Posts filed under 'exile'

Announcing our November Book Club selection: The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić

“We talked,” the narrator tells us, “about what it would be like when we returned home,” but the awful truth is that a return becomes impossible.

This November, we’re celebrating the first full year of the Asymptote Book Club. Over the last twelve months, the Book Club has brought its subscribers newly-translated fiction from twelve different languages, taking readers on a journey from the Arctic Circle down to the forests of Bengal, from the Ottoman Empire at the end of the nineteenth century to Bangkok in the postmodern era.

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For our November Book Club selection, we’re excited to be showcasing one of the most powerful novels written since the independence of Croatia: a breathtakingly original coming-of-age story set in the aftermath of perhaps the most shocking massacre in recent European history.

For more information on Ivana Bodrožić’s The Hotel Tito, published in English by Seven Stories Press, read Assistant Managing Editor Jacob Silkstone’s review below or head to our online discussion group. If you’re not a Book Club member yet but would like to join us as we head into our second year, all the information you need is available on our Book Club page.

The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursać, Seven Stories Press, 2018

Reviewed by Jacob Silkstone

Literature, according to Ahmet Altan, is our best method of confronting “the dark and bloody face of history.The Hotel Tito, which follows the first volume of Altan’s Ottoman Quartet as an Asymptote Book Club selection, spotlights a particularly dark and bloody episode of Europe’s recent past. Its chosen method of confronting history is no less courageous for being characterised by an impressively original subtlety and a surprising lightness of touch. While the earliest novels about the Yugoslav Wars (Slavenka Drakulić’s As If I Am Not There perhaps foremost among them) seethe with raw energy and anger, Bodrožić’s equally harrowing stories are interspersed with moments of humour: the comedy serves to enhance the tragedy.

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Spring 2018: The Dogged Chase of the Actual After the Ideal

Confronting the most immediate limits on human experience while resisting the arbitrary, narrow scope imposed by the commercial book market.

On 19 February 2018, responding to a pitch from Alessandro Raveggi—editor of Italy’s first bilingual literary magazine, The Florentine Literary Review—I arrange for Newsletter Editor Maxx Hillery to run in our Fortnightly Airmail the first of Raveggi’s two-part conversation with John Freeman on the occasion of Freeman’s Italian debut. “I do not feel American literary journals are doing a very good job of curating the best of our present moment,” the former editor of Granta says. “I think an American or American-based literary journal faces two ethical challenges right now, both of them related to aesthetics: 1) to try to redefine the cultural world as not being American-centric, and 2) to reveal America for what it is and has always been, but is just more apparently so now. Attacking these challenges means catching up with the best writers from around the world.” This brings me back thirteen years to the moment I stood up and posed a question to a panel of New York editors: “I am a Singaporean writing about Singapore; would my work be of interest to American publishers?” The immediate response: “Have your characters come to the US.” I end up submitting a story about Chinese diaspora in New York to a literary journal; the rejection letter that comes back reads: “Too much very culturally-specific backstory…that western readers would find compelling.” I remember a third encounter, this time with a literary agent who has read my work before our one-on-one meeting; she articulates very memorably why my fiction won’t be a hit: “A writer expresses his intelligence through plot.” But I like T. S. Eliot’s quote better: “Plot is the bone you throw the dog while you go in and rob the house.” Sometimes, in founding Asymptote, I wonder whether I was in fact revolting against all these things that all these well-meaning people have tried to tell me. But if the magazine isn’t a hit, at least I’ll have one fan in John Freeman: he very coincidentally writes me just as I’m composing this preface to say “how important what it is you do there has been for me and for a lot of us who itch to read away from the mundane.” Here to introduce our Spring 2018 issue and the Korean Fiction Feature I edited is Interviews Editor Henry Knight.

