mexico), Carlos Fonseca (Costa Rica), Pulitzer Prize for Poetry winner Rita Dove (United States), Horacio Castellanos Moya (El Salvador), and Mayra Santos-Febres (Puerto Rico), among others.

Some of the books to be presented or discussed during the fair are Larisa Quesada’s En Piel de Cuervos, Alfonso Chase’s Piélagos, Carlos Francisco Monge’s Nada de todo aquello, Isidora Chacón’s Yo Bruja, and Luis ChávesVamos a tocar el agua. Also, the renown Costa Rican writer Carlos Fonseca, famous for his first novel Coronel Lágrimas that was translated into English by Megan McDowell and published by Restless Books, will talk about his sophomore book, Museo Animal on September 2.

In Guatemala, the indie press Magna Terra continued the promotion of many of its titles released during this year’s Guatemalan Book Fair. On August 17 they officially presented Pablo Sigüenza Ramírez’s Ana es la luna y otros cuentos cotidianos. Also, they continue to push Pedro Pablo Palma’s Habana Hilton, about the most personal side of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, during his time in Guatemala and his early years in Cuba.

Fellow Guatemalan indie press, Catafixia Editorial recently finished a local tour that included their participation in FILGUA, the international poetry festival of Quetzaltenango FIPQ, and a quick visit to Comalapa, for the presentation of Oyonïk, by the twenty-two-year-old poet, Julio Cúmez. Additionally, Catafixia is preparing for their participation in the IV Encuentro de Pensamiento y Creación Joven en las Américas in Habana Cuba next month. And recently they announced the inclusion of writer, poet, and guerrilla leader Mario Payeras to their already impressive roster; they have yet to share which of Mario’s books they will republish.

Finally, Guatemalan writer, Eduardo Halfon, has a new book coming out August 28 titled Duelo (Libros Asteroide).

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Highlights from the Asymptote Winter Issue

Our editors recommend their favorite pieces from the latest issue.

First off, we want to thank the five readers who heeded our appeal from our editor-in-chief and signed up to be sustaining members this past week. Welcome to the family, Justin Briggs, Gina Caputo, Monika Cassel, Michaela Jones, and Phillip Kim! For those who are still hesitating, take it from Lloyd Schwartz, who says, “Asymptote is one of the rare cultural enterprises that’s really worth supporting. It’s both a literary and a moral treasure.” If you’ve enjoyed our Winter 2017 issue, why not stand behind our mission by becoming a sustaining member today?

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One week after the launch of our massive Winter 2017 edition, we invited some section editors to talk up their favorite pieces:

Criticism Editor Ellen Jones on her favorite article:

My highlight from the Criticism section this January is Ottilie Mulzet’s review of Evelyn Dueck’s L’étranger intime, the work that gave us the title of this issue: ‘Intimate Strangers’. Mulzet translates from Hungarian and Mongolian, but (being prolifically multilingual) is also able to offer us a detailed, thoughtful, and well-informed review of a hefty work of French translation scholarship. Dueck’s book is a study of French translations of Paul Celan’s poetry from the 1970s to the present day (focussing on André du Bouchet, Michel Deguy, Marthine Broda, and Jean-Pierre Lefebvre) and is, in Mulzet’s estimation, ‘an indispensable map for the practice of the translator’s art’. One of this review’s many strengths is the way it positions Dueck’s book in relationship to its counterparts in Anglophone translation scholarship; another is its close reading of passages from individual poems in order to illustrate differences in approach among the translators; a third is the way Mulzet uses Dueck’s work as a springboard to do her own thinking about translational paratexts, and to offer potential areas for further research. The reviewer describes L’étranger intime as ‘stellar in every way’—the same might be said of the review, too.

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek, who stepped in to edit our Writers on Writers section for the current issue, had this to say: 

When asked to pick a highlight from this issue’s Writers on Writers feature, I was torn between Victoria Livingstone’s intimate exploration of Xánath Caraza’s fascinating oeuvre and Philip Holden’s searching essay on Singapore’s multilingual—even multivocal—literary history, but the latter finally won out for its sheer depth and detail. Moving from day-to-day encounters with language to literary landmarks of the page and stage, Holden surveys the city’s shifting tonalities with cinematic ease, achieving what he himself claims is impossible: representing a ‘polylingual lived reality’ to the unfamiliar reader. And as a Singaporean abroad myself, Holden’s conclusion sums it up perfectly: the piece is ‘a return to that language of the body, of the heart’.

