Posts featuring Olga Tokarczuk

Olga Tokarczuk and Polish Literature’s Home Army

Poland has been using art to revitalize—or reform—its postwar image.

“I and motherland are one. My name is Million, because for millions do I love and suffer agonies.” Adam Mickiewicz’s words from his dramatic cycle Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) are indicative of Poland’s long tradition of voicing resistance and examining its national identity through literature. Last month, acclaimed Polish writer and past Asymptote contributor Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature, and yet has also outraged many conservatives in her own country. In this essay, Cynthia Gralla takes us through the history of resistance in Polish literature in the twentieth century, before examining Tokarczuk’s own challenge, defiance, and her place in such a history.

The past hundred years in Polish literature have been, by one reading, a history of resistance through weaponized words.

Poland has made resistance an art. Born into a Polish-American family, I have heard tales of my relatives’ wartime resistance work since childhood. Between 2012 and 2014, I lived in Lublin, Poland, conducting research into their activities during Nazi occupation with the help of a Fulbright grant. My relatives served as ski couriers in what eventually became known, in 1942, as the Armia Krajowa—literally “the Home Army.” Before that, it was called Związek Walki Zbrojnej, or “the Union of Armed Struggle”, and the Służba Zwycięstwu Polski, or “Polish Victory Service”. The name mattered little; all were incarnations of the Polish Resistance, the heart of a national body so conditioned by the vicissitudes of history and occupation that it began beating again as soon as Germany invaded. It also beat steadily throughout the nineteenth-century partitioning of Poland by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, in the classrooms of that century’s “flying university” (which educated luminaries like Marie Salomea Skłodowska, also known as Marie Curie, when teaching youth in Polish was forbidden,) and during the parched years of Communism. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Literary awards and festivals abound in this week's news from Argentina, Sweden, and the UK.

This week our reporters bring you news of Sweden’s reaction to last week’s Nobel Prize in Literature announcement by the Swedish Academy, the FILBA international festival in Buenos Aires, as well as the surprise of the Booker Prize winner(s!) in the UK.

Eva Wissting, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Sweden

Since the announcement of the 2018 and 2019 Laureates of the Nobel Prize in Literature last week, the subsequent debate shows no sign of receding. Before the announcement, literary Nobel Prize discussions within Sweden focused on whether awarding a 2018 prize was good for the world of literature or bad because it would smooth over the Swedish Academy’s connection to misconducts.

After the announcement of Polish Olga Tokarczuk (“Flights”) and Austrian Peter Handke as the two most recent literary Nobel Prize Laureates, however, the pros and cons of announcing a 2018 laureate has waned in the shadow of the controversial choice of Handke. The disagreement in Sweden centers on whether Handke’s political standpoint is misunderstood—if he has simply been naive and used by others, if he is an apologist of war crimes—or if awarding Handke is correct on solely literary merits and that disregarding politics is possible. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

On Terezín, censorship in Iran, thrilling new Uzbek titles, and the long-awaited Nobel Prize for Literature announcement.

This week is an exciting one in the world of literature, and our editors are bringing you dispatches from the ground. Xiao Yue Shan discusses the winners of the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature. Julia Sherwood reports on a march from Prague to Terezín, a concentration camp established by the Nazis during their occupation of the Czech Republic. Poupeh Missaghi gives an account of literary podcasts in Iran, as well as the government’s role in quality control and censorship. Filip Noubel brings us an introduction of several new titles from the established authors of Uzbekistan. 

Xiao Yue Shan, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting on the Nobel Prize for Literature

The long-awaited Nobel Prize in Literature announcement of 2019 was prefaced by the usual barrage of news and predictionssome cynical, some vaguely hopeful, and most of which hedged their bets on women writers and/or authors who did not write predominantly in English. After the controversy of last year’s award (or the lack thereof), it followed a natural trajectory that our current politics lead us to search for brilliant literary representation that breaches the limits of our accepted canon of well-celebrated white men, and the Swedish Academy had seemed eager to prove themselves to be advocates for social progress, as they once again took on the role of alighting the flames of literary luminaries that will forever be enshrined as embodiments of success in the world of letters.

In a case of half-fulfillment, the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature went to Asymptote contributor Olga Tokarczuk, and the 2019 Prize was awarded to the prolific Austrian writer Peter Handke. The latter aroused quite the maelstrom of negative responses, even with most still acknowledging his significant contributions and his fearlessly bold oeuvre, while the former is being hailed as a well-deserving, original, feminist voice, standing in the exact spot of where the spotlight should be shone.

