Posts filed under 'daniel hahn'

In Conversation: Eduardo Halfon

All of my books are intimately related, like brothers who live far away.

The last time Eduardo and I talked, in July of 2015, days before he presented his latest book, Signor Hoffman, we were both weeks away from coming to New York City, though each for different reasons. “You got a Fulbright to do your MFA? That’s impressive,” he said, smiling. “You’ll be the writer-in-residence at Baruch College?” I said. “I’m not sure what that means, but it also sounds impressive.”

Eduardo and I had met in Guatemala, near his house, at a brand new mall that, according to him, was now between local residents and a lush view of tall trees, misty mountains, and coppery sunrises. Or sunsets? Within five minutes he dismantled most of the questions I had prepared for the interview.


Highlights of Our 2016 (Part I)

Thanks to an incredible team behind me, 2016 was a startlingly good year for Asymptote.

1. Amazing scoops 

Where to begin? Interviews with Junot Díaz, Ann Goldstein, Yann Martel, László Krasznahorkai, Pierre Joris, Sawako Nakayasu and Ha Jin. Anita Raja‘s essay on “Translation as the Practice of Acceptance.” Sibylle Lacan on her psychoanalyst father, Jacques Lacan. Vicente Huidobro, one of the very first Latin American avant-garde poets. Jan Dammu and Rasool Yoonan, from the current issue. Hsia Yü. The visual artist and poet Caroline Bergvall. Rising fiction stars Youssef Rakha, Olga Tokarczuk, and Marek VadasPatrick Chamoiseau on Martiniquais writers. Experimental poems translated by Martin Rock and Joe Pan from the Japanese of Nenten Tsubouchi. Karina Lickorish Quinn‘s Spanglish contribution to our Multilingual Writing Special Feature. Drama by György Spiró. These were some of our favorite things.

2. Our eight events in three continents

This year, Asymptote celebrated its fifth anniversary by meeting readers in the flesh in three continents and five cities (New York, London, Ottawa, Chicago, Belgrade, and Hong Kong; photo documentation and event summaries can be found here). Attracting the biggest turnout with 165 attendees was the New York event held at The New School, featuring Ann Goldstein and Natasha Wimmer in conversation with Frederic Tuten. On the other side of the Atlantic, 2016 saw three Asymptote events at Waterstones, Piccadilly, in March, July, and September. The last, organized in honor of International Translation Day, had Adam Freudenheim, Laura Barber, Deborah Smith, and Laura Barber speaking to a sold-out room of 70, with moderator Jonathan Ruppin saying afterwards that Asymptote had become “a real force in London.”

3. Our partnership with The Guardian turns one

Promoted to The Guardian’s international readership, beyond the small circle of world literature aficionados, Asymptote’s showcase at The Guardian represents, for translators, an unparalleled reach in the English-speaking world. As editor of Translation Tuesdays, I either commissioned new work or partnered with publishing houses to present fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from five continents and twenty-nine countries (including underrepresented ones like Andorra, Uzbekistan, Singapore, Iran, and Congo). In curating for diversity, I attempted to correct a Eurocentric bias that has hitherto characterized the canon (European work accounted for just 41% of this year’s lineup; find the full breakdown by continent and country here). Watch this space for our final Translation Tuesday showcase of 2016 next week, where we present an extract of “Mountain of Light” by Akutagawa Prize winner Gen’yū Sōkyū, translated especially for the occasion by contributing editor Sim Yee Chiang.

4. We gave away $4,500 to six emerging translators

This year, we upped the ante and added one more category to our translation contest: Nonfiction. Awarding $4,500 USD (up from $3,000 in 2014) in prizes to six best emerging translators working into English were esteemed judges Michael Hofmann, Ottilie Mulzet and Margaret Jull Costa; additionally, we arranged with The Guardian to present the top entries in each category over three consecutive Tuesdays (one of them, Sean Gasper Bye’s translation of Filip Springer’s extraordinary History of a Disappearancewas even shared 2,275 times, attesting to the newspaper’s incredible reach). Note: this is now an annual contest, with the deadline for the next edition coming up Feb 1, 2017! As with the 2016 edition, we will also be arranging for the winning entries to be showcased in The Guardian, allowing them to be noticed the world over, and possibly launching careers. Find the details here.

