Posts filed under 'mexican literature'

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

June is a month of commemoration and celebration from opposite sides of the Pacific.

Literature has always been at the forefront in movements for societal change, and, in the efforts to continually push for action, we perceive the bold literary markers that fulfill art’s role to pay tribute, to inspire, and to call for attention. It’s been thirty years since the Tiananmen Square massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 in Beijing. It’s been over fifty years since the Latin American Studies Association was founded in the spirit of building civic engagement. It’s been fifty years since the Stonewall Riots began on June 28th, 2019 in New York City. From commemorations in Hong Kong, joyous displays of pride in the US, and unprecedented exchange of Latin American academic dialogues occurring in Boston, our editors bring you news that show a valiant, ongoing endeavour towards justice.

Jacqueline Leung, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Hong Kong

2019 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, also called the June Fourth Incident, for which it is tradition among different parties in Hong Kong to hold annual commemoration. In light of the anniversary, the city’s literary journals are organizing special features and events to take stock of the cultural, political, and social changes the incident has caused in Hong Kong, China, and beyond.

Cha, Hong Kong’s resident literary journal in the English language, is publishing a special edition of original English and translated works, photography, and art exploring the incident and its aftermath. The issue will include a selection of translated works by Chinese poets Duo Duo (featured in Asymptote’s Summer issue last year, also translated by Lucas Klein), Meng Lang, Lin Zhao, Xi Chuan, and Yian Lian, as well as a translation of “One Family’s Story” by Ding Zilin, co-founder of the Tiananmen Mothers. Alongside the Tiananmen issue, Cha is also collaborating with PEN Hong Kong to hold a remembrance reading with local writers at Bleak House Books on June 3.

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In Review: Xtámbaa—Piel de Tierra by Hubert Malina

Paul Worley reviews the first volume of poetry to be published in the Me’phaa language of Mexico.

In a 2015 Washington Post article on the state of world languages, Rick Noack and Lazaro Gamio note that of the roughly 7000 languages currently spoken on the planet, almost half that number—some 3500—are expected to die out by 2100. Although the authors themselves do not make such a connection, when they state that “Linguistic extinction will hit some countries and regions harder than others,” the areas they designate as those that stand to be hardest hit (Native American reservations in the Western and mid-Western US, the Amazon rainforest, sub-Saharan Africa, Oceana, Australia, and Southeast Asia) coincides roughly with a map of where global capitalism has increasingly sought to expand its reach into indigenous communities during the first few years of the 21st century. As evidenced by conflicts such as #NoDAPL in the US and the dynamiting of a sacred Munduruku site to make was for a dam in the Brazilian Amazon, the extinction of languages and cultures all too frequently goes hand-in-hand with state sponsored development projects that forcibly eject indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands in the name of national progress. When one comes to an understanding that language death is as much an economic as it is a cultural phenomenon, where do indigenous peoples, cultures, and languages fit within 21st century nation-states, if at all?

In comparison with many other countries in Latin America and the rest of the world, contemporary indigenous literatures from Mexico are notable precisely for this delicate dance between the Mexican state, a major sponsor of indigenous literatures since the late 1970s, and indigenous authors whose literary, linguistic, and political aims tend to diverge from those of their state-sanctioned patrons. In particular, the bilingual format of virtually all indigenous literatures published in Mexico during the past 40 years speaks to the realities of a complex relationship in which authors seek to represent themselves to themselves and their communities in their native languages, while simultaneously making these same selves intelligible to non-indigenous outsiders living in their same country.

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What’s New in Translation? October 2016

Asymptote reviews some of the best new books translated from the Arabic, Korean, and Spanish.

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The Ninety-Ninth Floor, by Fawaz Elhassan, tr. Michelle Hartman. Interlink Publishing.

Review: Saba Ahmed, Social Media Manager, UK

Shortlisted last year for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, The Ninety-Ninth Floor is Jana Fawaz Elhassan’s third book: an ambitious, multi-voiced novel, spanning the topographies of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1980s Beirut, and New York in the New Millennium. It is also the first of Elhassan’s works to be translated, by Michelle Hartman, from the Arabic into English.