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All That Makes a Life: Jennifer Croft on Writing Her Memoir

Translation requires striking a balance between two people’s voices that can be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

From being the co-winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize alongside the writer Olga Tokarczuk, Jennifer Croft has just been announced as a judge of the 2020 International Booker Prize. Croft works across Polish, Ukrainian, and Argentine Spanish, and is currently translating The Book of Jacob, a nine-hundred-page epic by Olga Tokarczuk. She is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, and National Endowment for the Arts grants, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize.

In Homesick, Croft’s memoir, words and their meanings shift and shine through in unusual, tender, and life-transforming ways as the subject moves from a family home, to being the youngest person to be enrolled in her undergraduate class, to going through tragic heartbreaks. A most engaging read, the memoir itself has shape-shifted in interesting ways, having started as a Spanish novel and as a blog. The English-language version (Unnamed Press, September 2019) too is accompanied by photographs, which operate as their own language system, bringing, by turns, softness and sharpness to the storytelling. On the occasion of the release of Homesick, poet and previous Social Media Manager of Asymptote, Sohini Basak, spoke to Jennifer Croft over email.

Sohini Basak (SB): I want to start with the photographs. Could you tell us a bit more about the role of photography in childhood and consequently in your memoir?

Jennifer Croft (JLC): Although photography played an enormous role in my childhood and adolescence, I didn’t really remember that until I started writing Homesick. Because I was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina when I wrote the book, I wrote it in my strange Spanish, which is both foreign (since I started learning Spanish only in my late twenties) and very local (since I’ve only ever studied and spoken porteño Spanish in Buenos Aires). In that first Spanish-language version (called Serpientes y escaleras, coming out next year with Entropía), that language provided a sense of suspense about where this character from Tulsa, Oklahoma was going to go next, and how she was going to end up speaking the way she did. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

From Olga Tokarczuk to Ana María Rodas, read on for the latest in global literature!

As Italo Calvino said; “Literature is like an eye that can perceive beyond the chromatic scale to which Politics is sensitive.” This week, our editors are spanning Poland and Central America this week to bring you news of literature festivals, celebrations, and renowned writers bringing international regard to their home countries, but also, reports of literature in acts of reclamation, restoration, and freedom. To reinstate humanity into issues that seem beyond individual control is a necessary use of language, and around the world, writers are taking up the responsibility.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Poland

In every corner of Poland, book lovers had a literary festival to choose from this summer. The Borderland Foundation, an international centre for dialogue in Sejny on the Polish/Lithuanian border, hosted a programme of discussions, workshops, and concerts from June through August, with guests including Yale University historian Timothy Snyder, who discussed The Road to Unfreedom with the centre’s director, Krzysztof Czyżewski (photos here). In July, the Non-Fiction festival in Kraków featured acclaimed non-fiction writers of the likes of Małgorzata Rejmer as well as rising new stars of literary reportage, such as Katarzyna Puzyńska, who has made a successful switch from best-selling crime to non-fiction, publishing two books of interviews with Polish policemen. Sopot Literacki, a literary festival in the Baltic Sea resort of Sopot, showcased literature from the UK from August 15 to 18, featuring, among others, novelist Sarah Perry, illustrator and comic book author Katie Green, and Reni Eddo-Lodge talking about her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, as well as a debate among literary scholars on the current readings of the Frankenstein myth. And in the final week of August, Sopot’s sister city Gdynia renames itself the City of the Word, staging a literary festival focusing on Polish writers before the September 1 announcement of the 2019 Gdynia Literature Prize.

Jacek Dehnel, one of the authors appearing at the Gdynia festival this week, presented his latest book, Ale z naszymi umarłymi (But Together With Our Dead), a viciously funny and chilling apocalyptic satire in which Polish zombies go on the rampage and take over the world. The novel is appearing at a time in which rabid anti-LGBT propaganda, spread by the ruling PiS party in the run-up to the general election this coming October, is receiving vocal support from the Catholic Church, which has compared the LGBT movement to a ‘plague’, and a conservative weekly, Gazeta Polska, recently went so far as to print “LGBT-free zone” stickers. This summer saw a record number of Gay Pride parades held in twenty-three cities across the country in defiance of the hate campaign, and while most of the parades went off peacefully, march participants in Białystok, in the east of the country, came under violent attack from far-right protesters. Dehnel, who travelled to Białystok from his home town of Warsaw to address the crowd and has vividly captured the events in this harrowing report, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

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What’s New in Translation: August 2019

Noirs, voyeurs, and sensuality abound in this week's reviews of the newest in translated literature.

