Editor's Note

So we made it after all to our sixth anniversary issue (commemorate with us by watching this mind-blowing video trailer), the galloping horse on the cover impossibly apt. If the translator is a "supertourist" (according to contributor Amanda DeMarco in her tour de force essay consisting only of quotes), then what to call a translation journal that has arguably published more translators than any other in the last six years (including the sixty showcased at The Guardian since October 2015)? Perhaps, to use another appropriated phrase: a horse that has "(galloped) off the flat earth.”

In our debut issue from January 2011, I opened the editor's note by thanking my five part-time team members. Six years on, unveiling the sublimation of a much bigger team's efforts, I've remained the only full-time staffer. In our quest to charge into "that pure far world," we've been asymptotic in our expansion strategy, but the attrition has also been staggering. The two others still with us from the original six are Aditi Machado and Sayuri Okamoto. Last May, we bade goodbye to Florian Duijsens and Diana George, both key members no longer able to abide by the whole “unpaid gig” thing—our emphasis on diversity and rigor has meant that we have only received one grant of $8,400 USD in all of six years.

Just as there is “an enormous difference between being a German or Norwegian writer and a Croatian or Slovak one,” as David Williams points out in a highly revealing essay explaining why he gave up being a literary translator, there is also a big difference between a Singaporean journal and, say, an American one. If, as Williams argues, literature in translation is like the Olympics: "pay-for-play," "a state-sponsored art"; then everything changes for a journal that has the support of institutions. For example, the US National Endowment for the Arts awarded the single largest quantum to any group ($60,000 USD) to the London Book Fair Award winner in the same category the year prior to our own win; Asymptote is ipso facto excluded from applying. And just as Dubravka Ugrešić might be deemed “stateless,” so too can Asymptote be said to be nationless, to the extent that literary editing is not considered a supportable activity by Singapore's National Arts Council.

Not all have been able to fully appreciate the challenges we face. One prominent member of the American translation community openly foreswore any association with Asymptote simply because we do not pay translators, even though we, who cannot even afford to pay ourselves, will have given away more than $10,000 USD to eighteen emerging translators through three translation contests after this April (two more weeks left to submit to the upcoming one, judged by David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu!)—and we in fact encourage literary translators in many other ways. When I reached out to thank Danish reader Lin Falk van Rooyen for signing up as a sustaining member, she wrote back unexpectedly, “As a translator I have personally benefitted greatly from Asymptote's in-depth, inspiring, informative (esp. 'Ask a Translator' by the ever sincere, ever astute Daniel Hahn), essential and yes—ambitious!—endeavor to promote and disseminate world literature.” 

There is also a fresh perspective that an ‘outsider’ magazine like Asymptote can offer to English language publishing—I stand strongly by this. Yes, running new work by J. M. Coetzee and Lydia Davis will always be a career highlight, but I am most proud of the projects we pursued not because we were led there by money but because of their potential for literary discovery (such as 2012’s painstaking Sinophone ‘20 under 40’ Feature’, and our massive translation projects that reached far beyond the English language community). I’m also thrilled that the hard work of the past six years has yielded highly prestigious, highly visible platforms through which we are able to advocate for a more inclusive world literature—a vision reflected not only in the names we feature on our covers, but also on our masthead. This applies to our Translation Tuesday showcase at The Guardian too—hegemons within the English world literature canon, European and South American writing combined accounted for less than half of all translations I chose to present to The Guardian's international readership in 2016. A big pity then if we were to fold—if our former Senior Editor and Copy Editor found it hard to juggle a part-time, unpaid gig with myriad other paid pursuits, I assure you it’s harder to keep down a full-time, unsalaried one.

In 2017, we will give it our heroic best and then decide what is to be done. Our approach to sustainability will be three-pronged. Having spent most of last year rebuilding and strengthening the team, I will now concentrate my energies on putting together grant applications and developing sustainability initiatives (so, for the first time since 2013, we will not be holding events to commemorate our anniversary, alas). As we experiment with money-making, there will be more and more changes to the site: ads, Amazon Affiliate links—as tastefully implemented as we can manage it. In addition to continuing the publicity packages (especially tailored to publishing houses looking to promote their forthcoming releases) we started offering at reasonable rates last year, I will be looking to unroll consultancy services and mentorship programs related to literary translation publishing and editing. Charging for access will be a last resort, and insofar as it runs counter to our mission, I’m not very interested in it at all: as contributing editor Adrian West expressed so well, the preponderance of free content on the Internet makes a subscription model harmful to the already beleaguered authors we are trying to make better known.