The plot centers around Maj’d, a successful video-game designer whose life among the dizzying skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the subterranean depths of its subway system, bears a haunting resemblance to the cramped, vertical heights of the refugee camps he has fled where “garbage piled up in alleyways”. Palestine, reflects Maj’d, is “a land that inhabits me that I have never stepped foot on”. It occupies his deepest memories, the walls of the camp where the displaced mark the distance from imagined homelands, and is framed—in the present-day narrative—as a map in Maj’d’s apartment in New York. It is an imagined space where Maj’d’s father obstinately believes his dead wife and Maj’d’s mother is waiting for them with their unborn child.

The spatial dimensions of the novel mirror this hyper-reality. The text is littered with a cast of characters who are attempting to navigate life in the wake of war and political trauma. Consequently, the plot is distended by a lack of closure, permeated with repetitive strains of absence and loss. Maj’d’s relationship with Hilda, a dancer who is also trying to build her life anew, away from her Orthodox Christian family in Lebanon, becomes a battle-space for negotiating distances and originary points from which to examine notions of identity, belonging, and worth. Is the love they share true and authentic, or is there a more complex conflation of the female body and nationhood at play here?

There are certainly echoes of recent political fiction from the Middle East in The Ninety-Ninth Floor, such as of the spare, Kafkaesque political allegory The Silence and the Roar by Syrian writer Nihad Sirees. Yet, Elhassan is less interested in form, and more invested in dissecting the emotional vicissitudes of love. There is a certain sagginess to the novel which gestures to the so-called ninety-nine floors or levels of the book. When Hilda returns to Lebanon, to the home she has left behind, she thinks back to the home she has created with Maj’d. “Perhaps,” she considers, “I also came back to occupy this memory, to tell it that we can arrive at some kind of settlement: to expand into all places and be done with our enmity toward our roots”. It is hard not to read these words without a degree of skepticism, to wonder whether this resolution papers over the allegorical implications of difference and attachment. But perhaps it is more fitting to hear these closing lines echo like the one-note sonic beeps of an Atari or PlayStation video game, like the kind designed by Maj’d. In this simulated fantasy, Elhassan suggests, love is creative and imaginative work in a world where our collective national consciousness consigns us to love and live in very specific ways.

 

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A Greater Music, by Bae Suah, tr. Deborah Smith. Open Letter Books.

Review: Theophilus Kwek, Chief Executive Assistant, UK/Singapore

It is perhaps inevitable that Deborah Smith’s new translation of Bae Suah’s novel A Greater Music—forthcoming this October from Open Letter Books—will be compared to her recent prizewinning translations of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Human Acts, both of which are suffused with Han’s unique voice and vision. But Bae is a compelling, inventive, and significant author in her own right, and Smith’s ability to match these qualities with a stylish and highly readable translation leaves no doubt about her contribution to the growing canon of Korean literature available in English.

A Greater Music, which records the experiences of a young Korean narrator’s relocation to Berlin through her relationships with Joachim, her boyfriend, and M, her first German language teacher, draws at least in part from its author’s own journey. Bae Suah, a former civil servant with a degree in Chemistry who made her literary debut in 1988, lived in Germany for 11 months in 2001, learning the language there. Though she has since moved back to Seoul, she has also previously translated various works by Sebald and Kafka into Korean.

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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of “Pierced by the Sun” by Laura Esquivel

"The white sheets she was ironing became a small movie screen on which images from that afternoon began to play out in front of her eyes."

From the award-winning author of Like Water for Chocolate comes a new tale of murder and redemption. For today’s Translation Tuesday showcase, we present the opening chapter of Laura Esquivel’s new novel, Pierced by the Sun, slated for release in bookstores on July 1.

***

She could spend long hours dedicated to this work and show no signs of fatigue. Ironing brought her peace. It was her favorite form of therapy and she turned to it daily, even after a long day of work. Lupita’s passion for ironing had been handed down to her by her mother, Doña Trini, who had washed and ironed other people’s clothes for a living her whole life. Lupita would invariably repeat the ritual learned from her sacrosanct mother, which began with the spraying of the garments. Modern-day steam irons do not require an article of clothing to be moist, but for Lupita there was no other way to iron. She considered it sacrilegious to skip this step.