This week’s reviews of the newest and most compelling translated literature include the latest work by Poland’s preeminent writer, Olga Tokarczuk, a fascinating portrayal of manic self-interrogation and class by Stéphane Larue, and a darkly dionysian tale of the female gaze by the award-winning Nina Leger. Our editors burrow into the philosophy, language, and atmosphere of these three novels to give you some extra additions to your reading list.

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Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Riverhead Books, 2019

Review by Andreea Scridon, Assistant Editor

Janina Duszejko is the kind of woman that many would call “eccentric”: she’s in her mid-sixties, often bordering on paranoia, and she’s firmly convinced by astrology, absolute vegetarianism, and William Blake. In rural Poland, Janina—as she hates to be called—lives peacefully and in relative solitude as a guardian for the summer cabins surrounding her home. However, she quickly comes into conflict with the insensitive and barbarous hunters who reign over the area. The death of a neighbor escalates such tension, creating a series of mysterious murders that Janina will be privy to, and which will culminate in an unexpected twist.

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Who Will Win the 2019 Man Booker International?

I tried to decipher from their inflection and word choices whether perhaps one of the books held their attention more than the others.

We know you’re just as eager as we are to learn who will win the Man Booker International Prize tomorrow, so we’ve enlisted our very own Barbara Halla to walk you through her predictions! A member of this year’s Man Booker International Shadow PanelBarbara has read every book on the short- and longlists, making her our resident expert. Read on for her top 2019 MBI picks!

Last year, someone called the Man Booker International my version of the UEFA Champions League, which is fairly true. Although I don’t place any bets, I do spend a lot of my time trying to forecast and argue about who will win the prize. And I am not alone. For a community obsessed with words and their interpretation, it is not surprising that many readers and reviewers will try to decipher the (perhaps inexistent) breadcrumbs the judges leave behind, or go through some Eurovision level of political analysis to see how non-literary concerns might favour one title over the other. Speaking from personal experience, this literary sleuthing has been successful on two out of three occasions. After a meeting with some of the judges of the 2016 MBI at Shakespeare & Company, I left with the sense that Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (translated by Deborah Smith) would take home the prize that year. In 2018, Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights (translated by Jennifer Croft) seemed to be everyone’s favourite, and despite a strong shortlist, I was delighted, although not shocked, to see it win.

The winner of this year’s Man Booker prize is proving more elusive. The shortlist is strong, but no one title has become a personal, or fan-, favourite. And I find the uncertainty at this stage in the competition very interesting. It is almost in direct contrast to how the discussion around the prize unfolded between the unveiling of the longlist and the shortlist. When the longlist was announced on 12 March, it was immediately followed by a flurry of online reactions that are all part of a familiar script: despite predictions by “expert” readers, few big names and titles made it onto the longlist. With good reason, some literary critics addressed the list’s shortcomings with regards to its linguistic and national diversity. Independent presses were congratulated for again dominating the longlist, a reward for their commitment to translated fiction. But as dedicated readers tackled the longlist head-on, there was a general feeling of disappointment with a good portion of the titles, which allowed the best to rise to the top quickly.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

This week in literary news, we recognize the ones who created the world we live in.

We are out for justice this week on “Around the World with Asymptote.” From Brazil, a question of diversity is in the spotlight of contemporary literature. In China, the hundred-year-old May Fourth Movement continues to captivate with its relevance. And over in the UK, the fight for the Man Booker is on. We’re taking you around the world to the major literary events and publications of today, and it’s pretty clear: there are still plenty of us out there fighting the good fight.

Daniel Persia, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil

It’s been a controversial few weeks here in Brazil, as the Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS) canceled one of its upcoming events in Rio de Janeiro, scheduled to take place from May 7-9. The workshop, Oficina Irritada (Poetas Falam), received heavy backlash for the lineup’s lack of diversity; though the program claimed to represent “different generations” and “diverse trajectories,” not a single one of the eighteen poets invited was an author of color. Writers, readers and critics alike took to social media to comment—both on the event, and more broadly on the state of literary affairs in Brazil. In contrast, a successful twelfth iteration of FestiPoa Literária, in Porto Alegre, took on the theme of Afro-Brazilian literature, paying homage to writer and philosopher Sueli Carneiro.  

