Editor's Note

Superhero movies and summer seem destined to go together, as if the desire to escape scorching heat were merely a suggestion to escape the world-as-is into a cooler, brighter realm where salvation comes swooping down with fists of principles and gleaming capes. In quite a different way—but, we think, even more satisfyingly—Asymptote too is a flashy team of superheroes, zipping around the world to seek out the best unpublished translations to offer as salvation or pleasure or whatever it is one seeks in literature and art.

Our blockbuster issue highlights two literatures in particular, with a special feature on contemporary Romanian poetry and parts one and two of the list of 20 best Sinophone writers under 40 as originally compiled by Taiwan's Unitas Magazine. There is also Efraín Bartolomé's Ocosingo War Diary, a singular piece of poetic non-fiction that is here accompanied by an effects-heavy audio recording; Abdellah Taïa's provocative "Homosexuality Explained to My Mother," a brave letter as much directed to the author's beloved mother as to Morocco, his motherland; and a slideshow of works by artist Nina Katchadourian. You may have seen Katchadourian's "Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style" which went viral earlier this year. Her enchanting "Sorted Books" are often just as funny and Asymptote presents a selection of these playful juxtapositions of book covers spelling out the shortest of stories.

The poetry section offers its own curious juxtapositions, throwing together Roselyne Sibille's strange and elemental Shadow-World with the emotional and metaphysical absences experienced by Laura Campmany's Smoking Angel; or the varying senses of historical and personal time one gets from the writings of Ernest Wichner and Yang Mu. We are proud to present work from renowned poet-translators Rosmarie Waldrop, Marilyn Hacker, and Arthur Sze (in collaboration with Michelle Yeh), as well as poetry from the Armenian and Farsi, two languages new to Asymptote. We furthermore could not be more chuffed that all the poetry selections are accompanied by recorded readings.

Meanwhile, Austria's most famous superhero, Freud, visits his psychologically troubled sister in an excerpt from Goce Smilevski's new book Freud's Sister (our first translation from the Macedonian); polymath super-talent Reif Larsen explores Orhan Pamuk's real-life Museum of Innocence; and Dylan Suher writes about China's own literary omniscient, Qian Zhongshu. In Maksym Kurochkin's hit play Kitchen, the Teutonic heroes of the Nibelungen are transformed into modern-day chefs and dishwashers. On the limits of heroism, we have Austrian-born Jean Améry, whose suffering in a Gestapo torture chamber so deeply haunted his days afterward that he felt unable to live them out. His suicide notes are here accompanied by a sage essay from his translator Adrian West. Time is also pressing in two other stories: in Huang Chunming's "The Pocket Watch" (translated by Howard Goldblatt), a clock breaking down has grave repercussions, whereas Dominique Eddé's "Kite" (translated into both English and Chinese) argues that novels are far crueler than watches.

The special feature on Romanian poetry mentioned above offers but a small slice of a rich and diverse culture, ranging from the lyrical mastery of Mircea Ivanescu and Denisa Comănescu to the post-surrealism of Gellu Naum (whose poem appears with a recording by experimental band MARGENTO). This feature also includes poet-theorist Bogdan Ghiu; political critics Ileana Mǎlǎncioiu and Mircea Dinescu, whose writings have previously been banned in Romania; as well as rising stars Radu Vancu, Adina Dabija, and Stefan Bolea.

We've kept a very special announcement for the end of this note, which regards the other Feature this issue on Sinophone lit. It marks our formal partnership with Unitas Magazine, a Taipei-based print journal begun in 1987 and now very much considered a leading journal in the Chinese-speaking world. Each Asymptote issue, starting from this one, will feature content (in English translation) that first appeared in the Taiwanese literary monthly; in exchange, Unitas Magazine will also publish original Asymptote content (in Chinese translation) in their pages, all within 3 months of our issues' release. Like Nick Fury assembling The Avengers, we feel much stronger now that we have Unitas on our team–now to figure out which one of us gets to be Iron Man.

