Editor's Note

Only four years old and already Asymptote is such a busy globetrotter! We celebrated our birthday this year hosting wonderful events in New York and London, but quickly rushed back to finish this glorious new issue (video trailer here) and bite our nails about our crowdfunding campaign! In the end, our trust in you was more than warranted, as we again made our target of $25,000 (with two hours to spare!) and will be able to continue our passionate work in world literature. Thank you! Your generosity will be rewarded by the stellar line-up of Danish fiction, Dari poetry by the late Nadia Anjuman, an exclusive (and explosive) excerpt from Andrey Platonov's Chevengur, an interview with David Damrosch, a cameo by a clueless Susan Sontag in Sarajevo, and so much more; there's plenty to read, Snowpocalypse or no.

However disparate their styles and subjects, the six writers in our Danish fiction feature (edited by our Denmark editor-at-large Katrine Øgaard Jensen) all offer a darkly fascinating glimpse at what is often dubbed one of the happiest countries on earth. Aside from the exciting buzz authors Naja Marie Aidt and Dorthe Nors, we present writers like Josefine Klougart, intriguingly called Denmark's Virginia Woolf. In our main fiction section, a Bedouin crosses paths with both a Cuban teenager and Russian policeman, and that's just in one story! Aside from that eclectic bunch of characters (courtesy of Cuban writer Alberto Guerra Naranjo), you'll also meet a Japanese kappa (Akutagawa Prize–winner Ko Machida), an obese aspiring programmer (Premio Strega–winner Walter Siti), and a migrant worker newly arrived in Shanghai's "crystal palace" (Mao Dun Literature Award-winner Wang Anyi).

And it's not just Denmark that produces stirring female voices. Our poetry section has powerful work by Nadia Anjuman, a Dari poet who survived the Taliban regime only to die at the hands of her husband; Nathalie Quintane, who reimagines the life of one Jehanne Darc (more famously known as Joan of Arc); and the Argentinian Lila Zemborain, who collides science with philosophy in a hectic poem restlessly seeking order. In the same section, Durs Grünbein writes about the fall of Dresden, Lucas Klein translates Mang Ke's Dedications ("For a Poet//you are an eagle flying toward the graveyard"), and Albania's former Minister of Culture asks "Why is the universe a verb—'to be'—/with no future tense?" Elsewhere in our issue, Syrian poet Dara Abdallah writes with painful topicality: "Who among us remembers the faces of those killed in massacres?"

Andrey Platonovich Platonov strove to give the revolution a human face, and his translator, Robert Chandler, has given us an essay on the great Russian writer's work, much of which was not allowed to be published during his lifetime. There is more to politics (or revolutions), it seems, than flag-waving, as artist Will Kwan shows with his Flame Test, an installation of flags only seemingly afire. Our nonfiction section addresses other urgent political questions, with a theory of the drone (translated from the French), Raphaël Confiant's chaben childhood in Martinique, memories of a troubled Ukraine circa 1923, and the aforementioned letters of Miljenko Jergović and Semezdin Mehmedinović, who recall the famous Sarajevo sojourns of Susan Sontag as slightly more insensitive than one might think.  

In our visual section, the oddly symbiotic artist duo Ali Wong and Wong Kit Yi seek out the help of a feng shui specialist to build and curate art shows, a playful reprieve from the more serious issues and heartbreak examined in the rest of our winter issue. You'll find a gutting interview with the late Szilárd Borbély; S.J. Naudé on the odd literary status of Afrikaans and on translating his own novel; a play by one of the most important modern Arab dramatists, Sa'dallah Wannous; Laksmi Pamuntjak writing for us about Indonesian writer Nh. Dini, who unapologetically mined her life for her writing; and Boyd Tonkin, who dared to ask Jenny Erpenbeck why she didn't head West the day the Berlin Wall came down. All this, illustrated lavishly by Shuxian Lee.

While we start sending off the rewards and regroup after a long campaign, there'll be a slight hiatus on the magazine front, but our blog will pick up that slack in the meantime and we will return stronger than ever with a whole new issue in July. For the special feature in that issue, we are now looking for poetry and prose incorporating more than one language in the original (not necessarily including English), as well as translations of such work. The writing may be predominantly in one language, with a smattering of words in another, or mix languages so thoroughly as to only be intelligible to a bilingual reader. In addition, we are seeking translators willing to take up the challenge of rendering this kind of writing into English. For more information, click here. See you this summer!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue January 2015

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

Assistant Managing Editors: Eric M. B. Becker (USA/Brazil), Lynette Lee (Hong Kong) and Sam Carter (USA)

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)
Ellen Jones (UK)
Matthew Jakubowski (USA)
Luisa Zielinski (Germany)
Eva Heisler (USA)

Assistant Editors: Bradley Schmidt (Germany/USA) Daniel Goulden (USA), Emma Jacobs (UK), Erin Gilbert (USA) and Kara Billey Thordarson (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)

Commissioning Editor: J.S. Tennant (UK)