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Three continents in a ten-minute read. We're bringing you literary news from Morocco to Poland to the USA.

This week, publishing gets political in Morocco, Polish authors show us their best hands, and a scatter of multilingual literary soirées light up eastern USA. Paul Bowles once said that Tangier is more New York than New York, and this week, you can make the comparison. Our editors around the world have snagged a front-row view, and here are their postcards. 

Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Morocco

The 23rd edition of Le Printemps du Livre et des Arts took place in Tangier from April 18-21. This literary event, hosted by the Institut Français in the stately Palais des Institutions Italiennes, stood in stark contrast to the hurly-burly of the Casablanca book fair. A reverent hush filled the air at Le Printemps as small clusters of well-heeled attendees browsed the books on offer or closed their eyes to drink in the plaintive melodies of the malhoun music playing in the palm-lined courtyard.

To further its stated mission of “fostering debate and discussion between writers and thinkers on both sides of the Mediterranean,” Le Printemps offered ten roundtable discussions and conferences—all delivered in French (Morocco’s official languages are Arabic and Amazigh). Questioning the sidelining of Arabic, journalist and publisher Kenza Sefrioui called French a “caste language” and a social marker during a standout roundtable discussion on publishing.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

On our itinerary are independent bookstores in Boston, a bistro on the Tripoli port, and the curious outskirts of Paris.

This week, we’ve come across a spoil of literary riches! Big international names come to show in eastern USA, cultural collectives take full advantage of the historic wonders of Lebanon, and, in France, the académie Goncourt is always up to something. Our editors at the front are here to share the treasures.

Nina Perrotta, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting from the USA:

New York may be the undisputed publishing capital of the US, but the nearby city of Boston, just a few hours away by car, is also home to a thriving literary scene. Birthplace of the 19th century American Transcendentalism movement (notable members include Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott), Boston boasts one of the country’s richest literary traditions, and it remains a hub for writers and independent booksellers today.

Early last year, one of the city’s most prominent bookstores, the Brookline Booksmith, launched the Transnational Literature Series in partnership with Words Without Borders and the Forum Network. The series “focuses on books concerned with migration, displacement, and exile, with particular emphasis on works in translation,” and hosts conversations between writers and their translators. Previous Transnational Literature Series events have featured Ivana Bodrožić with translator Ellen Elias-Bursać, Olga Tokarczuk with translator Jennifer Croft, and Luljeta Lleshanaku with translator Ani Gjika.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Start your weekend with up-to-the-minute literary dispatches from around the world!

This week, we highlight a new Latinx literary magazine, an award-winning Catalan poet and translator, and a German-American literary festival in New York. We also learn about a Salvadoran who hopes to increase access to literature in his city by raising enough funds to build and stock a new library.

Nestor Gomez, Editor-at-Large for El Salvador, reporting from El Salvador

The Fall 2018 debut of Palabritas, an online Latinx literary magazine founded by Ruben Reyes Jr., is good news for Latinx writers from a variety of genres, especially those who are unpublished. Palabritas’ creation was inspired by a night of celebration of spoken word, poetry, and performances hosted by Fuerza Latina, a pan-Latinx organization of Harvard College. Reyes, a Harvard student and the son of Salvadoran immigrants, felt it was important to give access to unpublished writers from Latinx communities that are often ignored, such as LGBTQ+, the diaspora, and mixed-race communities. By providing a space for Latinx writers from all communities, Reyes hopes to minimize the exclusivity of published writers and bring them side-by-side with previously unpublished writers in the magazine.

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My 2018: Andrea Blatz

August was “Women in Translation” month, so, naturally, I took advantage of this as a reason to buy some more books.

Blog Copy Editor Andrea Blatz’s 2018 reading list was packed with nineteenth-century science fiction and women in translation. In today’s post, she discusses the common themes that unite many of these books, among them the experience of trauma and the role of space and place in our lives, before looking ahead to her reading list for the new year!