The Spring 2018 issue is one of Asymptote’s most asymptotic. Its pages are bound together by the familiar themes of futility and compromise and populated by people running up against the invisible but all too real limits imposed on them by the mysterious contours of the self, the precarious obligations of kinship, and the arbitrary structures of power undergirding society. Orphans, émigrés, postwar castaways, and second-generation immigrants all struggle to make sense of asymptotes of personal relationship (how close can we get to one another?), teleology (to fulfilling our desires?), epistemology (to knowing ourselves?), language (to legibility?), and narrative (to completion?). The issue, if it is about anything, is about how people situate themselves in the lacunae that shrink and expand as one approaches only for the other to recede. READ MORE…

In Conversation: Hamid Ismailov

I wish that different literatures were mutually translated, bypassing English or other dominant global languages.

Very rarely does contemporary Uzbek prose get translated directly into English. Yet English readers have just been given a rare chance to discover the novel The Devils’ Dance (Tilted Axis Press, trans. by Donald Rayfield), by the prominent Uzbek writer and journalist Hamid Ismailov. In it, Ismailov introduces the curious reader to perhaps the most famous modern Uzbek writer, Abdulla Qodiriy. The novel tells the story of Qodiriy, who, like many intellectuals in the Soviet Union in the late 30s, was imprisoned and eventually shot dead. While in jail, Qodiriy attempts to recreate the unfinished novel the KGB has just confiscated, which portrays Oyhon, a poet-queen who lived in the last, grand days of nineteenth-century Turkestan when London and Saint Petersburg were fighting over Central Asia in the Great Game. I interviewed Ismailov about his diverse identities and the place of Uzbek literature in today’s global writing. 

Filip Noubel (FN): You are a global writer: you were born in what is today Kyrgyzstan, studied and worked in Uzbekistan, and now live in London. You write in both Uzbek and Russian, and appear in translation in a number of languages ranging from English to Chinese. In your books and interviews, you often refer to the plurality of cultures but also to their clashes. How is this multiple identity shaping your writing?

Hamid Ismailov (HI): Recently I did a DNA test, and aside from the obvious, I discovered that 4% of my genes are of South Asian origin and 2% are Irish, not to mention 1% Native American. So if my genes are telling me that I’m related to people like Rabindranath Tagore and James Joyce even on a genetic level, so be it! But, generally, the people of Central Asia, which is an area historically placed in the middle of the Silk Road, should be blessed to be born into multiculturalism, multi-lingualism and multi-identity. If you read my book The Railway you can see how many nationalities, traditions, and ways of life I have been exposed to in my childhood, so no wonder that I love to write in different languages, and to put myself into different shoes. In fact, exploring “otherness” both as a subject and an object is the most interesting part of literature.

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An Inconvenient Newspaper: Robert Cox and the Buenos Aires Herald

"I know what a country without journalism means, and it’s the most terrible thing you can think of.”

“An Inconvenient Newspaper” is an essay about the recent closure of the Buenos Aires Herald, a paper that wrote against the Argentine military dictatorship, in English, in the 1970s and 1980s. The Buenos Aires Herald closed in July, just as an Argentine indigenous rights activist disappeared. The full profile of Robert Cox, the director of the Herald, was published in a Portuguese translation in issue no. 133 of the Brazilian magazine Piauí, released in October 2017. This English translation is an abridged version of the original Spanish article by Josefina Licitra.

“Any news?” That’s how Robert Cox greets me. He says “hello” and “nice to meet you” with an affectionate kiss on the cheek. But in the following sentence he always probes for the unexpected, for the possibility of news. It’s 10 a.m. on a Thursday and Cox looks like he just woke up. His eyes are still sleepy and his white hair finger-combed.

“Not that I know of,” I reply.

Cox makes coffee in the kitchen and brings it to the living room: a pleasant space scattered with paintings, family photos, and other decorations. He lives with his wife, Maud Daverio, in Charleston—in the United States—but also keeps this old, elegant Buenos Aires apartment, which he visits every year. This is where he lived after getting married, in 1961. This is where his five children were born. This is where he lived when the Buenos Aires Herald, the English-language newspaper that he directed from 1968 to 1979—one of a kind in Latin America—became the Argentinian publication that spoke out about human rights violations during the last military dictatorship, at a time when no other media institution would. And this is the place that he had to leave when a series of threats—also directed against his wife and one of his children—forced his family into exile.

