Editor's Note

Asymptote turns three this issue, and instead of temper tantrums, we decided to throw a series of events around the world. Look out London, New York, Zagreb, Boston, Philadelphia, Shanghai, Berlin, Sydney, and Buenos Aires! We also held our first translation competition, and you'll find the winners in our gigantic January issue alongside a letter from Darfur, an essay by Michael Hofmann, translations by J.M. Coetzee and Rosmarie Waldrop, interviews with Adam Thirlwell and Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, plays from Singapore and Israel, and much more, all of it illustrated by the frightfully young and talented Swedish artist Leif Engström.

Almost three years ago, Japan was hit by the 3.11 earthquake, and both Hideo Furukawa's story and his conversation with Yoshitomo Nara address the ways artists deal in devastation's wake. Much as the athletes in Phillipp Schöntaler's story use talismans to ward off defeat, or the protagonist of Elina Horvonen's story seeks solace in an in-flight magazine, so do some authors keep writing to dispel doubt, or even death. With two essays about Giacomo Leopardi's 19th-century Zibaldone (one from one of his translators), we examine the treasures and challenges to be found in an essayistic diary that's 4,526 pages long. Our Dylan Suher, meanwhile, compares the very contemporary work of Tao Lin and his Chinese peer Murong Xuecun. Like Leopardi and the marvelously raging Iranian poet Arash Allahverdi, these writers are trying to create some order out of chaos. But what happens when the paper stays blank? Michael Hofmann presents the cautionary tale of Wolfgang Koeppen, a German writer who, at the apex of his career, stopped writing novels entirely.

The protagonists in fiction from Colombia and South Africa are trapped in such terrible situations that they see storms as salvation and death as a kind of release. Survival is at stake in a riveting prison memoir from Syria (translated additionally into the Chinese) and also in Jérôme Tubiana's photos and letters from Sudan. In the radical poetry of Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, we find landscape and language to be so intimate as to suggest they engender each other while we attempt to apprehend their horizons, whereas Villa's experimentations produce a gorged and macaronic language headed toward "the new era, / the bicipital era, of phonetic devilries." Equally radical is the risqué poetry of Nansŏrhŏn Hŏ ("White Orchid"), a 16th-century noblewoman from Korea who wrote in hansi, a Korean adaptation of Chinese characters. Although Korea's current "hangul" alphabet was first invented in the 1440s, it wasn't until after 1945 that it came in widespread use. The Korean artists presented in our visual section use that unique alphabet as a way to harness the vibrancy of speech. One of them, Jewyo Rhii, builds typewriters that have to be operated with your whole body, or inside a closed box; each speech its own machine.  

The idea behind our first competition was to reward translators who are early in their career and who work on writers under-represented in English. Just how close their work approximated the originals' spirit was up to the judges Eliot Weinberger and Howard Goldblatt. (Read their citations here.) Though the former lamented the lack of strong work from the less familiar corners of the literary world, something we at Asymptote are passionate to counteract, both were so pleased with the level of submissions that they decided to award not only one winner, but two runners-up as well. Goldblatt lauded Cory Tamler and Željko Maksimović's work in conveying a "somewhat erotic and generally foreboding" story by Serbian author Tanja Šljivar, and Weinberger praised Owen Good's translations of the Hungarian poet Krisztina Tóth for their lively zip. At their best, these translators have done what the late Hai Zi's poem, "Wheat Field of May," so beautifully describes "Sometimes I sit in the wheat field reciting Chinese poetry / My eyes disappear, my lips disappear." And that's what the best writing does, doesn't it? Takes your very you away.

While you explore the many marvels mentioned above (and those we left for you to discover yourselves), do check back for daily updates and offerings at our 3-month-old blog. Don't forget to play around with our addictive map feature, which offers yet more ways to explore our rich back catalog of global literature and has just been updated with a new legend that tells you more about where you can find Asymptote around the world. If you like what you see, please consider joining our team or donating to our cause (we've crossed the 25% mark of our goal as of 14 Jan 2014!). Spreading the word far and wide is also mightily appreciated, especially as we're scouting out great talent for April's English-language feature (under the banner theme Diaspora) and our upcoming Latin American fiction feature. ¡Ándale!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Jan 2014

Editor-in-Chief: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Managing Editor (Content): Tara FitzGerald (USA/UK)
Managing Editor (Administrative): Megan McDowell (Switzerland/USA)
Assistant Managing Editor: Eric M. B. Becker (USA/Brazil)

Senior Editor: Florian Duijsens (Germany/Netherlands)
Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang (Hong Kong/USA)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Joshua Craze (UK/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Simon Morley (UK/South Korea)
Aaron Kerner (USA)
Matthew Jakubowski (USA)

Contributing Editors:
Brother Anthony of Taizé (Korea), Ellen Elias-Bursac (USA), 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)