5. Daniel Hahn became our resident Agony Uncle for a year

Fielding questions from curious/mystified international readers, Daniel Hahn presided over a monthly column for one entire year. (His last contribution here contains hyperlinks to all previous columns.) Along the way, he ruffled feathers and sparked controversy by opining that translators’ names needn’t necessarily be featured on covers. But mostly, Daniel’s very popular ‘Ask a Translator’ edified and entertained. When I reached out personally to thank Lin Falk van Rooyen for signing up as a sustaining member recently, she even singled out Daniel’s feature for praise:

As a translator I have personally benefitted greatly from Asymptote’s in-depth, inspiring, informative (esp. ‘Ask a Translator’ by the ever sincere, ever astute Daniel Hahn), essential and yes—ambitious!—endeavour to promote and disseminate world literature. 

Part II of ‘Highlights’ continues tomorrow.


Join Lin Falk van Rooyen in standing behind our mission: become a sustaining member today! Each additional membership takes us closer to being able to operate beyond April 2017. Or, if you are American, consider a one-time tax-deductible donation via our Fractured Atlas Page. 


Live Today! Ask A Translator: The Best Tips

" aim is to take one superb piece of writing, and make another superb piece of writing that can stand in for it with a new set of readers."

Since we launched our ‘Ask A Translator’ column last December, award-winning writer, editor and translator Daniel Hahn has been on hand to remedy the translation woes of Asymptote readers around the globe. Given the overwhelming love that our readers show for the column and Daniel (seriously, you guys are the best), we can’t wait to welcome Asymptote fans to our very first literary salon today at Waterstones Piccadilly, London on July 20th. The event will be hosted by our Editor-at-Large, Megan Bradshaw and will see Daniel fielding questions from the audience and our readers via Twitter. You can find out more about the event and reserve your place here, or if you can’t attend the event, tweet us your translation question with #AskATranslator.

In anticipation of the event, we’ve put together a shortlist of the six most important lessons for aspiring translators:

  1. Don’t be starstruck by authors (and don’t be afraid to stand your ground)

“Imagine approaching pretty much any writer and saying, “Look, here’s the plan, we’re going to change lots of things in your book—no, I really mean lots of things, like all the words—then we’re going to publish it all over the world in your name, but you won’t get to see what it actually says… Sound OK?” They’d be within their rights to feel more than a little uneasy about it.


But just as I don’t always understand what they’re doing, they don’t always understand what I’m doing either. And their English is sometimes not quite as good as they think it is. (Or at least I hope it’s typically less good than mine, otherwise I might as well pack the whole thing in.) While I want them to be reassured, I’m the person who signs things off for the publisher, and I have to be happy with the English text—my name’s on it, too, and if something sounds funny that will end up being my fault.”


Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

Translation is really something other than a striving for vague perfection.

Our resident translation expert, writer, and jack-of-all-trades, Daniel Hahn, is back to respond to reader questions on the fine art of translation. Today’s question comes from Lin Chia Wei, a reader in Taiwan. Anddon’t miss our first-ever “Ask a Translator” live event with Daniel Hahn in London on Wednesday, July 20 (RSVP at or invite your friends to the Facebook event page here).

Is there anything that is completely untranslatable, in your opinion?

Everything is untranslatable, that’s what I think.

Or alternatively, I think that nothing is.

And honestly, I’m perfectly comfortable with either of those ideas; both make sense to me. I’m not altogether comfortable, however, with the idea behind the question itself.

There are certain components to a text that are likely to present particular challenges to a translator (I talked about these in last month’s column), things that feel like absolute impossibilities. And conversely there are moments when you’re translating and a clever solution presents itself, or when a new voice you’re creating comes into focus, and the sheer rightness seems miraculous, the fact of it being so very possible feels exhilarating. But these experiences, and the question, would seem to suggest a simple binarytranslatable / not translatablewhich is misleading. Translation is all failure, because it’s never “perfect”; and it is all also, simultaneously, a triumph, because however imperfectly something living has been created out of the most unlikely circumstances.


Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

Sorry, “certain idiosyncratic syntactical structures” is a horrible phrase. In English, at least.

Our resident translation expert, writer, and jack-of-all-trades, Daniel Hahn, is back to respond to reader questions on the fine art of translation. Today’s question comes from, once again, Romanian reader, physicist, poet, and translator Marius Surleac.

Throughout your career, what was the book that you found the hardest to translate?

I have two very different answers to this, depending on your interpretation of the question. I’ll give you one of them.

The first thing to say is that there are, of course, lots of interesting ways a book can be difficult, lots of writerly qualities to tax a translator’s re-creational skills.