Cox looks through the voile curtains. Outside the window is a narrow street lined with the pompous buildings of the Recoleta neighborhood, one of the most European areas of Buenos Aires. “I don’t know what happened with Santiago Maldonado…” he says, and clicks his tongue with an audible tsk. “Still no news? Weird.”

Santiago Maldonado is—was?—an artisan who supported the struggle of radical indigenous groups that reclaim land in Patagonia. This past August 1st, after a protest that stopped traffic, he disappeared in the middle of a confrontation with the Gendarmería—border officers. Some say that the police arrested him and accidentally killed him through the use of excessive force. Others say that there is no evidence to show that the government was at fault—and to this day there still isn’t—but they also can’t come up with a different explanation for his disappearance. Since then, demands to find Maldonado alive—or to find him at all—have deepened the divisions between Argentina’s governing party and its opposition. While the government refers to Maldonado as an “artisan,” kirchneristas and left-wing parties call him a desaparecido—one of the “disappeared.”

That term, in Argentina, dredges up the history in which Robert Cox was involved.

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The Good Bad Translator: Celina Wieniewska And Her Bruno Schulz

"Wieniewska was correct in her intuition about ‘how much Schulz' the reader was prepared to handle."

Bruno Schulz (1892-1942) is one of the relatively few Polish authors of fiction who enjoy international recognition. Originally published in the 1930s, since the early 1960s the Polish-Jewish writer and visual artist’s oneiric short stories have been translated and retranslated into almost forty languages, despite their seemingly untranslatable style: an exquisitely rich poetic prose, comprised of meandering syntax and multi-tiered metaphors. In English-speaking countries, Schulz’s name was made in the late 1970s, when his Street of Crocodiles, first published in English in 1963 in both the UK and the US (the British edition was titled Cinnamon Shops, following closely the original Polish Sklepy cynamonowe), was reissued in Philip Roth’s influential Penguin series Writers from the Other Europe (1977), alongside Milan Kundera and other authors from behind the Iron Curtain whom the West had yet to discover. Schulz’s second story collection, Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass (Polish: Sanatorium pod Klepsydrą), followed shortly (1978), and ever since then both volumes have been regularly republished and reprinted, as well as in series such as Picador Classics (1988), Penguin 20th Century Classics (1992), and Penguin Classics (2008).

This summer, the Northwestern University Press announced that “an authoritative new translation of the complete fiction of Bruno Schulz” by Madeline Levine, Professor Emerita of Slavic Literatures at the University of North Carolina, is forthcoming in March 2018. Commissioned by the Polish Book Institute and publicized already since 2012, this retranslation has been impatiently awaited, especially by Schulz scholars dissatisfied with the old translation by Celina Wieniewska. Indeed, it’s great that Levine’s version is finally going to see the light of day—it is certainly going to yet strengthen Schulz’s already strong position. Unfortunately, the preferred (and easiest) way of promoting retranslations is to criticize and ridicule previous translations and, more often than not, translators. Even though the retranslator herself has spoken of her predecessor with much respect, showing understanding of Wieniewska’s goals, strategies, and the historical context in which she was working, I doubt that journalists, critics, and bloggers are going to show as much consideration.

In an attempt to counter this trend, I would like to present an overview of the life and work of Celina Wieniewska, since I believe that rather than being representative of a certain kind of invisibility as a translator (her name brought up only in connection with her ‘faults’), she deserves attention as the co-author of Schulz’s international success. Much like Edwin and Willa Muir, whose translations of Kafka have been criticised as dated and error-ridden, but proved successful in their day, Wieniewska’s version was instrumental in introducing Schulz’s writing to English-speaking readers around the world. Before Levine’s retranslation takes over, let’s take a moment to celebrate her predecessor, who was a truly extraordinary figure and has been undeservedly forgotten.

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Postmortem: A Poem by Maya Tevet Dayan

you were no longer breath/ just the hovering wing beat/ of a fluttering heart.

Maya Tevet Dayan’s poem lays bare the loneliness of grief. Uniquely about the state of being un-mothered, it is universal in conveying intense emotional loss. The nuances of feeling and sentiment have been expertly translated from the Hebrew by Rachel Tzvia Back. 

