To celebrate our seventh birthday here at Asymptote, the blog editors have chosen some of our favorite pieces from the Winter 2018 issue to showcase. This issue truly shines with a diversity of voices and literary styles, including a special feature on micro fiction, and it was such a pleasure for us to read through it. With work from thirty different countries, this issue has been gathered under the theme of “A Different Light.” Enjoy these highlights!
I’ve always admired Asymptote‘s advocacy for literatures that not only are underrepresented, but that take chances, resist easy reduction or interpretation by the reader. Poems that dare to be “the awkward spectacle of the untried move, not grace” (to borrow a phrase from American poet Don Byrd). Poets like Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine. The poems from Arachnid Sun shock me with their bold imagery, impelling me to read again and again. I latch on to certain repeated images: insect, illusion, blood. And definitely a noticeable theme of authoritarian rulers: “spider-eggs perfuming the silence the dictator” and “harpoon the king-shark who flees the riverbeds of polar scrubland.”
Eugene Vodolazkin, Laurus (Oneworld Publishers, October 2015). Translated by Lisa C. Hayden—review by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia
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…
It’s safe to say that the Iranian book market has a strong interest in translation: it’s easy to find several translations of the same book in a single bookstore. Several reasons fuel this phenomenon, but the most important is rather banal: Iran’s glaring disregard for copyright laws—both internationally and domestically—mean that these kinds of retranslations run rampant.
Most literary publishers enter the translation and publication processes without securing the rights to the original foreign book. Or they can simply translate/publish a title already in print or well into the process of translation/publication by another publishing house.
Iran is not a signatory to the Copyright Treaty of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), though it joined WIPO in 2001. Neither does Iran take part in international conventions on the protection of literary and artistic works. Not legally bound in the way that organizations in other countries—such as many European countries and the United States—are, Iran’s public and/or private literary/artistic organizations do not often behave ethically toward their foreign counterparts. READ MORE…
Restless Books is a digital-first publishing initiative spearheaded by Ilan Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. Stavans is also a writer and cofounder of the Great Books Summer Program at Amherst, Stanford, and Oxford. We spoke via Skype about his books, which “reflect the restlessness of our multiform lives.”
Frances Riddle: How was Restless Books born?
Ilan Stavans: Restless was conceived in a moment when decisive transformations were taking place. Booksellers were shrinking in size; big publishers were limiting the number of books coming from different countries, from different languages. Restless came out of a response to the limited exposure an American reader has to international fiction. We aim to translate great work from a variety of languages. That was and is our mission—to compensate for the commercial way of thinking the big publishers have in New York City. We are a mid-sized publisher, but our goal is to help internationalize the landscape of American literature as much as possible. The Press aims to publish fiction, non-fiction, and poetry dealing with restlessness as a condition.
FR: Was this focus on movement—restlessness—inspired by your own immigrant experience? READ MORE…
I came back from the American Literary Translators Association conference with plenty of memories and anecdotes. This was my first visit to Milwaukee, and I hardly saw any of the city: that’s how appealing the panels, readings, and after-hours activities were.
I got to know the interior of the Hilton City Center pretty well as I moved from readings to panels to award ceremonies to never-ending discussions over delicious local beer. I was moved by the different styles and languages of ALTA fellows, including our former assistant editor Megan Berkobien (Catalan). I was deeply inspired by the innovation of the ongoing bilingual reading sessions, where I envisioned Scandinavian hospital scenes translated by Roger Greenwald, a Russian animal revolution translated by Tanya Paperny, and a Sophocles play by Kayne Cheshire reimagined in the American West.
A Midsummer Night’s Press started publishing poetry in 1991. Since then, the press has expanded to include three imprints. Fabula Rasa publishes works that draw inspiration from mythology and folklore. Body Language publishes writing related to gender and sexual identity. Sapphic Classics, in collaboration with Sinister Wisdom journal, rereleases works of lesbian poetry.
This fall, A Midsummer Night’s Press has launched a new imprint, Periscope, which focuses on poetry in translation. Lawrence Schimel, the press’s founder, answered my questions by e-mail before jetting off to the Guadalajara Book Fair. Read on for information on how to receive free international shipping on Periscope’s debut titles. READ MORE…
Extra! Extra! Take a look at the November/December issue of the ever-venerable World Literature Today, or the latest (fifth) issue of Music & Literature hot off the press, featuring some Asymptote favorites like Norwegian phenom Stig Sæterbakken and Chinese avant-gardist Can Xue. While Music & Literature has always released a concurrent print publication, ten-year-old Internet mainstay Guernica is about to enter the world of physical print for the very first time. And while we’re at industry water-cooler chat, McSweeney’s also seems to be undergoing a shift: the publishing house/Internet Tendency/friendly lit journal has applied for nonprofit status. That “Nonprofit” denomination isn’t for nothing, either: according to Graywolf Press executive editor Jeff Shotts, the nonprofit status allows for some serious mission-driven publication.