Blog Editors: Patricia Nash and Eva Richter

Editor-at-large, Argentina: Frances Riddle
Editor-at-large, Belgium: Veronka Kover
Editor-at-large, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mirza Puric
Editor-at-large, China: Dong Li
Editor-at-large, Cuba: Ezio Neyra
Editor-at-large, Denmark: Katrine Øgaard Jensen
Editor-at-large, Ecuador: Sarah Foster
Editor-at-large, Hong Kong: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, Hungary: Ágnes Orzóy
Editor-at-large, Indonesia: Tiffany Tsao
Editor-at-large, Italy: Antony Shugaar
Editor-at-large, Israel: Yardenne Greenspan
Editor-at-large, Mexico: Sophie Hughes
Editor-at-large, Romania: MARGENTO
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, UK: Paula Porroni

Masthead for Issue January 2015

Fiction: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
WoW: Luisa Zielinski
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Matthew Jakubowski
Illustrations and Cover: Shuxian Lee
Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan
Chief Proofreader: Diana George
Proofreaders: Bradley Schmidt, Sara Abdullah, Tiffany Tsao, Yardenne Greenspan, Sim Yee Chiang and Paula Porroni 
Assistant Managing Editors: Eric M. B. Becker, Lynette Lee and Sam Carter
Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang
Assistant Editors: Bradley Schmidt, Daniel Goulden, Emma Jacobs, Erin Gilbert and Kara Billey Thordarson
Blog Editors: Patricia Nash and Eva Richter
Chief Executive Assistant: Berny Tan
Executive Assistant: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Technical Manager: József Szabó
Marketing Manager: Rosiė Clarke
Graphic Designers: Berny Tan, Chuck Kuan and Geneve Ong
Video Producer: Daniel Chi Cook
English Social Media: Sohini Basak, Jimmy Cloutier and Hannah Berk 
Chinese Social Media: Zhang Zhuxin, Haiyun Yu, Chang Zhang and Wang Kaixi
Spanish Social Media: Laura Valdivia and Cristiane de Oliveira

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Adam Thirlwell, Daniel Hahn, Stefan Tobler, Deborah Smith, Edith Grossman, Damion Searls, Susan Bernofsky, Nerys Hudson, Leonard Schwartz, Nicolette Praca, Soledad Marambio, Jacob Thomas, Kelvin Ang, Lindy Poh, Chen Show Mao and Alvin Pang.

Our heartfelt thanks go to the 287 supporters of our recently concluded Indiegogo campaign as well as the numerous others who stepped forward to assist us during this trying period. Our acknowledgments page will be updated in February to reflect all your donations.



Alberto Guerra Naranjo, Saxo

Translated from the Spanish by John Washington

¡Mustafa! ¡Mustafa! cries the Bedouin into his cell phone next to his camel now on the streets of New York City, Mustafa, tell me what I need to do

Andrey Platonovich Platonov, from Chevengur

Translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, and Olga Meerson

But on his way lay a toppled man. He was swelling up with such speed that the movement of his growing body was visible and his face was slowly darkening, as if the man were tumbling into the dark.

Walter Siti, from Resistance Is Futile

Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

His belly is rumbling like thunder in the sky, Tommaso is a gigantic god at the dawn of the world.

Ko Machida, from Canal Dredging

Translated from the Japanese by Sim Yee Chiang and Sayuri Okamoto

Not a goddamn clue what they were saying. I'm sure it was Japanese, but I couldn't understand a word.

Wang Anyi, from Fu Ping

Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt

She liked the look of all those modern young people, but they didn't seem quite real, like characters in a movie or a play.


Szilárd Borbély, Four Poems

Translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet

Language was there before God, / so in patience it instructs, // even if patience were nothing / more than the Form of Words.

Nathalie Quintane, from Joan of Arc

Translated from the French by Cynthia Hogue and Sylvain Gallais

Before my first assault, there was a world between the world and me: bells rang, my father yelled, the sheep bleated.

Mang Ke, from October Dedications

Translated from the Chinese by Lucas Klein

life / lights like a match / to give warmth / to burn / and to be burnt

Nadia Anjuman, from Dark Flower

Translated from the Dari by Diana Arterian and Marina Omar

I have taken root here— / in an iron land with lead-blue clouds in an iron sky

Jorge Esquinca, from Description of a Glowing Cobalt Blue

Translated from the Spanish by Joshua Sperling

my father spoke in silence / and let go of the ribbon / that held the crab

Lý Đợi, Two Poems

Translated from the Vietnamese by Kelly Morse and Nga Hiền Nguyễn

disgrace invades the city once thought to be a piece of jade (as in piece of shit)

Durs Grünbein, from Porcelain: Poem on the Downfall of my City

Translated from the German by Monika Cassel

Rubens, Rembrandt, Raphael: and then / This nothing—downfall, melodrama trash.

Tereza Riedlbauchová, from Paris Notebook

Translated from the Czech by Stephan Delbos

He spoke to her in French, Spanish / and other unintelligible vernaculars

Erez Bitton, Elegies for ben-Shushan

Translated from the Hebrew by Tsipi Keller

and a finger and a finger and a finger / in the prophetic eye

Lila Zemborain, from The Murmur of Borders

Translated from the Spanish by Manuel Fihman

. . . bio, bio, ee-i-ee-i-o, Old McDonald had a farm, ee-i-ee-i-o, biological, biographical, biodynamic, biosophic . . . biopoetry or biopoem.