1.

It was evening, it was chaos, it was edge of the abyss.

And the quiet stood still.

A young doctor walked in and walked out

and was unable to say

if you had left or if

you were still here. Because at your end

you were no longer breath

just the hovering wing beat

of a fluttering heart.

Remember?

Exactly as I once was

in your belly. Heart and heart,

no breath.

 

My beginning was a fetus of life.

Your ending was a fetus of death.

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Meet the Publisher: Phoneme Media’s David Shook on Translations from Underrepresented Languages

I do think we’re living in a very good time for publishing translations.

Phoneme Media is a nonprofit company that produces books in translation into English and literary films. Based in Los Angeles, the company was founded by Brian Hewes and David Shook in 2013, though it wasn’t until 2015 that the press began publishing on a seasonal calendar. To date, Phoneme Media has put out over twenty titles of fiction and poetry, and is particularly interested in publishing works from languages and places that don’t often appear in English. Many of their books are accompanied by short films that take on different formats, from video poems to book trailers, and have been shot around the world. Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina, Sarah Moses, spoke to David Shook over Skype about publishing translations from underrepresented languages and some of the titles he’s excited about.

Sarah Moses (SM): How did Phoneme Media start?

David Shook (DS): It came about basically because of my own work as a poet and translator. In my own travels—when I was working in community-based development, mostly in East Central Africa and Latin America—through relationships, through friendships with writers, in places like Burundi and Equatorial Guinea, and writers working in indigenous languages in southern Mexico, for example, I was just encountering all of these writers that I felt deserved to be read in English, that would contribute something important to our literary dialogue and that couldn’t find homes in terms of publishers here in the United States and in the UK, too, for a couple of reasons. The first being the lack of translators working in those languages and familiar with those regions, and the second was the fact that these books were somewhat outside the purview of even the publishers who specialized in translation—some great publishers. I think of Open Letter, for example, which has largely focused on literature from European languages, which I also think is incredibly important, but something like a book of poetry from Isthmus Zapotec, or the first translation from the Lingala—a novel we’re preparing to publish later this year would definitely be a bit outside their wheel house.

SM: How do you find translators for languages like the ones you’ve mentioned?

DS: Well I think our reputation is such that, despite having been around a comparatively short time, we’re often approached by translators working in more unusual languages. Our translation from the Uyghur, for example, by Jeffrey Yang, and the author is Ahmatjan Osman, who was exiled in Canada, was exactly that situation. Jeffrey brought the translation to us because he knew of our editorial interests. In other cases, like our book of Mongolian poetry, I was alerted to its existence because the translator won a PEN/Heim grant. And I do read widely, both in search of writers and of translators, who I think are important. For example, a place like Asymptote, which I read regularly with an eye toward acquisitions. I mean when we acquired, for example, this novel from the Lingala, the translation was a huge issue because there are very few, if any, literary translators from the Lingala, so I actually auditioned a few Congolese translators before finding this husband-and-wife team, Sara and Bienvenu Sene, who did a really great job. They’re really literary translators, whereas most of the translators I’d auditioned were technical translators or interpreters. And it’s pretty spectacular, considering I think English is their fourth language. I think a big part of my work is scouting out these translators and also encouraging a new generation of translators to go out into the world and find interesting books. I’m very proud that we’ve published many first-time translators on Phoneme Media.

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What’s New in Translation? May 2017

We review three new books available in English, from Yiddish and Hebrew poetry to an extraordinary Russian account of exile.

