Posts filed under 'prose'

Blog Editors’ Highlights: Winter 2018

Our blog editors pick their favorite pieces from the Winter 2018 issue!

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.”

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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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In Review: Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop

Jessie Stoolman on the first book ever to be translated to English from Wolof, an indigenous language of Senegal.

Doomi Golo is the first book to be translated into English from Wolof, an indigenous language widely spoken in Senegal. In its interesting linguistic journey, the Francophone author Boubacar Boris Diop has also personally translated the novel from Wolof to French.

The protagonist Nguirane Faye’s six notebooks written for his grandson compose the heft of the novel. One of the many iconic passages in the book tackles a central question facing the decolonizing world:

I am perfectly aware, Badou, that turning one’s back on the outside world is tantamount to the kiss of death.  It’s bound to be a good thing if a nation lets the winds that are blowing from all corners of the globe expand its chest, but not unless we do what we can to preserve the crucible destined to receive its breath when they are blowing.  Life, after all, is not born out of the void.

Every aspect of Diop’s masterpiece, from its content to choice of language to its translation, addresses this struggle to preserve marginalized identities in a globalized context. It is unsurprising that this pioneering novel was a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award 2017, founded by Three Percent.

Interestingly, Diop decided to translate Doomi Golo from Wolof after being “inundated with requests,” according to Vera Wülfing-Leckie, one of the two translators of the English version. Adding intrigue to the situation, Wülfing-Leckie notes in her captivating introduction that some scholars argue that the French version, entitled Les petits de la guenon, “was a new novel that merely bore close similarities to the original.“ As for the English translation, Wülfing-Leckie mainly worked with the French version. However, El Hadji Moustapha Diop, Boubacar Boris Diop’s son and the second person in the translating duo, consulted the Wolof version as well.

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In Absentia: Photo Journals from Readings Abroad

Catch what you missed from two special events, plus the details on what's next

Happy Monday, Asymptote readers! We kick off the new week with two literary dispatches from South Africa and Germany.

Asymptote Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs attended the launch of the latest Ons Klyntji issue in Cape Town:

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Alice Inggs outside the Book Lounge

“What is Ons Klyntji?” is a question often asked of its editors. The answer? Complicated: the unconventional pocketbook anthology has been through several incarnations throughout its 120-year history. First published in 1896 as the first ever Afrikaans-language publication, it has transformed into a modern literary zine, currently under the editorship of Toast Coetzer, Erns Grundling, and Asymptote Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs, featuring predominantly English and Afrikaans poetry and prose, but also multilingual pieces, translations, and works by graphic designers and fine artists.

Over the years, Ons Klyntji has published a number of celebrated South African writers, including Rian Malan (My Traitor’s Heart), Breyten Breytenbach (Confessions of an Albino Terrorist), and musician-author Koos Kombuis (who also edited Ons Klyntji in the 1990s). Recent editions have featured work by established poets Nathan Trantraal (Chokers en Survivors) and Moses Mtileni (ed. Ntsena Loko Mpfula A Yo Sewula); writer Jaco van Schalkwyk (The Alibi Club), and controversial artist Anton Kannemeyer (Bitterkomix), as well as a new generation of poets like Sindi Busuku-Mathese (Loud and Yellow Laughter), Genna Gardini (Matric Rage), and Rosa Lyster (Modern Rasputin).

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Editor of Ons Klyntji, Erns Grundling

Since 2015, Ons Klyntji has hosted an annual event at the Book Lounge, an independent bookstore in Cape Town. The event acts as a platform for writers featured in Ons Klyntji to share their work with a live audience, as well as a way of promoting the zine to readers and future contributors. The event also helps to underscore the main aim of Ons Klyntji: to encourage South African writers to write—be they eminent authors, emerging poets or even teenagers penning their first, awkward verse.

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Oh Canada: Donald Winkler’s New Translation of Samuel Archibald’s Arvida

"It is not clear where one story begins and the other ends, or where the animal begins and the man begins."

A story that can be retold and rewritten, but can all the while retain its own thingness—a story that can evolve in the imagination—is a finger in the face of the insipid outpouring of gifs and memes we daily consume, like Technicolor marshmallows shot out of the all powerful maw of the Facebook-Disney machine.

We of the lower forty-eight are fortunate, then, that something like Samuel Archibald’s Arvida, has been recently translated from the French by Donald Winkler. We need stories. And these stories from a land we’ve all been living alongside our whole American lives will do nicely. These are American stories. But another America, a hidden America, maybe even more American than the America we think we know.

Canada. In Archibald’s Arvida, there is an echo of some of the wavering visions we have of our northern neighbor (evergreen, flannel), but they are woven into the fabric of a working-class town, both factual and fabulous, immediately calling up comparisons to Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin’s evocations of Winnipeg. Both Maddin and Archibald tell their tales utilizing a personal history of a family and a discreet location, while at the same time breathing into them a dream logic and fairy tale or fable-like tropes.

