News of the Man Booker International winner has made its way around the senses of the literary-minded public around the world, but we are here with a personal take on its winner, and why this unprecedented win has earned its accolades and perhaps could also potentially earn a place on your shelf. Also on our list is the incredibly poetic nation of Romania, who presented a manifold of verse champions for Bucharest’s International Poetry Festival. Reporting from amongst the greats are our editors at the front.
Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large, covering the Man Booker International 2019
I was many things the night of the Man Booker International announcement, but gracious wasn’t one of them. Before the announcement was made on May 21, I wrote for Asymptote about my thoughts on the longlist and (correctly) predicted that Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth and published by Scottish indie Sandstone Press, would win it. Celestial Bodies represents many firsts in the prize’s history: it is the first book written in Arabic to win the prize, as well as the first book by an Omani author (in fact, Jokha Alharthi is the first female Omani author to ever be translated into English) and with a Scottish press to do so. Although its win was a bit of a surprise to others (being as it was surrounded by books receiving a lot more press and praise), the judges seemed quite taken with it. Talking to Five Books, and even during her announcement, chair of the judges, Bettany Hughes, highlighted one particular line from Celestial Bodies that she believed embodies the spirit of the prize itself: “We get to know ourselves better in new, strange places.”
ANATOMY OF AN EDITOR’S NOTE
World literature is the literature of many worlds, intersecting on one “endlessly rotating earth” (Chen Li). This summer, come play Spin the globe! with the only magazine that could assemble never-before-published writing from 27 countries and 21 languages in one issue. Alongside an interview with Michael Hofmann, fiction by master story-teller Mercè Rodoreda, poetry by Ghassan Zaqtan and Marosa di Giorgio, essays on Bohumil Hrabal and Tove Jansson, and reviews of the latest titles, we celebrate the very best the canon has to offer via a showcase of contest winners picked by judges David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu. While new words pave the way for new worlds, every one of these gems, to quote repeat contributor Ko Un, also represents “[a] world…in want of the world.”
Noemi Schneider’s Life as Trauma introduces us to Binjamin Wilkomirski, the author of a fabricated Holocaust memoir, and hence a man who has never existed. In Orshina, Hanit Guli’s poignant drama, a promise to the family is revealed to be empty when, all packed up, the father remembers he has no address to provide the movers. And in Mercè Rodoreda’s Aloma, remembrance of childhood loss punctuates a woman’s mundane existence, just as Ah-reum Han’s tribute to Kerascoët’s “dazzling, ruthless worlds” is interwoven with the mourning for a deceased teacher. While Samudra Neelima’s narrator plants “black seeds” in order to grow a “beloved black tree,” Alejandro Albarrán desires to “write the amputation”—both poets sketch writing’s failure, but, through performing failure, succeed.
It’s Friday and that means we are back with the latest literary news from around the world! From Hong Kong, Editor-at-Large Charlie Ng brings us the latest on theater, literary festivals, and poetry readings. MARGENTO brings us exciting news about past Asymptote-contributors and other brilliant writers from Romania and Moldova. Finally, our own assistant blog editor, Stefan Kielbasiewicz shares news about poetry in the UK.
Charlie Ng, Editor-at-Large, Hong Kong
November is a month filled with vibrant literary performances and festivals in Hong Kong. On stage from late October to early November, a Cantonese version of The Father (Le Père) by French playwright, Florian Zeller, winner of the Molière Award for Best Play, is brought to Hong Kong audiences by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre for the first time.
The seventeenth Hong Kong International Literary Festival kicked off on November 3 with a grand dinner with Scotland’s well-loved crime fiction writer, Ian Rankin, who also attended two other sessions as a guest speaker: Mysterious Cities: the Perfect Crime Novel and 30 Years of Rebus with Ian Rankin. Carol Ann Duffy was another Scottish writer featured in this year’s Festival. The British Poet Laureate read her poetry with musician John Sampson’s music accompaniment on November 9. The dazzling Festival programme includes both international authors such as Hiromi Kawakami, Amy Tan, Min Jin Lee, Ruth Ware, Hideo Yokoyama, and local writers and translators such as Xu Xi, Louise Ho, Dung Kai-cheung, Nicholas Wong, Tammy Ho, and Chris Song.