 

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The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings by Juan Rulfo, translated by Douglas J. Weatherford, Deep Vellum

Reviewed by Nozomi Saito, Senior Executive Assistant

Juan Rulfo’s prominence within the canon of Mexican and Latin American authors has been undeniable for some time. Regarded by Valeria Luiselli as one of the writers who gave her a deeper understanding of the literary tradition in Mexico and the Spanish language, and depicted by Elena Poniatowska as a figure deeply rooted in Mexican culture, it is clear that modern Mexican and Latin American literature would not be what they are without Rulfo. Indeed, Rulfo often has been credited as the figure to whom the Latin American boom of the 1960s and ‘70s is indebted, and Gabriel García Márquez has said that it was because of Rulfo’s works that the former was able to continue writing and ultimately produce One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Yet for all the recognition that Rulfo’s works have so rightly earned, there has been a persistent misconception that he only published two works of fiction, The Plain in Flames (El Llano in llamas, 1953) and Pedro Páramo (Pedro Páramo, 1955). The Golden Cockerel (El gallo de oro, c. 1956) for too long remained excluded from Rulfo’s oeuvre, even being miscategorized as a text originally intended for the cinematic screen. To reclaim and secure its position in Rulfo’s canon, Douglas J. Weatherford has brought forth The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings, which provides deep insight into the work, ruminations, and personal life of the legendary writer.

The result is a text that is refreshing and diverse. The titular story follows the rise and fall of Dionisio Pinzón, an impoverished man whose crippled arm prevents him from farm labor, the only viable work in the town, and whose destiny changes when someone gives him a golden cockerel that has been badly beaten, having comprised the losing side of a cockfight. While the majority of the story follows Pinzón’s migration in pursuit of wealth, his path eventually intersects with that of the singer Bernarda Cutiño, familiarly called La Caponera, whose own migratory wanderings lead them from one town to the next, to various cockfights throughout Mexico.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest in reports on arts and culture from Spain, India, and Bangladesh

This week, as ever, we are eager to share stories from around the globe. Today we’re checking in with Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James in Spain, Editor-at-Large Naheed Patel in Bangladesh, and Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan in India. 

And don’t forget to check out our Fall 2016 issue here!

First, we drop in on Layla Benitez-James, Podcast Editor, with the scoop on Spain:

2016 marked the 400th Anniversary of Cervantes’s Death, but much of the Spanish public felt more time was moving in between their two rounds of inconclusive elections, so much so that they decided to avoid a third one, projected over Christmas, and are able now to focus on their budding literary scene. In Madrid, the Prado Museum is making history in the visual arts with a show dedicated to the art of painter Clara Peeters. She will be the first female artist with her own show in the museum’s two-hundred-year history.

In another surprise turn, Spain’s major poetry festival in the city of Córdoba, Cosmopoética, celebrated its lucky thirteenth iteration from September 25 through October 8. The theme this year was Dada and the festival welcomed international and homegrown writers alike, such as Julieta Valero, Fani Papageorgiou, and  Chantal Maillard.

While Spain harbors many fans of Bob Dylan, a good deal of the Spanish literary community was puzzled by the Nobel Prize news. Some, however, took the announcement with great humor, imagining the messages between the silent winner and an increasingly desperate Swedish Academy. READ MORE…

The Afrofuture, for the Time/Being: In Conversation with E. Jane

"...the Internet was always the space where I could mostly engage all of my selves."

Much of my fascination with contemporary Afrofuturism revolves around studying the ways in which Black artists in the field are utilizing the Internet to complicate the idea of ‘alien space.’ Afrofuturism necessarily points to an-other space—traditionally, outer space—as the destination point for the Black human-being, who, being so totally extradited from Earthly society, requires a more total severance in form of a physical migration. The cosmos has, for decades prior, served as the primary landing space for the Black alien migrant, but in recent years, the Internet has made its way to the forefront of the Afrofuture. Relative to cosmic space, the Internet has served as a perhaps closer and seemingly just-as-expansive alternate realm to which to escape. And in fact, the ‘proximity’ of the Internet calls into question whether ‘escape’ is really the dominant motion; rather than, for example, the motion of transformation. (I don’t think that anyone doubts anymore that the relationship between meatspace and cyberspace is mutually mutative.) The contemporary fugitive as shapeshifter and space-shifter.

E. Jane is one such artist who has made the Internet a primary medium. Creating cyber-installations across multiple social media platforms, as well as video, and sound-based works, E. Jane’s work is a seminal voice in the growing field of Internet-based Afrofuturism. Not to mention, E. is also one half of the Philadelphia-based sound-duo named SCRAAATCH—the other half being their partner, chukwumaa. Notably, the duo recently appeared The Fader in a feature titled, “The Voices Disrupting White Supremacy Through Sound.”

