If you have yet to fully traverse the sensational depths of Asymptote‘s Summer 2019 issue: “Dreams and Reality,” you can step out on the roadmap written by our blog editors, who have refined their selections—with considerable difficulty—to a handful of their favourite pieces. Between an erudite Arabic mystery, non-fiction from Romania’s foremost feminist writer and theorist, and a tumultuous psychological short story which delves into our perception of sanity, this reading list is a doorway into the vast cartography of this issue, unfurling into the rich imagination and profundity of the heights in world literature.
Something about summertime makes me want to read detective fiction, so I was excited to learn that Asymptote’s Summer 2019 issue, released this past Thursday, features a murder mystery. I was even more intrigued when I learned that the story in question, “Culprit Unknown” by Naguib Mahfouz, was originally written in Arabic. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy Swedish mysteries just as much as you do—but I think we can all agree that the Scandinavians have had a monopoly on detective fiction in translation for far too long.
“Culprit Unknown,” translated by Emily Drumsta, follows Detective Muhsin ʿAbd al-Bari as he tries to solve a series of grisly murders. Muhsin does everything he can, but each killing is a perfect crime: the murderer leaves not a single trace behind, and as the deaths pile up, the tension in the neighborhood becomes unbearable. Besides pacing the story perfectly, Mahfouz infuses “Culprit Unknown” with light humor and unexpected (but welcome) philosophical musings, as in the exchange below:
In this fourth installment of A World with a Thousand Doors, our collaboration with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Indonesian writer Ugoran Prasad takes us into a kitchen where an unsavory secret is on the boil. The festival starts tomorrow, so if you’ve just decided on the spur of the moment that you’ll be heading to Bali, you’re in luck! Asymptote readers can save a 20% on a 4-day pass by entering the promo code MPAS at the online checkout.
Shortly before his death, Wak Haji Mail grew delirious. At first, no one caught what he was saying. I don’t think it’s because no one could. It’s just that no one would. Once I was allowed to hear, I myself immediately digested, not words, but fragments of a name repeated between gasps for breath. Saodah.
Two weeks after the hospital gave up and returned Wak Haji Mail to his home, he had yet to be met by Izrail, the angel of death. The fourteen children from his three marriages found it more and more difficult to muffle their anxiety. They took turns keeping vigil outside the room, ready to rebel at an unjust distribution of inheritance. But the distribution couldn’t possibly be just.
As the Baltic countries are this year’s Market Focus at the London Book Fair, we continue our showcasing of Lithuanian literature this week with a review of a Lithuanian modernist classic. This showcase has been made possible by Lithuanian Culture Institute.
White Shroud by Antanas Škėma, translated from the Lithuanian by Karla Gruodis, Vagabond Voices, 2018.
Reviewed by Erik Noonan, Assistant Editor
White Shroud (1958), the best-known work and the only novel by Lithuanian artist Antanas Škėma (1910-1961), presents the life story of a poet named Antanas Garšva as he arrives at the threshold of adulthood. The novel is told through stream-of-consciousness interior monologue, journal entry, and omniscient third-person narration, arranged according to the association of ideas, rather than the conventions of rhetoric. This work is a befitting emblem of an art which lends enduring shape to adversity.
Garšva grows up in the town of Kaunas as the only child of two teachers, a mother “of noble birth” and a “charming liar” of a father. Neither of his parents is faithful to the other, and he witnesses the dissolution of their marriage, his mother’s descent into dementia and his father’s decision to place her in a sanitarium. Throughout an indigent existence the character adheres to a bohemian way of life, as variously as possible, doggedly. Škėma presents his story in a mode apt to the character, the mode Modernist, the language Lithuanian, the stance postglobal.