The third prong is where we hope you'll come in, dear reader. If you deem Asymptote worth keeping around, sign up to be a sustaining member today from as little as $5 a month—in exchange for great perks, such as a newly designed AsympTOTE, a Moleskine notebook imprinted with an Asymptote logo, and regular exclusive updates sent out only to sustaining members. (Alternatively, consider becoming an honorary member to help us go even further. US readers—I should add—can also make a completely tax deductible donation at our Fractured Atlas Page here.) We hope to hit 100 sustaining members by the end of February, and 600 by the end of the year. So that everyone is looped in on our progress, we’ll maintain a weekly counter on the blog’s right-hand column. Any good news we get on the grant application front will be announced in future editor’s notes. Rally along with us.

Guest illustrated by the amazingly talented Dianna Xu, our milestone issue is themed 'Intimate Strangers,' taken from the title of Evelyn Dueck's new monograph on Paul Celan, reviewed by Ottilie Mulzet especially for Asymptote. Connecting the many pieces in this new edition are seaward-facing figures too, from Colm Tóibín (and his muse Vija Celmins) to Mexican "water poet" Xánath Caraza and Iraqi Kurdistan-born Bachtyar Ali, whose "Friendly Harbor, Hostile Ship" represents our first work from the Kurdish-Sorani. Also implicating a dock and a ship is Lika Tcheishvili's "Daland," which can be paired powerfully with Nona Fernández's Mapocho: both are fictions by women describing love-hate homoerotic relations between men (i.e., intimate enemies!). In the same section, listen in on a pensive dream-dialogue by Strega Prize winner Cesare Pavese, and then feed your soul elsewhere with Amanda DeMarco's shape-shifting essay on arriving at the “bigness of the world” through translation. Lose yourself in our special feature on Indian Languages, edited by Poorna Swami and Janani Ganesan, and more than half a year in its making. Celebrating diversity and dissent, its thrilling lineup includes fresh work by Vidrohi, Kanji Patel, and 2016’s Bharat Bhushan Agrawal Prize winner Shubham Shree.

“Dare we walk further?” asks Zhu Zhu—an active critic and art curator, and one of contemporary China’s most prolific poets. Along with Rodrigo Lira, described by Bolaño as “one of the last poets of Latin America,” you’ll also find, in this edition, a haunting scene by the groundbreaking Indonesian playwright Putu Wijaya, a gut-wrenching dispatch from Kigali by the genre-crossing Abdourahman A. Waberi, and Nico Vassilakis’s sublime visual poems—described by our own Eva Heisler as “jazzy anatomies of the alphabet.” Hop into the saddle; get ready for the best ride you'll have. Next stop: the pure far world.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Jan 2017

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

Assistant Managing Editors: Sam Carter (USA), Lori Feathers (USA), Janani Ganesan (India)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Joshua Craze (UK/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Ellen Jones (UK)
Henry Ace Knight (USA)
Theophilus Kwek (Singapore/UK)
Eva Heisler (USA)

Indian Poetry Special Feature Editors: Poorna Swami and Janani Ganesan

Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang

Assistant Editors: Alexis Almeida (USA), K. T. Billey (USA), Julia Leverone (USA), P. T. Smith (USA), and Lin Chia-wei (Taiwan)

Contributing Editors:
Ellen Elias-Bursac (USA), Howard Goldblatt (USA), George Henson (USA), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Sylvia Lin (Taiwan/USA), Sayuri Okamoto (Japan/Italy), Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore), Antony Shugaar (Italy), Dylan Suher (USA) and Adrian West (USA)

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

Spanish Contributing Editor: Soledad Marambio (Chile/USA)

Commissioning Editor: J.S. Tennant (UK)

Blog Editor: Madeline Jones (USA)

Blog Intern: Hanna Heiskanen (Finland)

Translation Tuesdays Editor: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Interview Features Editor: Ryan Mihaly (USA)

Podcast Editor: Layla Benitez-James (USA/Spain)

Art Director: Lee Yew Leong

Assistant Director, Educational Arm: Lindsay Semel (USA)

Educational Arm Assistants: Anna Aresi (USA/Italy) 

Editor-at-large, Australia: Beau Lowenstern
Editor-at-large, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mirza Puric
Editor-at-large, Canada: Marc Charron
Editor-at-large, Egypt: Omar El Adl
Editor-at-large, Hong Kong: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, India: Poorna Swami
Editor-at-large, Indonesia: Tiffany Tsao
Editor-at-large, Iran: Poupeh Missaghi
Editor-at-large, Poland: Beatrice Smigasiewicz
Editor-at-large, Romania and Moldova: MARGENTO
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-large, South Africa: Alice Inggs
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, UK: Megan Bradshaw

Masthead for Issue January 2017

Fiction: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Writers on Writers: Theophilus Kwek
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Henry Ace Knight
Illustrations and Cover: Dianna Xu
Chief Executive Assistant: Theophilus Kwek