E. and I met in cyberspace to chat about their most recent work. We began with a quote from Toni Morrison, whom E. had spent the day reading.

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Thirst is the Force of Gravity: Ferreira Gullar’s “Dirty Poem” in Review

"The poem’s necessity makes me bitter."

Much has already been said about exile. Losing a country or losing a home is “like death but without death’s ultimate mercy,” “a kind of ripping apart,” “a condition of terminal loss.” Ferreira Gullar wrote Dirty Poem (newly translated by Leland Guyer for New Directions) in 1975 in Buenos Aires, while in political exile from the Brazilian dictatorship. Like the author himself, the speaker of Dirty Poem imagines his return home, an attempt to recover the São Luís do Maranhão of his childhood.

The opening stanzas of this 80-page poem are filled with gaiety and fond memories of youth in the northeast region of Brazil. But just a few pages later, the speaker “preaches subversion of political order” and is banished to Argentina. In a fine translation from the Portuguese, Leland Guyer captures the richness of language of Gullar’s poetry—from local idioms to the language of displacement. The book culminates in saudade, alienation, and decay. READ MORE…

New in Translation: 33 Days by Léon Werth

“I recount the lowly; I tell, in the immensity of this war, the stories of insects.“

Every year, as Holocaust Memorial Day approaches, my husband and I begin looking for a film, a book, or an article with which to commemorate the day. Each year this tradition becomes more challenging and more exciting, as we move away from Hollywood epics and into the realm of small-scale, private stories. As I grow older and my mind expands, I become more interested in the minutia of this enormous tragedy: what people talked about, what mundane things preoccupied their minds, what made them laugh.

In his memoir 33 Days, Léon Werth chronicles the time he and his wife spent on the road fleeing Paris during the Fall of France in 1940. They move between farmhouses and through blockaded roads. They worry for their teenage son, who has left earlier with friends. They pilfer whatever remains in empty homes and abandoned vehicles, and sleep on hay bales. They are at war, but not in the Holocaust. They are Jews who do not yet know what their identity will come to mean.

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Translation Tuesday: Short Prose by Oleg Yuriev

"Suddenly, the cow moaned like a door."

A sunny winter in Florence. 

Early morning—blue and gold, and

the black Florentine air—eeny meeny miney moe—has completely vanished from the city: and is now wrapping up and flowing down the hills that are more orbital than surrounding.

Above the hills—the still-white night sky slowly turns blue. And between the hills, red Tuscan brushwood burns, which will soon become gold…

The conjoined sky.

The mooing hills.

The well-defined valleys.

The cypresses are like folded umbrellas,

and the stone pines—unfolded.

Under the stone pines and cypresses, Italians brushed the drips from their gray hair in the rear-view mirrors of their own and others’ motor scooters and sang sweetly with voices as hoarse as though they had an Italian three-day stubble.

 

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“The Illustrated Woman” by Guillermo Rosales Translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner

Taking license with Ray Bradbury

If you ever pass through Citrus Park, I recommend that you not enter Miss Roberta Donovan’s bar. Keep going, at full speed, and try not to listen to the siren’s song of the women tattooed on that enormous madam. I had the bad luck of stopping in Citrus because my car broke down there. The radiator, the spark plugs, who knows what went wrong with my old ’69 Mazda. Today it’s gone forever in the sands of that ghost town.

Because, gentlemen, Citrus Park is a ghostly town. There are no garages, no markets, no pharmacies, no cafés: nothing. One glance is enough to understand that it’s completely uninhabited, perhaps due to those hurricanes in the early part of the century that beat the Florida coast with unusual fury. The houses are in ruins, the streets are made of white sand, and millions of gi­ant red ants crawl over everything in search of scarce shrubs found around the periphery. They’re enormous ants, perhaps the world’s largest, and they attack humans, leaving enormous terribly itchy welts. READ MORE…