Chinese Contributing Editor: Francis Li Zhuoxiong (Hong Kong/Taiwan)

Editors-at-large, Argentina: Frances Riddle and Maureen Shaughnessy
Editors-at-large, Australia: Stephanie Guest
Editor-at-large, Central Asia: Alex Cigale
Editor-at-large, Croatia: Ervin Felić
Editor-at-large, Hungary: Ágnes Orzóy
Editor-at-large, India: Rahul Soni
Editor-at-large, Iran: Farzaneh Doosti
Editor-at-large, Kenya: Natalya Din-Kariuki
Editor-at-large, Malaysia: Nicole Idar
Editor-at-large, Nepal: Elen Turner
Editor-at-large, Norway: Julia Gronnevet
Editor-at-large, Paris: Daniel Medin
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-Large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, UK: Nashwa Gowanlock

Blog Editors: Zack Newick and Patricia Nash
Masthead for Issue Jan 2014

Fiction: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Visual: Simon Morley
Criticism: Aaron Kerner 
Interview: Matthew Jakubowski
Illustrations and Cover: Leif Engström
Guest Artist Liaison: Lee Yew Leong
Copy Editor: Diana George
Proofreaders: Sohini Basak, Ervin Felić, Julia Gronnevet, Dana Khromov and Rachel Richardson
Managing Editor (Content): Tara FitzGerald 
Managing Editor (Administrative): Megan McDowell
Assistant Managing Editor: Eric M. B. Becker
Senior Editor: Florian Duijsens (Germany/Netherlands)
Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang
Executive Assistants: Alex Sham
Technical Manager: József Szabó
Graphic Designer: Lee Yew Leong
Video Producer: Sarah Chan
Communications Manager: Casiana Ionita
PR for Communications (Events): Matthew Todd
English Social Media: Lee Yew Leong and Rachel Richardson
Chinese Social Media: Vivian Chih and Zhang Zhuxin 
Interns: Sohini Basak and Dana Khromov

Asymptote would like to thank Eliot Weinberger and Howard Goldblatt for judging our first-ever translation contest, Close Approximations. We would like to acknowledge their generosity as well—both of them donated their judging fees towards the runners-up of their category.  

As well, we want to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Shinchosha, Satoko Hamada (from Yoshitomo Nara's office), Alvin Pang, Jill Schoolman, Darryl Sterk, Marc Louis Lin, Michael Spinelli, Ellen Richmond, Letitia Tan and Sahara Shrestha.

Thanks also go to Biling Chen, Jennifer DSouza, Daniella Gitlin, Christian Hawkey, Claire Hirsch, Eddie Song, Sidney Wade for their kind donations.



Eduard Màrquez, Zugzwang

Translated from the Catalan by Lawrence Venuti

The dark-haired girl yawned and, while looking all around, pinched the erect tip of her left nipple.

Philipp Schönthaler, The Hay Smells Different to the Lovers Than to the Horses

Translated from the German by Amanda DeMarco

An anonymous Spanish sorcerer threatened the Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo before Real Madrid's match against Olympique Marseille in September 2009.

Elina Hirvonen, from Farthest from Death

Translated from the Finnish by Douglas Robinson

This is the panic of a sardine in a tin.

Margarita García Robayo, Until a Hurricane Sweeps Through

Translated from the Spanish by Maureen Shaughnessy

I wanted to go to Miami because buying things is cheap and the weather is warm and because the men aren't gringos.

Jana Beňová, Where to in Bratislava

Translated from the Slovak by Beatrice Smigasiewicz

I'm thirty-five and I'm a ropewalker. If you stretched seven long ropes across the city I live in, you could cover each of my footsteps and diagram each of my paths.

Wilma Stockenström, from The Expedition to the Baobab Tree

Translated from the Afrikaans by J. M. Coetzee

I let it happen. I could wait. I listened to the beat of the waves far behind his groaning, and it lulled me.

Hideo Furukawa, from Footprints

Translated from the Japanese by Sim Yee Chiang

There isn't the slightest whiff of 'royal tomb' about this pyramid in this unknown primary school, in a certain provincial city of Japan.


Arash Allahverdi, Shitkilling

Translated from the Persian by Alireza Taheri Araghi and Thade Correa

you are entering my Iranian poem / you are violating my Iranian poem / and this is my own fault

Sarah Keryna, Rappel

Translated from the French by Virginia Konchan

ANEMIA. // The rain. // The bottles of pink pills. // Compromises. // The borders, the channels, the subsidiaries. // I drink pitchers of blood. / I dream of iron depths / in which I can hide.