Visual Editor Eva Heisler’s recommendation:

Indian artist Shilpa Gupta addresses issues of nationhood, cultural identity, diaspora, and globalization in complex inquiry-based and site-specific installations.  The experience of Gupta’s work is explored by Poorna Swami in her essay ‘Possessing Skies’, the title of which alludes to a work in which large LED light structures, installed across Bombay beaches, announce, in both English and Hindi, ‘I live under your sky too.’  Gupta’s work, Swami writes, ‘positions her spectator in an irresolvable conversation between the abstracted artwork and a tangible sense of the so-called real world, with all its ideologies, idiosyncrasies, and fragilities’.

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The Tiff: How Should We Review Translations?

Sue Burke and Maia Evrona on the ideal review for a translation—and the tendency to forget the translator entirely.

Sue Burke: The book review said that Angelica Gorodischer “writes poetic, vigorous prose.” Yes, she does. And she doesn’t – that is, I wrote the poetic, vigorous prose.

I’m the translator for Gorodischer’s novel Prodigies, published this year by Small Beer Press. The review was in Kirkus. At least it listed me as the translator and it was favorable, even if it wasn’t ideal.

What would be an ideal review for a translation? While any book review has to cover a lot of ground, at some point I think it ought to explicitly acknowledge that the work being reviewed is a translation and mention its apparent approach, since a translation in some way rewrites the original. If possible, it might compare a passage of the original to the translation and note whether the translation wrestles successfully (or not) with linguistic and cultural challenges, captures its literary quality like elegance or immediacy or wit, and accurately conveys both the meaning and subtext.

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What’s New in Translation? October 2015

So many new translations this month! Here's what you need to know—from Asymptote's own.

Eugene Vodolazkin, Laurus (Oneworld Publishers, October 2015). Translated by Lisa C. Haydenreview by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia

laurus

Laurus, the second novel by Russian writer Eugene Vodolazkin (after Solovyov and Larionov, due to appear in English in 2016), is in one breath, a timeless epic, trekking the well-trodden fields of faith, love, and the infinite depth of loss and search for meaning. In another, it is pointed, touching, and at times humorous, unpredictably straying from the path and leading readers along a wild chase through time, language, and medieval Europe. Winner of both the National Big Book Prize (Russia) and the Yasnaya Polyana Award, Vodolazkin’s experimental style envelopes the reader, drawing them into a world far from their own, yet indescribably intimate.

Spanning late fifteenth-century Russia to early twentieth-century Italy, the novel recounts the multiple lives (or stages of life) of a saint and the story of his becoming. Born Arseny in 1440, he is raised by his grandfather after his parents die from the plague that torments much of Russia and Europe. Recognising the boy’s gift for healing, his grandfather instills in him knowledge of healing and herbalism. Arseny aids the pestilence-stricken villagers, yet his powers of healing are overshadowed by his helplessness in preventing his grandfather’s death, as well as the passing of his beloved Ustina. Abandoning his village, past and namesake, Arseny begins a voyage that will transcend country and identity. Kaleidoscopic in his language and reach, Vodolazkin takes us on a journey of discovery and absolution, threaded together through the various, often mystical lives of Arseny as a healer, husband, holy fool, pilgrim and hermit. READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation? September 2015

So many translations hit the shelves this month—here's what you need to know, from Asymptote's own.

Mercè Rodoreda, Death in Spring (Open Letter, September 2015). Tr. from the Catalan by Martha Tennant—Review by Ellen Jones, Criticism Editor

Death_in_Spring-front_large

Martha Tennant’s translation of Death in Spring, the (posthumously published) final novel by Mercè Rodoreda, is republished in paperback this month by Open Letter, having been long out of print. Written while in exile from Franco’s Spain during the Civil War, the novel is considered Rodoreda’s most accomplished work, and can be read as an allegory of a repressive regime.

