Posts featuring Alain Mabanckou

“Thirst for a Deeper Understanding”: An Interview with the Founders of Absynt

Perhaps the fact that we were amateurs was an advantage: we were willing to take on the risk.

In 2015, two friends, a Pole and a Slovak, took a gamble and ventured into the overcrowded book market in Slovakia. And as if starting a new publishing house wasn’t risky enough, they chose to focus on literary reportage, a genre that was not well-known in Slovakia at the time. Since then, Absynt has published eighty titles and in late 2017 launched a Czech branch. At this year’s London Book Fair, the founders of Absynt, Filip Ostrowski and Juraj Koudela, shared their remarkable success story with Asymptote’s editor-at-large for Slovakia, Julia Sherwood.

Julia Sherwood (JS): Reportage is increasingly being recognized as a bona fide literary genre and gaining popularity around the world. What is it about reportage that attracts you and that distinguishes it from ordinary journalism? Why do you think it resonates with readers?

Filip Ostrowski (FO): There is this general thirst for a deeper understanding of events and their context. We get coverage of the whole world from the media and the internet, but what is missing is a detached view, a kind of more universal commentary. For such a text to emerge, some time has to elapse. We feel that online coverage doesn’t respond to this need, but literary reportage can.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to France, Brazil, and Argentina.

It’s never a slow news day on Fridays at Asymptote. This week we bring you the latest publications, events, and news from France, Brazil, and Argentina.

Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large, reporting from France

Is it perhaps time to talk about a renaissance for French literature in English translation? More classic French literature has always had an audience in the English-speaking world, but in the past few months new authors are taking the literary world by storm. Édouard Louis is only twenty-five but already a public figure in France. His latest book, a semi-autobiographical work, History of Violence (translated by Lorin Stein) was published to great acclaim in late June. Alison L. Strayer translated for Seven Stories Press Annie Ernaux’s The Years (published in the UK by Fitzcarraldo Editions), an innovative collective autobiography that is both memoir and social critique of our times. To continue the trend, in June came also the publication of Gaël Faye Small Country (translated by Sarah Ardizzone), a coming-of-age story that tackles hard issues, including the Rwandan genocide and Civil War in Burundi. The Guardian went so far as to call Faye “the next Elena Ferrante.”


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week we report from Slovakia, Brazil, and Egypt.

Welcome back for a fresh batch of literary news, featuring the most exciting developments from Slovakia, Brazil, and Egypt. 

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Slovakia:

Hot on the heels of the prolonged Night of Literature, held from 16 to 18 May in sixteen towns and cities across Slovakia, the fifth annual independent book festival, BRaK, took place between 17 and 20 May in the capital, Bratislava. In keeping with the festival’s traditional focus on the visual side of books, the programme included bookbinding, typesetting and comic writing workshops, activities for children, and exhibitions of works by veteran Czech illustrator, poster and animation artist Jiří Šalamoun, as well as French illustrators Laurent Moreau and Anne-Margot Ramstein. The last two also held illustration masterclasses, while the German Reinhard Kleist launched the Slovak translation of his graphic novel Nick Cave: Mercy on Me, accompanied by a local band.


Translation Tuesday: Excerpt from Alain Mabanckou’s The Lights of Pointe-Noire

Read an excerpt from the 2016 French Voices Grand Prize-winning memoir, out today in bookstores!

My father was a small man, two heads shorter than my mother. It was almost comic, seeing them walking together, him in front, her behind, or kissing, with him standing up on tiptoe to reach. To me he seemed like a giant, just like the characters I admired in comic strips, and my secret ambition was one day to be as tall as him, convinced that there was no way I could overtake him, since he had reached the upper limit of all possible human growth. I realised he wasn’t very tall only when I reached his height, around thetime I started at the Trois Glorieuses secondary school. I could look him straight in the eye now, without raising my head and waiting for him to stoop down towards me. Around this timeI stopped making fun of dwarves and other people afflicted by growth deficiency. Sniggering at them would have meant offending my father. Thanks to Papa Roger’s size I learned to accept that the world was made of all sorts: small people, big people, fat people, thin people.

He was often dressed in a light brown suit, even when it was boiling hot, no doubt because of his position as receptionist at the Victory Palace Hotel, which required him to turn out in his Sunday best. He always carried his briefcase tucked into his armpit, making him look like the ticket collectors on the railways, the ones we dreaded meeting on the way to school when we rode the little ‘workers’ train’, without a ticket. They would slap you a couple of times about the head to teach you a lesson, then throw you off the moving train. The workers’ train was generally reserved for railway employees, or those who worked at the maritime port. But to make it more profitable, the Chemin de fer Congo-Océan (CFCO) had opened it to the public, in particular to the pupils of the Trois Glorieuses and the Karl Marx Lycée, on condition they carried a valid ticket. As a result they became seasoned fare dodgers, riding on the train top, in peril of their lives. It was quite spectacular, like watchingFear in the City at the Cinema Rex, to see an inspector pursuing a pupil between the cars, then across the top of the train… READ MORE…