Editor's Note

Have you heard that story about the German diplomat who could speak 65 languages? Drinking tea with the Empress of China, shirking his duties to learn Armenian in nine weeks, and perhaps most importantly, being able to say "kiss my ass" in 40 different languages — our jealousy was inflamed, for sure! At Asymptote, we cannot yet boast of being hyperpolyglots like Krebs; but with writing from 42 languages now in our pages, we can at least claim to be distinguished polyglots—wouldn't you agree?

Our fifth issue celebrates Asymptote's first anniversary with many other firsts: an extensive Special Feature on Taiwanese literature; a brand new essay by David Shields; a darkly humorous excerpt from a newly translated novel by Bohumil Hrabal; translated poetry from the endangered Ahtna Athabaskan language of interior Alaska; a mind-blowing spoken word performance by avant-gardist Hsia Yü, and the first ever English rendering of Bruno Jasienski's murderous novel I Burn Paris.

Our nets cast wide, our boat has filled with authors as diversely rich as Chu T'ien-wen (director Hou Hsiao-hsien's acclaimed screenwriter) and Hsia Yü (whose exclusive recording you should definitely not miss). We present pioneering fictioneers Wu He and Li Ang alongside two of the most exciting 40-under literateurs: Jing Xianghai and Egoyan Zheng.

 Antonio Chen's comprehensive survey of the past year in Taiwanese novels presents further evidence of a literature worthy of international attention. Next to the contemporary work, we are proud to feature an excerpt from Auvini Kadresengan's ethnographic novel on the experiences of Taiwan's Indigenous peoples, a Japanese colonial-era piece written in Japanese by Zhang Wenhuan, and a short story by Chi Ta-wei about gay Taiwan at the height of the AIDS crisis, which comes with an update on LGBT issues 14 years later.

Illustrated throughout by legendary Taiwanese artist Hou Chun-Ming, this issue debuts our redesigned Visual section: new fullscreen slideshows enable immersive views of our guest artist's images of Hell and even a graphic short story by Judith Huang and Huang Zhipeng—a fascinating take on traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy, reworking Cultural Revolution-era author Hao Ran.

Words, however, remain our core business. Our Poetry section features new translations of twelve poets writing in, for example, Icelandic (Jón Thoroddsen), French (José-Flore Tappy), Persian (Hafez) and Chinese (two of the most important contemporary poets in China today: Xi Chuan and Ouyang Jianghe—the latter paired with essays by translator Austin Woerner and renowned sinologist Wolfgang Kubin.)

 Over in Drama, we're thrilled to have snagged an excerpt from Jonas Hassen Khemiri's Obie Award-winning play about a chameleonic figure known only as Abulkasem. Our Interview section offers an important conversation about translation and Indonesian politics with Max Lane, the acclaimed translator of Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

In translation, everything comes with a little extra: browse our sidebar for links to original texts, translators' notes and audio recordings. If you hover your mouse above purple text, you might find a footnote or two. As always, we aim to offer as many paths of discovery as we can. And, as always, we need your support: consider donating to our not-for-profit organisation. Every bit of currency counts.

Do also send us your translations as well as new work. Our Special Feature section in April 2012 calls for original English-language fiction centering on "the unsaid."

In closing, we couldn't have dreamt of starting 2012 off in greater or more polyglotted (-glottive?) company. We hope you will join us, whether as reader or contributor, fan or follower on our various social media. We have for the happy occasion of our first anniversary just revamped our Tumblr blog—do visit us there for your daily fix of Asymptote goodness!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Jan 2012

Founding Editor:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Managing Editor: 
Florian Duijsens (Holland/Germany)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Sayuri Okamoto (Japan/Italy)
Nazry Bahrawi (Singapore/UK)

Contributing Editors:
Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Anthony Luebbert (USA) and Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore/Japan)

Masthead for Issue Jan 2012

Fiction/Nonfiction/Criticism/Feature: Lee Yew Leong
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Visual: Lee Yew Leong and Sayuri Okamoto
Interview: Nazry Bahrawi
Photo Illustrations and Cover: Legend Hou Chun-Ming
Guest Artist Liaison: Lee Yew Leong
Design: Lee Yew Leong and fFurious
Legal Counsel: Lindy Poh
Intern: Emma Jacobs

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Balkenende Chew & Chia (Advocates & Solicitors), Sidney Wade, Howard Goldblatt, Sylvia Lin,  黄崇凯, Rachel Hui-Yu Tang, Chia-En Jao, Chen Kaiyin, Sara Lin, 鯨向海, Huang Yin-Nan, Cheng Wen-chi, 林秀梅, 小波,Deanne Tan, Kevin Kunstadt, David Silverman, Steven Bradbury, Martin Riker, Yvonne Koh, Jason Brooks, Jim Freed, Tan Bee Thiam, Guo Bingxiu, Yvon Kao, Florin Bican, Francesca Spedalieri, Michael Lee, Joshua Lim, Hugo Muecke, Cheryl Reyes, Darryl Sterk, Gray Tan, Jeffrey Waxman, Karel Caals, Alvin Pang, Jo Yu-yuan Chang, Merv Espina, Tsuneo Murayama (Shinjuku Shobo), Jee Leong Koh, Judith Sollosy, Katharina Laszlo and Sara Noor.

Thanks go too to Paco Mitchell, Stephen Muecke and Tan Bee Thiam for their generous donations.



Bohumil Hrabal, from Harlequin's Millions

Translated from the Czech by Stacey Knecht

I walked across the square with my head held high, I had to walk that way, because if I leaned forward even slightly, my head would drop and my teeth would fall out.