A book might be, simply, hard to grasp fully in the original, hard to figure out what the hell the author is actually doing or meaning. There might be stylistic issues that don’t travel well, or at least not easily—long, nested un-English sentences, say, or effects that depend on certain idiosyncratic syntactical structures that don’t match our own. (Sorry, “certain idiosyncratic syntactical structures” is a horrible phrase. In English, at least.) There might be the distinctiveness of a voice—perhaps slangy or in a dialect—that resists recreation without feeling forced or oddly accented. There might be any number of seemingly intransigent linguistic tricks, clever wordplay, that don’t have direct equivalents in the new language and so require building entirely new acrobatic effects from scratch. There might perhaps be jokes. READ MORE…

Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

...Get a contract. Make sure it’s unambiguous. Make sure it’s comprehensive. Make sure you understand it.

Our literary translator on the street, award-winning writer and editor Daniel Hahn, is back with another installment of “Ask a Translator,” the monthly column responding to readers’ deepest questions about the day-to-day practice of literary translation. This time around, Asymptote reader Marius Surleac asked the following:​

Have you experienced troubles with any publisher and if so, what’s your advice for a novice?

Have I ever experienced any troubles with a publisher? Yes!

(Finally, a nice, easy one to answer.)

Because honestly, I’ve published close to fifty books so far, with publishers of all kinds, in various countries, so it would be surprising if every experience had been equally, perfectly smooth. Yes, of course there’s trouble, sometimes. And that trouble, naturally, can take several forms.


Ask a Translator by Daniel Hahn

"As a translator, I feel some responsibility to the writers I translate."

Our literary translator on the street, award-winning writer and editor Daniel Hahn, is back with another installment of “Ask a Translator,” the monthly column responding to readers’ deepest questions about the day-to-day practice of literary translation. This time around, Asymptote reader Mandy Doll from Singapore asked the following:​

Is there a code of ethics when it comes to translation?​

This is how the world looks today, according to the evening news:

Militant groups kill dozens in Brussels bombings!
Britain’s campaign to split from the E.U. heats up!
Trump and G.O.P. rivals escalate anti-immigrant rhetoric!

These are stories of division.

They are stories of a failure of empathy, a failure of imagination. Stories of willful misunderstanding. Stories that tell us how the powerful capitalise on failed media and failed education systems to persuade the powerless that the only thing that really matters is how people are different, not how they are the same.

Every assumption that underpins the translator’s work is in opposition to this. Translation is optimistic. Translation is generous. Translation assumes that—however unlikely—mutual understanding is possible. Translation says, Listen—see that guy over there? Give him a chance, ’cause what he’s saying is worth hearing. Translation assumes that my story can mean something to you, that her concerns way over there are not fundamentally different to his worries over here. Come to that, doesn’t all literature make that assumption? READ MORE…

Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

Either I’m being a parasite on their work, or they’re being a parasite on mine—but either way, it’s potentially a delicate, complex relationship.

Once again, award-winning writer, editor, and translator Daniel Hahn is here to respond to reader queries about anything and everything relating to literary translation! This month, Daniel responds to a question from reader Marius Surleac:

How often do you discuss a translation with the author?

You can see why the whole business could make an author nervous. Imagine approaching pretty much any writer and saying, “Look, here’s the plan, we’re going to change lots of things in your book—no, I really mean lots of things, like all the words—then we’re going to publish it all over the world in your name, but you won’t get to see what it actually says… Sound OK?” They’d be within their rights to feel more than a little uneasy about it. A book over which they have absolutely no control, going out as though it were theirs, allowing all the world’s readers and critics to judge them, based on… what?

Sure, we may not really phrase the question quite like this, for obvious reasons (mostly because I’m guessing nobody would ever say yes), but this is essentially what a writer is signing up for every time she or he agrees to have a book published in translation. Translators have been known to grumble about their authors wanting to meddle in their translations, but I’m not one of those translators (OK, except that one time—you know who you are…), because I do understand the anxiety. Frankly, I’m rather surprised anyone lets translation happen at all.

I’ve done book-length literary translations of more than twenty different writers, and I have always sought to involve the writer in my process. (Well, the only exception was dead and, I assumed, probably past caring.) And they almost always express an eagerness to help. (Same single exception.) For various reasons, writers being translated into English tend to be far more involved in the process than writers being translated out of it, which suits me.

Sometimes I have a number of specific questions for them. (One novelist recently sent me the list of questions he’d already answered for his German translator, to save time. It ran to thirty-two pages.) These fall into four categories: READ MORE…

Ask a Translator: A New Column by Daniel Hahn

"If at all possible, only translate the kind of books that you feel able to understand."

The December debut of “Ask a Translator,” a new column by award-winning writer, editor and translator Daniel Hahn responding to reader questions, drew rave reviews from Asymptoters worldwide, so we couldn’t be more excited to bring you another installment! This month, Hahn responds to the following question from reader Marius Surleac:

Is there any genre that you would never translate?