September and October are the months for literary events in Sweden, and this year I started my literary adventures with the Södermalms Poetry Festival, which partly took place on an old steamboat cruising through Stockholm’s archipelago, the Skärgården.
Festival director Boel Schenlaer is a well-known poet herself; she often attends national and international festivals, and the Södermalms Poetry Festival is her baby. Running for the 12th year in a row, the festival is three days long. Poets from countries including Israel, Egypt, USA, Syria, and Norway (thirteen nationalities in total) were all invited. As we boated through a dark blue surface shimmering with sunlight, Boel started the poetry cruise, offering everyone a buffet for lunch.
As we ate, Boel told me that her motivation with the festival was to build a bridge between Swedish and international poets.
Berlin native Eva Schweitzer learned a lot about the publishing industry from her years of work as a writer and New York correspondent for German newspapers. In 2011, she decided to open her own publishing house, focusing on books related to the city of Berlin. Eva runs Berlinica between New York City and Berlin. I spoke to her via Skype after one of her frequent trans-Atlantic flights.
Frances Riddle: How was Berlinica born?
Eva Schweitzer: I’m an author and nowadays it’s becoming easier to break into the market, even if you’re small. You don’t need so much overhead anymore. You can do print-on-demand and e-books, you can distribute them internationally with Amazon; and I thought why not try and publish books myself? I know how to write a book. How hard can it be to publish a book?
FR: So was it as easy as you thought it would be to open your own publishing house?
ES: No, it turns out it’s a great deal more time-consuming and complicated than you can imagine. READ MORE…
Ox and Pigeon Electronic Books embraces the digital age with a dynamic publishing model that enables them to deliver the literature they love to readers anywhere in the world. Since 2012, they have specialized in translations through their literary journal, The Portable Museum. Earlier this year, Ox and Pigeon began releasing their first novels in English translation. I spoke with co-founder Lucas Lyndes from his home in Lima, Peru, via Skype.
Frances Riddle: How was Ox and Pigeon born?
Lucas Lyndes: I moved to Peru in 2005 to learn Spanish with the idea of becoming a translator. I got married here in 2010 and my friends from Boston, Jason Curran and Katie Sedat, came down for the wedding. We got to talking about books because we’re all big readers. I was dabbling in translation and I was surprised at what was being translated; there were a lot of writers who weren’t getting any attention. So we decided to try and do something about it. The idea was born in 2010 and the first issue of The Portable Museum came out in 2012. READ MORE…
Interview with Radhika Menon, founder & managing editor of Tulika Books, India.
Sohini Basak: How did Tulika start out?
Radhika Menon: When we set up Tulika Publishers in 1996, we wanted to create Indian books that were as good as the best books anywhere. No, not “just as good as.” We want to give the children supremely good books and we wanted these books to be right in the Indian context. Our own generation had been fed books from the West, and had been taught to keep away from the more didactic, mass-produced Indian books. Good books, we assumed, came from elsewhere, usually from England!
We needed to reflect a contemporary Indian sensibility. But the contemporary Indian reality was vast, varied, and multilingual. It was clear to us that we would have to publish in as many of the Indian languages as possible.
Today we publish picture books in nine languages simultaneously—English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali. We also do bilingual books—English paired with each of the other eight languages. Some of the books for older children are in English alone and they too reflect a contemporary “Indianness” in their perspective, and in their very feel and look. READ MORE…
University of California Press Acquisitions Editor Kate Marshall specializes in publishing books on food, the environment, and Latin America in the social sciences and humanities. I talked to Kate during the editor’s week of the Buenos Aires Book Fair.
Frances Riddle: What gap in the publishing landscape does UC Press aim to fill?
Kate Marshall: UC Press is one of the leading university presses in the United States, the largest university press west of the Mississippi and the only major press affiliated with a public university. We publish in many fields but our press is especially known for publishing on progressive social issues, like inequality, human rights, and the environment. We do a lot of books in interdisciplinary fields, books that transcend formal disciplines.