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Translation Tuesday: “Conference,” by Naja Marie Aidt

From the short-story collection Baboon, translated by Denise Newman

For an exclusive Asymptote blog interview with Naja Marie Aidt, click here.

It’s strange to meet you here, after so many years, and to still feel disturbed just being near your body. The way you’re settled in the chair like a large contented animal, like a large wild cat licking itself in the sun, or an elephant bathing in a river, like a person resting on top of another after pleasurable sex, it has an intimidating and shameless effect on me. My complete attention turns toward you and I’m unable to relax. It’s as if I am overflowing my own banks. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “We, Who Are Different” by Veselin Marković (Prologue II)

"Today I cannot summon any other memory. Have I ever spoken with someone, anyone, about what I experience? I have not."

See PROLOGUE 1 here.

***

PROLOGUE 2.

When I was a little girl, the blue light entranced me. Eager, I would ask my mother, “Is it today we go?” She would say, “No, we went yesterday. You know it’s every other day that we go.” The next morning, annoyed, she’d say, “Yes, it is today.”

We always went by city bus, a drab grey one, and I would be furious that we were stopped by the traffic lights and bus stops, that people were getting off so slowly, and then others were getting on… we’d never get there.

The hospital, at last. The final hurdles between me and the blue light are the crowds in the overfull corridors and the chatty nurses, exchanging whispers with Mother while they stroke my hair. We climb up to the second floor, and at the landing in the stairwell gleams milky glass, divided into little squares. We open the squeaky double door and step into the little waiting room, most often empty and filled with the fresh scent of a recently mopped floor, a fragrance I have since then always associated with hospitals. My mother sometimes kisses my hair, sometimes not, gestures to the wooden bench, identical to the benches in the park of conifers around the hospital, and says, ritually, “I’ll be waiting for you here.”

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Translation Tuesday: from SOFIA ALWAYS DRESSES IN BLACK by Paolo Cognetti

Detergent plus fabric softener plus ironing and starch: a providential sedative that helped her to stop her sobbing in no more than thirty seconds.

TWO HORIZONTAL GIRLS

The little girl had taken all the postcards to bed with her. She called them the collection. They were scattered all over the sheets and wedged between the pillows, where she could line them up, arrange them in columns, switch them around, alphabetize them or put them into chronological order, or distribute them as if they were cities and towns and the mattress was one big map. The big girl, stretched out on the floor at the foot of the bed, had first explained to her that she couldn’t really refer to them as a collection, since they had all been sent by one correspondent, that is, her father, and then she’d done something far worse. With an enormous effort of the will, she’d reached up a hand from the linoleum-level where she lay to the bed-level, and she’d convinced the little girl to hand her the first three, four, or five postcards in the row. The room they were in was dominated by white. The walls were white, the sheets and pillowcases were white, the curtains on the windows were white, the gauze bandages on the little girl’s wrists were white. The big girl had laboriously opened her right eye, like a shipwrecked sailor blinded by that expanse of blinding white pack ice; then she’d checked the stamps and the postmarks and asked the little girl why on earth she thought the postcards had all come from the post office of East Verona, if each of them were marked with a different city: Amsterdam, Aosta, Athens, Bangkok, and Berlin. She had even been on the verge of explaining to the little girl that her father wasn’t an archeologist or an explorer, much less an agent working for the intelligence service, constantly moving around the world. Her father was quite simply just one more husband who had left his wife to start a new life, probably with a younger woman, somewhere in the greater Verona metropolitan area. Then the thought of family, any family at all, had triggered a surge of nausea, so instead all she’d said was: “Oh what the fuck do I care; as far as I’m concerned you can all just drop dead. I’m mustering my last ounce of strength to keep from vomiting.” READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “We, Who Are Different” by Veselin Marković

"If the world had truly wanted to send me a sign, then a gale would have ripped off our roof and smashed all the windows. "

PROLOGUE 1.    

I thought it was a sign.

All one summer, every clear evening, I stepped out of the house. Before that I’d watch the sky from the living room: when the light filled and swelled the window frames and the undulating shadows of the curtains had climbed from floor to wall, the sun was down low enough. I would throw my jacket over my shoulders because my mother was strict about me going out in the evening without a jacket on and I’d slip out of the house. The front door is hinged on the wrong side—the wrong side, at least, for me—so I wouldn’t catch sight immediately of what it was I longed to see. In the front yard I’d be greeted by dusk and chill air. The dark was already conquering the hedge and the depths of two young pine trees, growing by the front gate. Mountain peaks—under snow for months and now bare and intersected by a thin mist stretching out in waves—and there above them, the moon barely visible. The farther they are from me, the deeper the bluish tinge of the mountains, and the sky, in contrast, gradually pales, giving me the impression that the earth and sky merge just short of the horizon.

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