The short answer is no—I’d translate anything. Having said that, however, the short answer is in fact a lie. I wish it were true, but it isn’t.

Why? Well, it all comes down to reading and writing. That’s all translation is, after all.

I think of myself as a pretty open-minded reader; a reader, in other words, with wide sympathies. Yes, I have particular inclinations towards certain kinds of book, of course—who doesn’t?—but I’m able to tune into all sorts without too much trouble. Which for a translator is important! You need to be able to find your way to a sympathetic connection with a book if you are to translate it (well, it helps), so frankly it pays to be flexible in your sympathies.

And I think of myself as a pretty versatile writer; which means I should have the tools to create anew (but now in English) many different kinds of books. This means being able to rely on a suppleness of language and register, a good ear for all sorts of dialogue—stuff like that. Which, for a translator, is also important. You need to know what’s involved in writing a book, you need complete mastery of its operating techniques, of its rhythms and dictions and tricks, if you’re to recreate it.

Now, mostly what I get asked to translate is, for want of a more useful genre label, “literary fiction”. It’s what I most commonly choose to read, too, on the rare occasions when I read just for pleasure, and it’s a mode in which I feel very comfortable working. Which is not to say that I’d ever write a literary novel myself, but it’s a manner of writing in which—as a reader with experience of thousands of these things—I feel comfortable faking it, which is what I do whenever I’m hired to spend 320 pages impersonating a Portuguese novel-writer or a Guatemalan short-story writer or a Québécois children’s writer. (I realise it sounds a little weird, the job, when I describe it like that. But isn’t that what it is? Translation is a confidence trick, in which the reader colludes in the deception, volunteering to be deceived.)

It is much less common for me to be asked to translate, say, the more commercial end of crime writing (or, for that matter, any non-fiction at all); and I’ve never once been offered any sci-fi, or romance fiction, and not a single graphic novel; I’ve never had the option of taking on a literary classic or a cookbook or a horror novel; or many other categories besides. And what would I say if were in fact asked? I’d always accept, of course!

Except when I wouldn’t. READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation? December 2015

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

Mark Kongstad, Am I Cold (Serpent’s Tail, November 2015). Translated by Martin Aitkenreview by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia


Am I Cold throws you into a world of hedonism and extravagance. It is Danish author Martin Kongstad’s first novel to appear in English, and his second body of fiction after 2009’s  short story collection Han Danser På Sin Søns Grav (He Dances on his Son’s Grave). The story follows Mikkel Vallin, a recently-divorced, recently-unemployed writer who—toeing the line between unreliable narrator and protagonist—takes the reader through the moonlit halls of Copenhagen’s artistic elite as he attempts to find existential clarity through a lens of sex, alcohol and debauchery. Loosely held together through Mikkel’s polemic, endeavoring to destroy “coupledom” and the trappings of monogamy, the novel endures in a pre-2008 micro bubble of Denmark and seductively draws you into a chilling, often hilarious world that somehow exists in spite of itself.


In Praise of Translation

An all-new podcast episode! Listen to some of the best moments from our live event in London

If you missed our fourth anniversary event in London this January, never fear! Our newest podcast episode brings you highlights from the evening. Listen to Adam Thirlwell, Daniel Hahn, Stefan Tobler and Deborah Smith discuss books they love, translation pitfalls they avoid, and the meaning of the German euphemism “to shake the coconut from the palm tree.”

About the speakers:

Stefan Tobler is the publisher at And Other Stories, a young publishing house whose titles include the Booker Prize shortlisted Swimming Home by Deborah Levy and much literature in translation, including the Latin American authors Juan Pablo Villalobos, Iosi Havilio, Carlos Gamerro, Haroldo Conti, Yuri Herrera, Rodrigo de Souza Leão and Paulo Scott. He is a literary translator from Portuguese and German. Recent translations include All Dogs are Blue by Rodrigo de Souza Leão, Água Viva by Clarice Lispector and Silence River by Antônio Moura. @stefantobler and @andothertweets

Adam Thirlwell’s new novel, Lurid & Cute, was published in January 2015. He has written two novels, a novella, and a project with translations that includes an essay-book and an anthology edited for McSweeney’s. He has twice been selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. His work has been translated into 30 languages.

Daniel Hahn is a writer, editor and translator (from Portuguese, Spanish and French) with some forty books to his name. His work has won both the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Blue Peter Book Award. He is currently chair of the Society of Authors and on the judging panel for the 2015 IMPAC Dublin Award.

