Posts filed under 'Metafiction'

In Review: “The Impossible Fairy Tale” by Han Yujoo

Emma Holland reviews a disturbing, brilliant, "oddly riveting" novel from South Korea.

Han Yujoo’s debut novel is chilling and surreal, raising questions about deep-seated human violence, and the nature of art-making. A review by Asymptote Executive Assistant Emma Holland.

The Impossible Fairytale pulls readers into its disorienting and brutal world, spinning a dark narrative of the nameless Child and her classmates. Later the perspective shifts into a meta-narrative—questioning and twisting ideas concerning language and the restraints of the novel as a literary form. Korean author Han Yujoo’s debut novel, translated by Janet Hong, The Impossible Fairytale is a wildly gripping page-turner, and ultimately a powerful yet unsettling read.

Through the narrative, Han explores the notion that violence is an ingrained part of society. Speaking at the Free Word Centre in London on July 10 at an author discussion hosted by the UK publisher, Titled Axis Press, Han talked of how “from a young age we are exposed to violence, it becomes normalized, a part of our everyday life…eating away at our minds.”

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Translation Tuesday: “Initials” by Xurxo Borrazás

A Borgesian metafiction featuring a twelve-kilogram head of lettuce

This week’s Translation Tuesday treat comes by way of translator Jacob Rogers—step into the Borges-infused metafictional world conjured by Galician author Xurxo Borrazás, in which literary analysts play crime detectives, and the rug can be pulled from under one’s feet by unreliable narrators.

The policeman grasped the folder, flipped it open with his fingers, and contemplated the note.

“What might you all know about Pierre Menard?”

It was blank on the back and had no return address. He considered throwing it into the trash, but in the end decided to pass it on to the commissioner, who was reading the papers in his office. He typed Menard into the computer, then Pierre, French, psychopath, and pervert, without the name appearing in any file, neither in anonymous nor in see here.

While drinking coffee with a colleague they determined that there was a question in it, and that such things are formulated in search of answers. The matter found them in a playful mood, and as always they turned to the mainstream media to sound it out. They fabricated a report that a French farmer, Pierre Menard, had grown a head of lettuce which would enter The Guinness Book of Records for its twelve kilograms of weight and its eighty centimeters of diameter, with a photoshoot and statements from the proud record-holder included. A letter arrived two days later:

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Dispatch from Diggi Palace: The Politics of International Publishing

But as the Dalit writers discuss their literature and politics, turbaned working class men serve rotis.

“Voice of Rajasthan,” exclaims Zee News, a right-wing national news channel and the official sponsor of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), over and over again from big, bright roadside billboards. As I ride from the Jaipur airport to Diggi Palace, I am reminded of the commercial scale of this event. Formerly a royal palace, the venue now services a different kind of royalty as a heritage hotel and the site of the tenth JLF in the capital city of Rajasthan. Paradoxically, it is this corporate sponsor, which recently made headlines for telecasting fake news, that enables the participation of a panel of Rajasthani Dalit writers, among other lesser known writers such as Kashmiri poet Naseem Shafaie, Rajasthani writer and critic Geeta Samaur, and Odia translator Jatindra K Nayak. It also renders JLF the world’s largest free event of its kind, according to the official website. But as the Dalit writers discuss their literature and politics, turbaned working class men (Rajasthan is notorious for its discrimination against women) unaware of such a panel, serve rotis, providing the silk-clad speakers and delegates with an “authentic” and exotic Rajasthani-Indian experience. These servers aren’t invited to attend the panel on “Cultural Appropriation” either. I eat rotis off their tongs all five days. In a hurry to catch a beloved writer or a publisher “contact” at the lunch table and pushed by the impatient hungry guests, I don’t stop to ask what the turbaned roti-makers think of all this. I collude as well, to appropriate their stories and voices.

Jaipur BookMark (JBM) is a B2B event that focuses solely on translation. In this glitzy literature festival, translation finds a spot for the third-year running and Asymptote Editor-at-Large for India, Poorna Swami, and I, are at JBM to represent the journal. The B2B format asks that the speakers pay for their travel and accommodation, as opposed to the main JLF event. We camp with a generous family friend in the suburbs, but are still of a class that can afford flight tickets. Feminist publisher Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan Books would later rue this lack of funds in one of the panels, but not without asserting that some voices simply must be recorded and made available to the wider audience, even if it means waiting a long while before some of these books see the dingy light of a printing press.

Far from the madding crowd dressed in their winter festival best, right at the entrance to Diggi palace but unnoticeable, and covered by at least three security guards at all times, is the JBM venue. On a quaint terrace, it’s exclusive to invitees—translators, publishers, and writers. As one eager member of the audience fights to be let in, the Festival Producer Sanjoy Roy, who happens to be passing by, waves her in with a welcoming hand. The tame audience, hovering between ten and thirty, reveals that not many others have come upon such serendipitous generosity. The recurring few participate in enriching discussions over five days—on the politics of translation; the difficulty and the joy of it; and the omniscient complaint of abysmal funds and supporters, despite the obvious necessity for literary translations in an ever divided world.

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In Divisible Cities: A Q&A with Dominic Pettman

Asymptote catches up with a past contributor whose new book was released this summer.

How is In Divisible Cities related to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities?

I would call it a primary inter-text. For twenty years or so I have been enchanted by this kind of genre, restrained, aphoristic magical metafiction, or whatever we might call it, including Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams. But Calvino’s book really inspired me in terms of its condensed, crystalline approach, concerned with what Bachelard calls “the poetics of space.” Some critics believe that all of these different cities in Calvino’s book are in fact the author’s beloved Venice, in various imaginative iterations. Rather than celebrate one single city in various disguises, however, I wanted to trace the connections or song-lines between different ones; since no city is completely foreign in the 21st century. So the writing strategy was a series of postcards from different places, which hopefully add up to a single holographic image—like a jig saw puzzle.

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