Next up, the October issue will have as its focus original English-language poetry that engages with the notion of 'foreignness,' (it's still not too late to submit!) and our January 2013 feature seeks essays about the fraught/felicitous relationships between translator and authors (feel free to pitch us ideas first)—this is, of course, aside from our usual rolling submissions across the genres. All this to say: putting together our issues is much like assembling a team of superheroes: our contributors turn up in the farthest reaches, seem to possess superhuman skills, and occasionally (ideally), with some support (financial or otherwise) from other corners, something goes BOOM!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Jul 2012

Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Managing Editor:
Florian Duijsens (Netherlands/Germany)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Florian Duijsens (Netherlands/Germany)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)

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

Incoming Contributing Editors:
Dylan Suher (USA) and Adrian West (USA)

Masthead for Issue Jul 2012

Interview: Lee Yew Leong
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Romanian Poetry Feature: Aditi Machado
'A Sinophone "20 under 40"' Feature: Lee Yew Leong, Florian Duijsens, Sim Yee Chiang, and Riccardo Moratto
Photo Illustrations and Cover: Hong-An Tran
Editorial Assistant: Riccardo Moratto
Design: Lee Yew Leong and fFurious
Legal Counsel: Lindy Poh

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Balkenende Chew & Chia (Advocates & Solicitors), Luisa Chang, Lin Kuo-cheng, Wolfgang Kubin, Legend Hou Chunming, Ye Mimi, Steve Bradbury, Tomaz Salamun, Patrizia Van Daalen, Ta-wei Chi, Francis Li Zhuoxiong, 黃崇凱, Nadia Ho, Chen Weisheng Jiang Chenxin, Helen Wang, Poppy Toland, Drew Dixon, Yu Yan Chen, Gray Tan, Jason Napoli Brooks, Guo Bingxiu, Jeffrey Waxman, Desmond Kon, Dominic Pettman, Rachel Tang, Dale Peck, Darryl Sterk, Nat Niu, Rikey Cheng, Lin Chia Wei, Gong Wanhui, Nathalie Chang, Camelia Raghinaru, Daniel Lawless, Ou Ning, Sharky Chen, Mounia Abousaïd, Jean-Paul Bass, Dorothée Fraleux, Huang Yin-Nan, Paul Doru Mugur, Monica Rinck, Francesca Spedalieri, Il Memming Park, Florin Bican, Alex Cigale, Richard Deming, Adam J. Sorkin, Richard Deming, Dorothee Fraleux, Roland Knappe, Leopold Lippert, Monica Rinck, Julian Smith-Newman, and Carlos Salas.

Thanks go too to Johnny and Anon for their generous donations.



Dominique Eddé, from Kite

Translated from the French by Ros Schwartz

The novel doesn't move like an ordinary watch, its hands can stop for an hour on a minute and for a second on twenty years. It's a machine that can gobble a life in two pages.

Followed by a translation into the Chinese by Francis Li Zhuoxiong

Alejandro Zambra, The Cyclops

Translated from the Spanish by Elizabeth Fisherkeller

At the height of 1993 or 1994, Claudia was already, without a doubt, the protagonist of a long novel, beautiful and complex, worthy of Cortázar or of Kerouac or of whoever could follow her quick life.

Huang Chunming, The Pocket Watch

Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt

All he brought back, in addition to the bedbugs and lice, was an old pocket watch in a silver case.

Goce Smilevski, from Freud's Sister

Translated from the Macedonian by Christina E. Kramer

"Sometimes I recall those words of yours," my brother said. "That beauty is comfort in this world."