Deborah Smith (@londonkoreanist) is the translator of The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Portobello Books, 2015). She has also translated The Essayist’s Desk and The Low Hills of Seoul by Bae Suah. She is currently in the final year of a Korean literature PhD at SOAS, and is setting up a non-profit publishing company which will publish translations from Asian and African languages, after apprenticing with And Other Stories.


In Review: The Selected Poems of Corsino Fortes

Translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn and Sean O’Brien, forthcoming from Archipelago Books

Selected volumes are a curious affair—when done well, I think of them as seductions, acts of largesse introducing to one who is ignorant, unable to access the “whole” thing, but desirous of such access, a writer of importance. The Selected Poems of Corsino Fortes is precisely this sort of book, bringing into English the lyrically and politically powerful poems of a major Cape Verdean poet and diplomat.

Cape Verde was made independent in 1975. Many of its inhabitants emigrated shortly thereafter, but many also stayed behind. Fortes, writing in a mixture of Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole, describes his country in the heated, generative moments of its new formation, as well as its moving outward and forward in the world. In translating Fortes’s poems, Daniel Hahn and Sean O’Brien have had to re-create a language linked to the islands and to the people as if by a circulatory system: “In that lesson / of earth & blood / Transfused / I heard the wild waves surge / From the heart to larboard.”

Fortes’s Cape Verde is full of tongues: all of nature speaks and sings. His language is fleshly. This visceral quality comes from abstractions made tangible through Fortes’s dense, at times opaque, symbology of bread, coin, sun, sea, guitar, and so on. For example, the last few lines of “From Mouth to Windward,” through the grammar of lists, draw concrete images together with abstract concepts like “marriage” and “birthright,” conflating them such that both “types” feel bodied, sensual, intellectual, inevitable: “Sea and monsoon, sea and marriage / Bread, stone, a patch of earth / Bread and birthright.” But it is also the translators who perform these transformations by—essentially by writing like poets. The alliterations I “see” in the en face Portuguese (which I do not read) are matched in English, enhancing the sense that language is not simply for understanding but for seeing, hearing, and touching.

As much as these poems emerge from the archipelago, they also describe the emigration of its people into Europe and the United States. When Fortes writes, “I saw patricians / clad in togas / Speaking Creole / In vast auditoria,” I hear the reverberation of a distinct Cape Verdean way of life moving along with its people: “. . . the earth and the story / Emigrate with us under our tongues.”

I would recommend this magnificent, generous, and bilingual presentation of Corsino Fortes’s work to anyone who enjoys grappling with the poignant, the sensuous, and the esoteric. It will be difficult for me to forget the “Tree and drum of the ancient viola” and the sardine as “a flickering tongue in the sea’s mouth”; nor “Eating the earth eating the earth eating the earth,” when “the earth is flesh”; nor Fortes’s prayer-command to the sunflower to “enter [him] / Before the sun / Disorients you Sunflower!”


The Selected Poems of Corsino Fortes is forthcoming from Archipelago Books & Pirogue Collective’s Island Position here


Aditi Machado’s poems have recently appeared in The Offending AdamDIAGRAMThe Iowa ReviewMiPOesiasLIES/ISLE, and Better Magazineothers are forthcoming in Conjunctions. She has a chapbook called The Robing of the Bride; it is available from Dzanc Books. She edits poetry for Asymptote, an online journal dedicated to translation. She earned her MFA at Washington in St. Louis and is now studying toward a doctoral degree at the University of Denver.

Dispatch: International Translation Day 2014

Our criticism editor goes to UK’s annual celebration of translation

International Translation Day is the UK’s annual event for its translation community. Now in its fifth year, it is an opportunity for translators, writers, publishers, students, booksellers, librarians, and critics to gather and debate significant issues, developments in the industry, to network, learn, and exchange ideas. This year it was held in the conference centre at the British Library in London—quite the upgrade from Farringdon’s Free Word Centre—meaning more guests can benefit from the seminars on offer.

The day kicked off with a panel discussion on continuing professional development, chaired by the nervily impatient Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN. On the panel were non-fiction translator Michael Cunningham, who specialises in translating social policy documents; Lucille Desblache, Director of the Centre for Research in Translation and Transcultural Studies at the University of Roehampton; and Daniel Hahn, tireless champion of all things translation-related, newly elected chair of the Society of Authors, and recent translator of Paulo Scott’s wonderful novel Nowhere People (of note: Hahn somehow found the patience to greet a growing queue of acquaintances and admirers after the panel discussion, before dashing off to catch a flight to Dublin).  READ MORE…