That night when she got home, she immediately headed to the ironing board and began to spray the gar­ments. Her hands trembled like a hungover alcoholic’s, which made the spraying that much easier. It was impera­tive that she concentrate on something other than the murder of Licenciado Arturo Larreaga—the delegado of her district, Iztapalapa—which she had witnessed just a few hours earlier.

As soon as the clothes were properly sprayed she went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, giving the water time to warm up. She filled a bucket with a copious amount of detergent and placed it in the shower. Before she stepped in she opened a plastic bag and immediately recoiled from the stench of the urine-soaked pants that were inside. She submerged the pants in the bucket and started to wash herself. She scrubbed away the cloying smell of urine that had emanated from her body, but the shame that was embedded deep in her soul remained. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Poems by Irma Pineda

Love / my belly is now a dry tree / that once wanted to bloom stars for your nights.

On waking from your death
here you will see me
awaiting your hummingbird’s return
transformed into an old tree.

Al despertar de tu muerte
me verás aquí
convertido en un árbol viejo
que espera tu retorno de colibrí.

Dxi guibáni xquendagutilú
rari’ nga suuyu’
naa ma’ naca’ ti yaga yooxho’
cabeza’ guibiguetu’ sica ti biulú.

 

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Translation Tuesday: “Amigos Mexicanos” by Juan Villoro

I was afraid he was going to ask me to give him back the money (...) I told him I was busy because a witch had put the evil eye on me.

1. Katzenberg

The phone rang twenty times. The caller must have been thinking that I live in a villa where it takes forever to get from the stables to the phone, or that there’s no such thing as cordless phones here, or that I experience fits of mystic uncertainty and have a hard time deciding to pick up the receiver. That last one was true, I’m sorry to say.

It was Samuel Katzenberg. He had come back to Mexico to do a story on violence. Last visit, he’d been traveling on The New Yorker’s dime. Now he was working for Point Blank, one of those publications that perfume their ads and print how-to’s on being a man of the world. It took him two minutes to tell me the move was an improvement.

“In Spanish, point blank is ‘a quemarropa.’” Katzenberg hadn’t grown tired of showing off how well he spoke the language. “The magazine doesn’t just publish fluff pieces; my editor looks for serious stories. She’s a very cool mujer, a one-woman fiesta. Mexico is magical, but confusing. I need your help to figure out which parts are horrible and which parts are Buñuel-esque.” He tongued the ñ as if he were sucking on a silver bullet and offered me a thousand dollars.

Then I explained why I was offended.

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Octavio Paz New York Centennial: Perpetually Creating Rhythm

A dispatch honoring one of Mexico's most celebrated poets

From October 1st to the 8th, the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York paid tribute to the centennial of Octavio Paz’s birth with a series of discussions, readings, concerts, and film screenings. A prolific poet, essayist, intellectual, translator, editor, publisher, and diplomat, Paz published his first poetry collection, Luna Silvestre (Wild Moon, 1933) at 19 years old, penning over 26 volumes of poetry until his death in 1998. Paz was also an accomplished essayist: his 1950 treatise on Mexican identity, El laberinto de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude) is considered a seminal work of literature. The recipient of the Cervantes award in 1981, the American Neustadt Prize in 1982, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1990, Paz founded three literary magazines, Taller, Plural, and Vuelta; Vuelta is still published as Letras Libres.

Now that we’ve gotten that dry but necessary introduction out of the way, let me truly begin.

The centennial celebration was a sumptuous banquet I wanted to gorge myself on until I developed gout, like those rich men of old. I eagerly chased Paz throughout New York City, from the second-floor gallery of the Mexican Consulate in Midtown to the ornate ballroom of the Americas Society in the Upper East Side, and finally to where the river meets the city, the “navel of the poetic universe,” as Paz’s translator Eliot Weinberger playfully referred to the Poets House in TriBeCa.

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