Editor's Note

Well, hello there, 2013! We barely noticed you starting what with all the exciting developments here at Asymptote. Not only are we turning two, we're also celebrating with eight events in seven countries across the globe and launching our first ever online fundraiser! Now, you may ask, has this had any effect on the new issue? Only that it's even more chock-full of awesome! Still, some kidding aside, we really are proud to give you this, our ninth issue.

For one, we got to talk to our favorite Francophile, Edmund White, about why Proust is "a more profound psychologist than Freud". We also have an excerpt from the new novel by Amélie Nothomb, the Belgian phenom behind Fear and Trembling; Life Form is about yet another cultural clash—this time with an American soldier in Iraq. But perhaps we are proudest of bringing you the first ever English translation from Toh EnJoe's 2012 Akutagawa Prize-winning novel, Harlequin's Butterflies. In the fascinating interview Toh also granted us, the Physics PhD elaborates on his "un-local novels", and how we must cherish the ability to enjoy strange things.

Our poetry section begins with the blue of the sky in Dagmara Kraus's gloomerang and ends with the yellow of a mountain in Nicolas Pesquès' The North Face of Mount Juliau, Six. Inbetween, we have work spanning diverse eras and geographies, yet the unanimous concern for place—internal, external, historical, political, psychological—recurs with force. In Shrikant Verma's Magadh poems, place is marked by the vagaries of death; Aleš Debeljak's Smugglers is rooted in the Balkans; and Chuya Nakahara's Goat Songs are embedded in the elements. Many of the nine poets included in this issue consider just what place is and how we imagine it—how we encode it in language.

For the first time, our table of contents now has taster lines by all poets, as well as teaser images for the visual section. All the more suitable, as this issue sees the auspicious debut of our new Visual Editor, artist Simon Morley, who has collected an intriguing group of creators, all of whom work with text or language in crucial and intriguing ways. Simon Lewty, for instance, delves into tachygraphy (that's shorthand, FYI) to explore the act of writing and the nature of learning a language. The wonderful book artist Johanna Drucker, on the other hand, makes the intriguing claim that she too is a translator, albeit a graphic one. Performing her own graphic somersaults on the fiction, creative nonfiction and drama in our pages is our guest artist from Italy, Michela Caputo, whose playful, flowing style puts the icing on the cake of this 2nd anniversary issue.

As usual, there's a ton more, notably a small feature on the relationship between author and translator, with a generously personal essay by Howard Goldblatt on his relationship with Huang Chunming. Reif Larsen, the author of the widely acclaimed T.S. Spivet (translated into umpteen languages), returns to tell us about the crucial skills a translator must possess, not only through the interview he did with his Dutch translator, but also in a Wes Andersonian trailer we will be releasing shortly on our Facebook page and Tumblr. Other highlights include Uljana Wolf and Christian Hawkey's Ilse Aichinger translation, Dylan Suher's defense of Mo Yan, Vasily Grossman's visit to Armenia, and Gérard Mace's imagined (?) Museum of Shadows in Prague.

Before we leave you to discover this splendiferous new issue, we'd like to gently remind you to also check out our events and our fundraising campaign (also accessible from our newly revamped Donate page). And above all to spread the word, as there's so much more in store: after our African Feature in the Apr 2013 issue, our first ever Drama Feature in our July issue (check out the submission guidelines here), for instance, and an international translation competition that esteemed intellectual Eliot Weinberger just agreed to judge 2 days ago! (Details to follow.) Remember, you heard it here first.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Jan 2013

Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Managing Editor:
Florian Duijsens (Netherlands/Germany)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Simon Morley (UK/South Korea)

Contributing Editors:
Howard Goldblatt (USA), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Sylvia Lin (Taiwan/USA), Sayuri Okamoto (Japan/Italy),
Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore), Dylan Suher (USA) and Adrian West (USA)

Editor at Large (Pakistan): Mushtaq ur Rasool Bilal

Assistant Editor:
Nicholas Skidmore

Incoming Assistant Editors:
Megan Berkobien (USA) and Leonard Ng (Singapore)

Publicity (Chinese): Lin Kuo-cheng (Taiwan)
Liaison (Barcelona): Julia Sanches and Alejandra Munoz
Liaison (New York): Jacob Severn

Masthead for Issue Jan 2013

Interview: Lee Yew Leong
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Visual: Simon Morley
Illustrations and Cover: Michela Caputo
Interns: Megan Berkobien, Alejandra Munoz, Leonard Ng, Emma Ramadan, Julia Sanches, Jacob Severn and Jacob Silkstone
Design: Lee Yew Leong and fFurious
Guest Artist Liaison: Sayuri Okamoto
Legal Counsel: Lindy Poh

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Balkenende Chew & Chia (Advocates & Solicitors), Forrest Gander, Reif Larsen, Tiffany Gannon, Walker Chen, Nat Niu, Choo Lip Sin, Alex Kwek, Wee Shu Ting, Clare Wigfall, Kailin Gregga, Jason Haase, Erin Fortenberry, Solène Chabanais, Raphael Magarik, Alyssa Migliori, Jeffrey Waxman, Kazuto Yamaguchi (Kodansha) and many, many more (please forgive us if we have omitted your name).

Thanks go too to Forrest Gander and Tan Bee Thiam for their generous pledges of donations.