Roselyne Sibille, from Shadow-World

Translated from the French by Karthika Naïr

Ernest Wichner, About the Village

Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop

Marina Eskina, A Letter from Zürau

Translated from the Russian by Ian Singleton

Musan Cho Oh-hyun, Six Zen Poems

Translated from the Korean by Heinz Insu Fenkl

Rachida Madani, from Tales of a Severed Head

Translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker

Bidel Dehlavi, Ghazal

Translated from the Persian by Rebecca Gould

Ye Mimi, Three Poems

Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury

Shushanik Kurghinian, We As Two Separate Planets

Translated from the Armenian by Shushan Avagyan

Ava Koohbor, from Doubt itself is a belief

Translated from the Persian by Patrick James Dunagan and Ava Koohbor

Laura Campmany, from The Smoking Angel

Translated from the Spanish by Emily Toder

Paol Keineg, from Triste Tristan

Translated from the French by Rosmarie Waldrop

Niels Hav, The Long-haired Lorries

Translated from the Danish by Heather Spears

Yang Mu, Three Poems

Translated from the Chinese by Michelle Yeh and Arthur Sze

Francesca Pellegrino, from Chernobylove — the day after the wind

Translated from the Italian by Adria Bernardi


Dylan Suher on Qian Zhongshu

An essay followed by a translation into the Italian by Riccardo Moratto

Some say that Leibniz was the last man who knew everything. This is perhaps true for the West; for the East, it was certainly Qian Zhongshu.

Amina Saïd's The Present Tense of the World 

Translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker

A review by Aditi Machado

Each place brings out a new 'I': place is fertile in this way; it makes us sing ourselves, each time differently. Are we born in a place? Do we die there? Are we there only for a moment?

The Complete Short Stories of Natalia Ginzburg

Translated from the Italian by Paul Lewis

A review by Aamer Hussein

In the early years of the millennium I began to reread Ginzburg in English, usually in the hope that I could teach her work, but by that time they were already almost out of print.


Reif Larsen, The Generosity of a Matchstick

On Orhan Pamuk, innocence museums, and the curation of literary space.

Efraín Bartolomé, from Ocosingo War Diary

Translated from the Spanish by Kevin Brown

Death swilled, yesterday and the day before, its thick red wine.

Jean Améry, Suicide Notes

Translated from the German by Adrian West

Please pardon, kind ladies and gentlemen, the annoyances that I have caused you.

Abdellah Taïa, Homosexuality Explained To My Mother

Translated from the French by Riccardo Moratto

I am not the only one in Morocco, Mother. Something has started in this country. A real break with previous generations who abdicated, who co-opted. We are the twenty-first century.

Followed by a translation into the Chinese by Lin Kuo-cheng


Maksym Kurochkin, from Kitchen

Translated from the Russian by John Freedman

"When I cracked the code of the language of the birds, the birds themselves caught on immediately and kept their lips zipped."

Zachary Karabashliev, from Lissabon

Translated from the Bulgarian by Zachary Karabashliev

"So why am I tied to a chair just like you, if I'm one of them?"


Nina Katchadourian, Sorted Books

A series of pieces based on book covers from the M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings.

Special Feature

Adrian West on Jean Améry

By 1968, Améry's suicide was a given: all that remained was the settling of scores, a few last stabs at vitality.

Brian Libgober on Victor Pelevin

Eventually he becomes the head of the largest advertising agency in Russia, the one whose job it is to fabricate all the political news in the country.

A Sinophone "20 under 40" (Part I/IV)

Translated from the Chinese by "And Other Stories Chinese Reading Group" members

A comprehensive translation of Unitas Magazine's list of the 20 best Sinophone writers under 40 presented in four parts

Part I introduces: Gan Yaoming, Wang Congwei, Gao Yifeng, Zhang Yixuan and Lu Min

A Sinophone "20 under 40" (Part II/IV)

Translated from the Chinese by "And Other Stories Chinese Reading Group" members

Part II introduces: Xu Rongzhe, Zhang Yaosheng, Wenren Yueyue, A Yi and Gong Wanhui

Romanian Poetry Feature

Gellu Naum, Eutychia

Translated from the Romanian by MARGENTO and Martin Woodside

Ileana Mǎlǎncioiu, Three Poems

Translated from the Romanian by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Mircea Ivănescu, from lines poems poetry

Translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu

Bogdan Ghiu, Four Poems

Translated from the Romanian by Florin Bican

Radu Vancu, from Biographia litteraria

Translated from the Romanian by Martin Woodside

Adina Dabija, from An Undifferentiated State

Translated from the Romanian by Claudia Serea

Denisa Comănescu, Three Poems

Translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Denisa Comănescu

Mircea Dinescu, Three Poems

Translated from the Romanian by Florin Bican

Stefan Bolea, inflation

Translated from the Romanian by Nigel Walker and Alina-Olimpia Miron


An interview with Abdellah Taïa

"I think much of my writing is the acknowledgment of that blood, of trying to deal with all the blood."