Executive Assistants: Sarah Ahmad and Nozomi Saito

Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan

Proofreaders: Laura Garmeson, Lori Feathers, Megan Bradshaw, Omar El Adi, Ellen Elias-Bursac, Chenxin Jiang, and Ryan Mihaly

Technical Manager: József Szabó

Marketing Manager: David Maclean

Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan

English Social Media: Sohini Basak, Hannah Berk, Thea Hawlin, Saba Ahmed, and Hannah Vose

Spanish Social Media: Arthur Dixon

Chinese Social Media: Christopher Chan

Assistant Newsletter Editor: Talia Behrend-Wilcox

Assistant Copy Editor: Laura Garmeson

Assistant Director of Outreach: Ryan Celley

Incoming: Ah-Reum Han (Writers on Writers Section Editor), Victoria Livingstone (Assistant Editor), Olenka Burgess, Emma Holland and Cassie Lawrence (Executive Assistants), Lily Rockefeller (Graphic Designer), Cat Belshaw (Grantwriter), Reverie Powell, Laura Davies, and Gareth Hadyk-DeLodder (Educational Arm Assistants), Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn (Editors-at-Large, Mexico) Jessie Stoolman (Editor-at-Large, Morocco), Maíra Mendes Galvão (Editor-at-Large, Brazil), Elizabeth Chin (Business Development intern), and Christopher Chan (Chinese Social Media Intern)

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Uddipana Goswami, Linda Ashok, Jiawen Pek, Daniel Hahn, and Vincent Kling.

For their generous donations, our heartfelt thanks go too to Brother Anthony, Anna Aresi, Yu Mei Balasingam-chow, Laetitia Bif, Nora Bojar, Miriam Bridenne, Elisabeth Brock, Helen Cardona, Mark Cohen, C.B. Cooke, Lara C Corym, Margaret Costa, Sara Edinger, Michael Falkoff, Ian Free, Maíra Medes Galvão, Nicholas Glastonbury, Hanna Golab, Marika Grossman, Daniel Hahn, Esther Han, Eva Heisler, Heidi Holzer, Jung Bum Hur, Deborah Jacob, William Justice, Devaki Khanna, Christina Kramer, Reif Larsen, Kelsey Leon, Chun Meng Low, Velina Manolova, Zehra Cemile Marsan, Peter McCambridge, Siobhan Mei, Stiliana Milkova, Szilvia Naray-Davey, Robin Philpot, Jacquelyn Pope, David Lowry Pressly III, Tanjil Rashid, Kaitlin Rees, Alec Shaw, David Silverman, Monica Timms, Tiffany Tsao, Lindy van Rooyen, Adam Versenyi, Sidney Wade, Rebecca Walkowitz, Yoke Hin N Wong, Olga Zilberbourg, The Glyph Media Group, Inc., and Singapore Literature Festival NYC.



Nona Fernández, from Mapocho

Translated from the Spanish by Ellen Jones

One night, very late, a horse’s hooves were heard galloping at full speed through the Santiago streets.

Lika Tcheishvili, Daland

Translated from the Georgian by Ekaterine Chialashvili and Alex Scrivener

I thought that I was about to die for a flower man but then was there any other flower man out there who could tempt me to stay on this side of the world?

Han Chang-hoon, I Like It Here

Translated from the Korean by Jason Woodruff

His heart, his liver, his kidneys, and all the rest of him now feel like they are being pulled out of him—a gutted fish.

Emmanuel Ordóñez Angulo, Submarine

Translated from the Spanish by Robin Myers

Not once, from the previous night until we boarded the bus, did we look back at the sea.

Cesare Pavese, The Witches

Translated from the Italian by Stefano Gulizia

A human being, Leucò, has but one immortal feature—the trace he carries within and that he’s leaving behind.


Rodrigo Lira, Testimony of Circumstances

Translated from the Spanish by Rodrigo Olavarría and Thomas Rothe

season diseason inferno, coldialects, pseudospring / verafreeze, stallion, wheel, cross

Tahir Hamut, Three Poems

Translated from the Uyghur by Joshua L. Freeman

Cicada song keeps bursting in / and wrecking crucial parts of our discussion.

Nathan Trantraal, from Chokers en Survivors

Translated from the Kaapse Afrikaans by Alice Inggs

The sky’s mouf stink of wine. / The sun werk nine to five

Asmaa Azaizeh, Two Poems

Translated from the Arabic by Yasmine Haj

I disembowel the words and the harakiri victims awake, all of them, and disembowel me.

Dana Ranga, from Waterbook

Translated from the German by Monika Cassel

Eat, don’t resist, you have confirmed the corollaries of cruelty.

Zhu Zhu, from The Wild Great Wall

Translated from the Chinese by Dong Li

from every museum window, it is beautiful out and out.