Bruno Jasieński, from I Burn Paris

Translated from the Polish by Soren Gauger and Marcin Piekoszewski

Cool, crystalline water flowed with a gurgle from thousands of taps like cut arteries, and an exhausted Paris went pale, wilting in the sweltering heat.

Zhang Yueran, Dirty Rain

Translated from the Chinese by Jeremy Tiang

Each time they finished making love, the man turned into her father, telling her in a serious voice it was about time she found someone to marry.


Xi Chuan, from Notes on the Mosquito

Translated from the Chinese by Lucas Klein

Hilda Hilst, from Joy, Memory, Novitiate of Passion

Translated from the Portuguese by Beatriz Bastos

Hafez, Two Ghazals

Translated from the Persian by Roger Sedarat

Jón Thoroddsen, from Flugur

Translated from the Icelandic by Christopher Crocker

Abigael Bohórquez, First Ceremony

Translated from the Spanish by John Pluecker

José-Flore Tappy, from Gravel

Translated from the French by John Taylor

Hsia Yü, Now These Objects Will Move by Themselves

Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury

Bùi Chát, from april breaks guns

Translated from the Vietnamese by Jack J. Huynh

John Smelcer, Three Poems

Translated from the Ahtna by John Smelcer

Avrom Sutzkever, Lady Job

Translated from the Yiddish by Zackary Sholem Berger

Soumitra Mohan, from Luqman Ali

Translated from the Hindi by Samartha Vashishtha and Shailendra Shail

Ouyang Jianghe, from Doubled Shadows

Translated from the Chinese by Austin Woerner


Doubled Shadows: Selected Poetry of Ouyang Jianghe

Translated from the Chinese by Austin Woerner

An essay by the translator

"Listen, you don't have to get everything. Just translate the words. Sometimes the reader isn't supposed to know."

Best European Fiction 2012 and the International Literaturfestival Berlin 2011

A review by Florian Duijsens

Translated literature as a class in kismet, a way to force fate's hand and bring new people, new places, and new feelings on your path.

Irène Némirovsky's The Wine of Solitude

Translated from the French by Sandra Smith

A review by Aamer Hussein

Is Nemirovsky, then, the disciple and descendent of Flaubert, Chekhov and Mansfield she's said to be, or an opportunistic writer of purple sagas?

Amal al-Jubouri's Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation

Translated from the Arabic by Rebecca Gayle Howell and Husam Qaisi

A review by Jeremy Paden

As with everything in this collection, the photographic home people thought would preserve their faces becomes a map to find their dead loved ones.

Gopal Gandhi's Bollywoodised translation of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy

A review by Vedita Cowaloosur

A lady in a clinging, wet, see-through, sari was the peak (and extent!) of sensuality.


David Shields, The Fourth Law of Thermodynamics

We're all characters in one another's novels—is the drama of love indistinguishable from the engine of narrative?

Jing Xianghai, The Bus Driver's Face

Translated from the Chinese by Lee Yew Leong

Poetry has inspired people to go after love, to conquer stars. Might it also instigate carjacking?


Jonas Hassen Khemiri, from INVASION!

Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Like a poor little suspension bridge, dangling between two cultural mountain walls.

Marjolein Bierens, Motel Texel

Translated from the Dutch by Joan Proost

For days I sat feeling, in that immense void of dunes, like a grain of sand from Iran.


Legend Hou Chun-Ming, God Hates You

Translated from the Chinese by Sim Yee Chiang

Forget the seven deadly sins, we bear seven thousand seven hundred seventy-seven million sins.

Judith Huang and Huang Zhipeng, Chun Xue

Red cat or yellow cat, Deng Xiaoping? Let's see which pussy is better at castrating little pigs in the marketplace showdown...

Charwei Tsai, Ah!

"A-llah ", "A-men", "A-mitabah", "A-lleluia", and "A-OM".

Special Feature

Wolfgang Kubin on Ouyang Jianghe

An essay followed by a translation into the Chinese by Cheng Wen-chi

Chinese poetry since 1979 has been both a miracle and a disaster.

John Taylor on José-Flore Tappy

A solitary "wanderer" who observes vestiges of human presences.

Soren Gauger on Bruno Jasieński

The tragedy of an artist pursuing his own delusions to the bitter end.

Antonio Chen on Taiwanese Novelists in 2011

Translated from the Chinese by Darryl Sterk

In the world of Chinese literature, literature from Taiwan is stylistically the most recognizable, while remaining the most diverse in form and content.

Taiwan Fiction Feature

Chu T'ien-wen, from Witch's Brew

Translated from the Chinese by Sylvia Lin and Howard Goldblatt

There's a type of tear that rolls down without sticking or leaving a trace, as if running down waterproofed material.

Wu He, from Disinterment

Translated from the Chinese by Terence Russell

The old nun said the rheumatism used to make only her inner thighs sore, but now it went all the way to her heart.

Li Ang, from Lost Garden

Translated from the Chinese by Sylvia Lin

"Your father's planning a rebellion. Isn't that right? Tell me!"

Chi Ta-wei, A Stranger's ID

Translated from the Chinese by Fran Martin

Last week when I filled out the registration form for the blood test at the clinic in Chang'an West Road, my hands kept shaking.

Auvini Kadresengan, from Song of Wild Lilies

Translated from the Chinese by Terence Russell

Is the meaning of a man's life no more than six large mountain boars?

Egoyan Zheng, Falling

Translated from the Chinese by Laura Jane Wey

I can see the expression on their faces, frozen in the moment before destruction.

Zhang Wenhuan, from Portrait of a Geitan

Translated from the Japanese by Sim Yee Chiang and Sayuri Okamoto

She was not Caiyun's real mother, but she basked in the joys of having borne a beautiful girl, to the point of recalling the pains of labour.


An interview with Max Lane

A translator of revolutionary Indonesian literature on the politics of translation.