Told through the eyes of a nameless boy who seems perpetually on the cusp of manhood, the novel recounts the cruel, bewildering traditions of a village community constantly under threat of being washed away by the river that runs underneath it. The villagers’ brutalism is bizarre and often casual—they pour cement down people’s throats as they lie dying to prevent their souls from escaping, then bury them in hollowed out trees. A thief is imprisoned in a tiny cage until he begins to behave like an animal; children are locked in cupboards until they half-suffocate; and every year a young man is forced to swim underneath the village and endure inevitable mutilation or death.

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In Review: “Thought Flights” by Robert Musil

P. T. Smith reviews a newly translated collection of short pieces by Robert Musil

At first appearance, the newly translated collection of short pieces by Robert Musil, titled Thought Flights by translator Genese Grill (Contra Mundum Press), seems at odds with the writer’s reputation. After all, he is most famous for the massive, unfinished Man Without Qualities. Why would he take time away from that project he was so dedicated to so he could write pieces of fiction only a couple pages long, essays about whether the crawl stroke is an art or a science, and satirical fragments like “War Diary of a Flea”? And considering all that Musil articulated about society, gender, philosophy, art, etc. in Man Without Qualities, is there reason to read this instead of, or after, that? The quickest way to answer both questions is hinted at by Grill in her introduction. The first: for Musil to maintain his sanity by taking breaks. The second: if you admire both the intellect and aesthetics of Musil and the serious play that Walser brought to his feuilleton, this is a chance to see what comes about when those two styles are combined.

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In Review: “A Planet for Rent” by Yoss

Scott Beauchamp reviews the latest science fiction from Cuba, finally in English translation

Science fiction is an international project. It’s multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and accommodating enough as a genre to include authors of almost any identitification. So though it’s clear there isn’t a genre problem—there still is a publishing problem.

In America, for instance, there simply aren’t enough people of color and women authors being published. What’s more—further reflective of the problem of access to translated works in the United States (famously, only 3% of books published stateside are from translation)—the full range of exciting sci-fi published in Japan, China and India only makes its way to non-native readers in a slight trickle.

Cuban science fiction, however, is another problem entirely. All writing on the island was for decades subject to the whims of the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, and with trade in general being fairly limited in the 1960s and 1970s, Cuban science fiction has struggled to realize itself.

And now that the long-awaited global thaw is finally happening, Restless Books, a Brooklyn-based publishing house, is taking the noteworthy step of translating some of the most interesting sci-fi writers on the island. Yoss (whose birth name is José Miguel Sánchez Gómez), the author of A Planet for Rent, is one such writer. READ MORE…

Close All Tabs But This One—Alejandro Zambra’s “My Documents” in Review

If you read the review all the way to the end, you'll win a prize (I'm serious). But I don't need to cajole you into finishing the book.

Alejandro Zambra deserves his very own sentence (so here it is).

I’ve come across far too many breathy, overeager reviews that are downright giddy to liken Zambra—Chilean writer, very of-the-moment—with someone entirely different. Predictably, Zambra’s equally hip literary/national compatriot Roberto Bolaño is at the tip of everyone’s tongue. And then there are other authors, nearly all of them translated—Karl Ove Knausgaard, Daniel Kehlmann, Elena Ferrante, Ben Lerner—who are inevitably mentioned in the same breathless swoop. It’s true that these writers are at-least-obliquely occupied with Zambra’s brand of hyper-real, genre-eliding, syntactically all-too-acute, auto-fictive and/or meta-fictive literary fiction, but there’s something decidedly pungent—and utterly unique—about Alejandro Zambra’s particular kind of fiction.

Did you count the hyphenations I needed to describe Zambra’s writing? There were eight of them. They’re intentional—as Zambra’s work, too, doubles, triples, even quadruples multiple intensities at once, though without the agglutinative slog that sentence carried (I am so sorry, dear reader). Zambra’s fiction occasions a rather hefty sleight of hand.

This is true, even with his latest publication—My Documents, translated by (Asymptote’s own former team member!) Megan McDowell and published by McSweeney’s this month. It’s his longest in English to date, and still a mere 240 pages long. I read it in a single sitting, but like I mentioned in this month’s What We’re Reading, I’ve kept chewing for weeks to follow.  READ MORE…