Luljeta Lleshanaku, from Negative Space

Translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika

a way of moving up, / temptation through denial, via negativa,

Norman Erikson Pasaribu, from Sergius Seeks Bacchus

Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao

from every window on every building on both sides of the street, voices reaching out—“Salam!” “Salam!” “Salam!”

Ricardo Domeneck, Household Chores

Translated from the Portuguese by Chris Daniels

a reburgeoning of lemongrass, boldo, and mint / for the kidneys, livers, intestines of the family

Bachtyar Ali, from Friendly Harbor, Hostile Ship

Translated from the Kurdish-Sorani by Dilan Qadir

We all escaped from enemies, / we and our enemies too.

Mária Ferenčuhová, Threatened Species

Translated from the Slovak by James Sutherland-Smith

The view from above doesn’t belong to a god / but a satellite.

Alain Lance, from Riddled Time

Translated from the French by Erika Luckert

Springtime is an objective fact / Abject object festive act, etc.


Evelyn Dueck, L’étranger intime

A review by Ottilie Mulzet

L’étranger intime of the title refers to translation itself...the “intimate stranger” at once close to the text at hand and distant from it.

Intizar Husain, Story is a Vagabond

Translated from the Urdu by Alok Bhalla, Asif Farrukhi, Rakhshanda Jalil, and Frances Pritchett

A review by Aamer Hussein

Subtly and over several decades he drew readers and writers away from the hegemony of foreign influences into an examination of the subcontinental modes of oral and written storytelling.

Bae Suah, A Greater Music

Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith

A review by Houman Barekat

A Greater Music is about language as a gateway to culture and social belonging.

Adonis, Violence and Islam: Conversations with Houria Abdelouahed

Translated from the French by David Watson

A review by Claire Kohda Hazelton

Our beautiful language is impoverished when it comes to thinking about male-female relations at the heart of society today.


Amanda DeMarco, Foreign to Oneself

Travel is a substitute for life. So is translation.

Abdourahman A. Waberi, from Harvest of Skulls

Translated from the French by Dominic Thomas

When it comes to the weather, hell is a long way from Rwanda.

Ziemowit Szczerek, from Mordor’s Coming to Eat Us: A Secret History of the Slavs

Translated from the Polish by Scotia Gilroy

“Tell me,” said the girl, pointing her chin at the bottle of Vigor balsam I was holding, “why are you drinking impotence medicine so ostentatiously, in front of everyone?”

Monika Rinck, Getting Closer to the Sources

Translated from the German by Karl Hoffmann

Did you water the gerunds? Better yet, I dowelled them.

Christiane Singer, The Feminine, Land of Welcome

Translated from the French by Hélène Cardona

The dream of equality is a gruesome dream, an engineered dream.


Putu Wijaya, from Shaytan

Translated from the Indonesian by Cobina Gillitt

It used to be that only the nobility could become kings. But now, even comedians and actors can become president.

Yudai Kamisato, from + 51 Aviación, San Borja

Translated from the Japanese by Aya Ogawa

If Mexico is like a child to him who is the father of Mexican theater,
His home country of Japan must be like his mother, Oedipus!

Special Feature

Victoria Livingstone on Xánath Caraza

When they think of their countries...they picture the sea.

Philip Holden on Singaporean Writers

It is not the pain of the body that is worst, but the pain of the heart: xin tong, 心痛, sim tia, sam tung, sakit hati.

Indian Languages Special Feature

Anvar Ali, Three Poems

Translated from the Malayalam by Rizio Yohannan Raj

The harvest came: Season of blood.

Vidrohi, One Poem, Two Translations

Translated from the Hindi by Rashmi Gajare, Patricio Ferrari, and Somrita Ganguly

I am a descendant of Spartacus.

Shubham Shree, Three Poems

Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

I know this poem is really weak—just like a menstruating woman.

Mrudula Bhavani, Come girl, let’s kick up a row

Translated from the Malayalam by Ra Sh

My head is a deciduous tree.

Chinchu Zorba Rosa, Theories of Probabilities

Translated from the Malayalam by Ra Sh

Same-sex lovers whistle and vomit out the bygone nights.

Siraj Khan, My Son has Learnt to Cuss like the City

Translated from the Char Chapori dialect by Shalim M Hussain

When I leave the chars for the city
They ask, ‘Oi, what is your language?’

Kutti Revathi, Four Poems

Translated from the Tamil by Padma Narayanan, Vivek Narayanan, and Kutti Revathi

this is how I become the tigress

Kanji Patel, Three Poems

Translated from the Gujarati and Panchmahali Bhili by Rupalee Burke

That very instant a bulldozer comes charging

Jitendra Vasava, Two Poems

Translated from the Dehwali Bhili by Gopika Jadeja

The master said: don’t speak in our language.


An interview with Colm Tóibín

I have learned a great deal from looking intensely at Mondrian.