Amélie Nothomb, from Life Form

Translated from the French by Alison Anderson

Thank you for your novels. What do you want me to do with them?

Hebe Uhart, Guiding the Ivy

Translated from the Spanish by Maureen Shaughnessy

"Iridescence is not for me."

Toh EnJoe, Harlequin's Butterfly

Translated from the Japanese by Sim Yee Chiang and Sayuri Okamoto

This all happens during a flight between Tokyo and Seattle.

Mushtaq Ahmad Yousufi, from The First Memorable Poetry Festival of Dhiraj Ganj

Translated from the Urdu by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad

Skylight, ventilator, spyhole, chimney, window and porthole—Basharat thought it was the most multipurpose hole in all of Asia.

Pere Gimferrer, The Man in the Turban

Translated from the Catalan by Adrian West

We are living in the ephemeral glory of clarities of the Roman November.

Ilse Aichinger, Dover

Translated from the German by Christian Hawkey and Uljana Wolf

To perish in Dover is almost as easy as perishing in Calcutta.


Dagmara Kraus, from gloomerang

Translated from the German by Joshua Daniel Edwin

blue was the outlook of earth/ inched closer to the skytent; by steeplechase, spytower

Chuya Nakahara, from Goat Songs

Translated from the Japanese by Christian Nagle

I spread my fingers in the shape of a fan// and inhale the sky  drink time/ floating   a frog on the water

Gennady Aygi, Four Pieces

Translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale

(oh how it was/ once upon a time/ lonely and clear/ no one but me and the field/ an entire world)

Shrikant Verma, from Magadh

Translated from the Hindi by Rahul Soni

Fetching a corpse from the river/ people leave it/ at the ghats/ and say –/ Here lies Time

Aleš Debeljak, from Smugglers

Translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry

. . . hidden sins are public virtues/ and all conversations are recorded, microphones are in the wall,/ the pain of insurgents and the names of rare birds are important.

Emilio Prados, from Enclosed Garden

Translated from the Spanish by Donald Wellman

Are you only a display/ of ugliness? . . ./ —Bright fountain!

Osip Mandelstam, Three Poems

Translated from the Russian by Alistair Noon

This is the century that heaves/ human anguish like a wave,/ and in the grass the viper breathes/ by the century's golden ratio.

Gili Haimovich, Two Poems

Translated from the Hebrew by Gili Haimovich

My sadness is still and high as a mountain,/ observes long distances,/ but cannot reach them.

Nicolas Pesquès, from The North Face of Mount Juliau, Six

Translated from the French by Cole Swensen

Out there in the landscape, YELLOW is what's added, both trimming and giving breath, a margin in which the broom maneuvers.


Leonid Tsypkin's The Bridge Over the Neroch: And Other Works

Translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell

A review by Michael Stein

Mo Yan's Pow! and Sandalwood Death

Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt

A review by Dylan Suher

Vasily Grossman's Armenian Sketchbook

Translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler

An essay by the translator


Vasily Grossman, from An Armenian Sketchbook

Translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler

Shepherds have been looking at sheep for thousands of years. And sheep, for their part, have been looking at shepherds.

Gérard Macé, The Museum of Shadows

Translated from the French by Timothy Mathews

It fell to Kafka's city to invent the Museum of Shadows, or at least give it a home.


Taher Najib, from In Spitting Distance

Translated from the Hebrew by Ros Schwartz

"in a country where you don't know anyone, you can pull your trousers down and shit in peace"

Nikolai Khalezin, from Thanksgiving Day

Translated from the Belarusian by Yuri Kaliada and Rory Mullarkey

"I'll gladly take a coffee" "You want it European style, in a cup, or American style, in a bucket?" "Find a happy medium. My ancestors were Anglo-Saxons."


Johanna Drucker, Figuring the Word

Set a nursery rhyme in blackletter or a funeral announcement in cartoon type and the point is made quite dramatically.

Ian Whittlesea, Text in the Expanded Field

As you paint a letter X you aren't making a representation of a letter X, it just is the letter X.

Simon Lewty, Two Adventures in Translation

Shelton and Pepys meet Hartung and Michaux!

Special Feature

Aamer Hussein on Nisar Aziz Butt

Each woman's ennui has a different flavor.

Geeta Patel on Miraji

Traveling enables the sojourner to extend beyond their skin; travel as a method of translating pulls the poet away from home, the places where their voice assumes its familiar cadences and tones.

Christian Nagle on Chuya Nakahara

He rejected the language of his age, of any age, striving to articulate what he called "the world before the word," wherein the primeval saturates the sensorial present.

Cosmin Borza on Contemporary Romanian Poets

Aggressive, non-conformist, fractured within by a repressive, mutilating society, they shout their anarchist revolt.

The Author-Translator Relationship

Howard Goldblatt, Ah-ming and Ah-lui: A 40-year Literary Partnership

He would pepper his Mandarin, which I understood, with Taiwanese, which I didn't.

Reif Larsen and Niek Miedema, Searching For the Familiar: An Author Interviews His Translator

Even his dog's name had to be translated, to make sure it was not an American dog. In the translation, he is a Dutch dog.


An interview with Edmund White

The truth is something like a horizon; it's something you head toward.

An interview with Toh EnJoe

The ability to enjoy strange things is not given to all of us, and we must prevent this sensibility from becoming extinct.