Pierluigi Cappello, The Highway

Translated from the Italian by Todd Portnowitz

Meanwhile, we can all see / how the highway sliced the valley's gut / and the throats of anyone left;

Moikom Zeqo, from Letters from the Dark

Translated from the Albanian by Loredana Mihani

Why do I not want to be a Jehovah / but a poppy?

Ulrike Draesner, from subsong

Translated from the German by Bernadette Geyer

oh how she slept / after landing / in the buggy / dragged a foot on the ground / stroked the strange soil / fearing flowering / almost


Roberto Bolaño, A Little Lumpen Novelita

Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer

A review by Stephenie Young

The setting is simple, like a theater stage—an interior where the world outside is off limits to the story.

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Collected Poems 1969-2014

A review by Mantra Mukim

"Translations shoot to kill, and having obliterated the original, transmigrate its soul into another language"

S.J. Naudé, The Alphabet of Birds

Translated from the Afrikaans by SJ Naudé

An essay by the translator

Afrikaans was ultimately reduced to a few ghost movements of the tongue, then became like a code silently pulsing under the skin.

Gonzalo Aguilar, Augusto de Campos: the translation of a name

Translated from the Spanish by Ellen Jones and Paula Porroni

The paths by which a text may arrive in another language are innumerable, but a strong translation tries to establish itself as the only path into that language, one that shuts off all others.

Jenny Erpenbeck, The End of Days

Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

A review by Boyd Tonkin

Having grown up next to the physical obstacles of the Wall, with its wire and concrete, Erpenbeck witnessed a rapid historical amputation.


Miljenko Jergović and Semezdin Mehmedinović, from Transatlantic Mail

Translated from the Bosnian and Croatian by Mirza Purić

The story tells me that Susan Sontag didn't know certain important things without which there can be no life and no poetry.

Grégoire Chamayou, from A Theory of the Drone

Translated from the French by Janet Lloyd

We should imagine  scribe-machines, flying robotized clerks that, in real time, would record the smallest actions occurring in the world below

Ilya Ilf, A Country That Didn't Have October

Translated from the Russian by Steven Volynets

The future was awash with every color in the rainbow. Everything was fine. In fact, everything was wonderful.

Raphaël Confiant, from Ravines of Early Morning

Translated from the French by Patricia Hartland

You secretly fantasize about forming a team composed entirely of chabens, because you're sure and certain that it would be invincible.

Dara Abdallah, from Loneliness Spoils its Victims

Translated from the Arabic by Mona Kareem

Unlike when one arrives, one does not leave prison in one piece. The final release takes a lot out of you.


Yasen Vasilev, from The Walled-In Ones

Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel

"Very strange things go on here. Voices drift through the hallways, but there's no one there."

Sa‘dallah Wannous, Rituals of Signs and Transformations

Translated from the Arabic by Robert Myers and Nada Saab

"We saw your enemy, the Naqib, shackled and near naked beside his bitch, who was wearing his turban and clothes."

Special Feature

Laksmi Pamuntjak on Nh. Dini

Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao

A memoir is not merely the disclosure of facts about oneself, but also about other people's lives filtered through one singular perspective

Robert Chandler on Andrey Platonovich Platonov

"The remark about the revolution being the locomotive of history was transformed inside me into a feeling that was strange and good: remembering this sentence, I worked very diligently on the locomotive"

Danish Fiction Feature

Dorthe Nors, from Minna Needs Rehearsal Space

Translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra

Minna hasn't been out of her apartment in three days.
Minna has sent a lot of texts.

Naja Marie Aidt, from Rock Paper Scissors

Translated from the Danish by K.E. Semmel

A ceasefire, Thomas thinks optimistically, letting his eyes wander across the light-blue sky. But what kind of war is this?

Katrine Marie Guldager, We have already fixed a price

Translated from the Danish by Lindy Falk van Rooyen

Sebastian was no more than a white speck blown awry in a black labyrinth

Josefine Klougart, from One of Us Is Sleeping

Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

It's something other than love, other than an absence of love. It's the picture that arises when the two things are placed on top of each other.

Mathilde Walter Clark, The Ambassador

Translated from the Danish by Colie Hoffman

As Madeleine Albright was America, I was Denmark.

Amalie Smith, from Recollection

Translated from the Danish by Paul Russell Garrett

The red suitcase with cassette tapes under the sofa is an archive of voices spread across several octaves


An interview with David Damrosch

"I feel that any form of serious criticism is a kind of autobiography"

Followed by a translation into the Chinese by Vivian Szu-Chin Chih and into the Spanish by Soledad Marambio and Paula Porroni

An interview with Szilárd Borbély

Translated from the Hungarian by Szabolcs László

"The language of poetry is meant to deal with a realm of knowledge that is not of this world—to place a gospel-like landmine into a sentence."