Hai Zi, from Wheat Has Ripened

Translated from the Chinese by Ye Chun

As a pigeon or the bird in water flies across my fiancée's belly / the carpenter saws me open, turns me / into his son's cradle. Cross

Emilio Villa, nineteen-fifty3 rally

Translated from the Italian by Dominic Siracusa

oh, tree / of Speleophonic comeliness, the tree of the Precept, of thieving / eidyia, of deep chatter, so blood in Itaglia doesn't wash / doorsteps and sidewalks . . .

Farhad Showghi, from End of the City Map

Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop

And your voice, my voice, awakened with cedars. Cedars, our sequences of milkless cuntsonants.

Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, from reverses

Translated from the Spanish by Katherine M. Hedeen

form is ideological / with contemplation the world transforms

Nansŏrhŏn Hŏ, Three Poems

Translated from the Chinese by Ian Haight and T'ae-yong Hŏ

All day, my calm heart / fully awake / in samadhi— // I sit at a small table / in Sŏn meditation.

Indrė Valantinaitė, from Stories About Love and Other Animals

Translated from the Lithuanian by Rimas Uzgiris

a pile of bones and medallions on her desk. // Death domesticated—she arranges the mosaic of eternity

Maxim Amelin, from The Horse of the Gorgon

Translated from the Russian by Derek Mong and Anne O. Fisher

I find I'm unified—half-snake, half-bird— / first I plunge from above, then soar / up from below.

Frédéric Forte, from 33 Sonnets Flattened

Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan

in a parallel world · I / devise sonnets of surprising sizes


Alexander Vvedensky's An Invitation for Me to Think

Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky and Matvei Yankelevich

A review by Ian Dreiblatt

Meaninglessnesses swarm within impossibilities in language like this, not going nowhere so much as barreling toward an everywhere with a lot of nothing in the trunk.

Stig Sæterbakken's Through the Night

Translated from the Norwegian by Seán Kinsella

A review by Taylor Davis-Van Atta

The abandonment or forgetting of one's self is necessary for the deepest and most total engagement with art. To be moved to tears, we must have lost, however briefly, our conception of who we are.

Giacomo Leopardi's Zibaldone

Translated from the Italian by David Gibbons, Kathleen Baldwin, Richard Dixon, Ann Goldstein, Gerard Slowey, Martin Thom, and Pamela Williams

A review by David Gibbons

There is a sense in which Leopardi is still translating me.


Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Document

Translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole

The village is an arbitrary point in the totality of the world, no more than that, significant for nothing, coincidental, interchangeable.

Mustafa Khalifa, The Shell

Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette

The silence was a glossy white page, stretching across the first courtyard. The officer's voice ripped through it.

Followed by a translation into the Chinese by Francis Li Zhuoxiong

Fu-chen Lo and Jou-chin Chen, from From Taiwan to the World and Back

Translated from the Chinese by Lee Yew Leong

When the tragic and senseless 228 Incident occurred, I was still very much a child.

Jérôme Tubiana, Letter to My Father

Translated from the French by Colin Robertson and Paul Reeve

When I got back from my first visit to Darfur in 2004, I struggled to describe to you what I had found.


Hanoch Levin, from The Labour of Life

Translated from the Hebrew by Atar Hadari

"You wouldn't let me dream about Switzerland."

Yeng Pway Ngon, Man and Bronze Statue

Translated from the Chinese by Jeremy Tiang

"Of course I've come. Who do you think I am, Godot?"

Special Feature

Michael Hofmann on Wolfgang Koeppen

How could one man keep all these rooms and tables and typewriters happy?

Dylan Suher on Tao Lin and Murong Xuecun

Skype is a medium through which love transmits imperfectly.

Jamie Richards on Giacomo Leopardi

"my mistake has been in wanting to lead a life which is all and entirely internal"

Close Approximations Contest Winners

Tanja Šljivar, I Make Mistakes

Translated from the Serbian by Cory Tamler and Željko Maksimović

I have yet to figure out which declarations of love are banal and which are sublime.

Alberto Ruy-Sánchez, Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador

Translated from the Spanish by Rhonda Dahl Buchanan

Lovers are as fragile as paper to the ardent caress of certain words.

Nuno Ramos, from Ó

Translated from the Portuguese by Krista Brune

Everything that happened seemed a part of this page, re-written every moment; all the dead, the chirps, each drop, each salt.

Krisztina Tóth, Churning and Other Poems

Translated from the Hungarian by Owen Good

The town where you didn't come with me / was sown with rain.

Sylvie Kandé, from The Neverending Quest for the Other Shore

Translated from the French by Alexander Dickow

watch me rhyme as you row / for our ancestors

Giovanni Pascoli, Selected Poems

Translated from the Italian by Taije Silverman and Marina Della Putta Johnston

The mammoth sun behind the soaring mountains / sets


An interview with Adam Thirlwell

Every writer is a dictator and megalomaniac. So am I.

An interview with Yoshitomo Nara

Translated from the Japanese by Sayuri Okamoto

A word is a kind of key to a door which leads to my world of imagination.