Like most book lovers, I buy more books than I have time to read, so my “To Read” list is usually longer than my “Already Read” list. Having so many books to choose from for my next read means I usually pick something completely different than the book I’ve just read. However, this year, it seems as though spaces have been a prominent theme in much of what I’ve read.

I started the year with The Other City by Michal Ajvaz, translated by Gerald Turner. After finding a book written in a mysterious script in a bookshop, the narrator begins noticing strange things around him in his home city, Prague. The result is a strange, new reality composed of spaces that are ignored in the daytime. Fish talk to you, tiny elk live on the Charles Bridge, and ghosts appear as the mysterious narrator crosses a boundary into this “other city.”

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My 2018: Barbara Halla

It would be a lie to say that I don’t seek stories written by women about what it feels like to live as a woman.

Barbara Halla, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Albania, walks us through her reading list for 2018, a diverse set of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books by women writers. Along the way, she reflects on feminist theory, the beauty of contemplative essays, and the power of collective memoirs.

Anyone who has had the (mis)fortune of following me on Twitter knows I am a dedicated disciple of Elena Ferrante. So, when I found out that Edizioni E/O had published an extended literary analysis of her work, I risked missing my flight by rushing to my favourite Milan bookstore (Rizzoli) to buy a copy.

Tiziana de Rogatis is an Italian professor of Comparative Literature, and her book Elena Ferrante. Parole Chiave (Elena Ferrante. Key Terms, not yet available in English) is exactly the kind of book my nerdy heart needed: an investigation into the literary and philosophical works underpinning Ferrante’s literary creations. I think it’s important to note that a great part of Ferrante’s appeal is in her ability to shore her works into a lived reality, one that does not require an extensive knowledge of Italian history, or feminist theory, to be appreciated fully. In fact, with the slight exception perhaps of her collection of essays and interviews Frantumaglia (translated by Ann Goldstein), you lose absolutely nothing if you go into it with little context. That being said, de Rogatis does a fantastic job at explicitly laying out and connecting Ferrante’s text to the literary foundation upon which they were built, her analysis a sort of Ariadne’s thread helping the reader through the labyrinth of Ferrante’s writing. Ferrante borrows heavily from Greek and Latin mythology, like Euripides’ Medea or Virgil’s The Aeneid. Many of the struggles her women experience and the way they think about those struggles can be mapped directly onto various modern feminist texts, including Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” and Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born. Hopefully Europa Editions will translate this book, too, because it is essential reading if you are even mildly obsessed with Ferrante. I am currently re-reading the series and am amazed at how much de Rogatis’s work enriched my understanding: Elena Greco, for example, uses the word “subaltern” frequently throughout the Quartet.

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My 2018: Nina Perrotta

As a resident of Brazil, I made it a point to read books by Latin American women in their original languages.

In today’s post, Assistant Blog Editor Nina Perrotta reflects on the many books that accompanied her during a year abroad in Brazil, ranging from classic Japanese novels to contemporary fiction in translation.

Early in 2018, as I was preparing to move to Brazil, I picked up a faded old book from my parents’ bookshelf. Junichirō Tanizaki’s classic novel The Makioka Sisters, originally published in serial form in the mid-1940s, follows four sisters, two of whom are in need of husbands, as they navigate their own altered fortune and the clash between tradition and modernity in inter-war Japan. There’s nothing I love more than a really long novel, and this one, for me, was an ideal blend of familiar (the Jane Austen-style plot) and different (the specifics of Japanese society in that era, which I knew little about). In hindsight, it was probably my favorite of all the books I read this year.

As soon as I finished The Makioka Sisters, I started The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (who, notably, was shortlisted for Literary Review’s “Bad Sex in Fiction” award this year). Though the two novels were written nearly a half-century apart and have little in common, I enjoyed reading them back-to-back, especially since one of Murakami’s characters, who would have been a contemporary of the Makioka sisters, tells war stories from his time in the Japanese army during World War II.

As my trip to Brazil drew nearer, I rushed through The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and, fortunately for my suitcase, managed to finish it just before I had to leave for the airport. Once at my gate, I got started on Charles Dickens’ massive Bleak House, which I had tried—and failed—to read once before. I promised myself that I would finish it this time, no matter how long it took. And so I spent the next two months carrying Bleak House around the streets of Curitiba, Brazil, reading it on the sunny couch in my apartment, and occasionally using it as a yoga block (it was about the right size).

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