Editor's Note

Every translation is a conversation, each translator in dialogue with the original author, each language speaking to another. Asymptote's Summer issue is full of such conversations, perhaps most notably our exclusive interview with best-selling author turned translator David Mitchell, who together with his wife, K.A. Yoshida, translated a memoir of autism by the 13-year-old Naoki Higashida. We also got to speak to Tan Twan Eng, the first Malaysian Man Asian Literary Prize-winner, and avant-gardist Can Xue, whom Susan Sontag singled out as the one Chinese writer worthy of the Nobel Prize. Ottilie Mulzet finds her conversation partners translating Hungarian masters László Krasznahorkai and Szilárd Borbély. Q&As with playwrights Maria Cassi and Chantal Bilodeau, meanwhile, shine their light on this issue's Special Feature: Self-Translation in Drama; or, when a translator is faced with her worst enemy: herself!

Writing doesn't always have to be straightforward or even legible, as the asemic writing of Michael Jacobson shows. 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize winner Fady Joudah's elliptical essay on translation challenges the reader, just as Rachel Shihor's parabolic fiction does (and you can learn more about contemporary Israeli fiction in Yardenne Greenspan's overview). Our Fiction section has crystallized around the theme of departure; whether in László Krasznahorkai's tantalizing short piece, Wu Ming-Yi's tale about the cast-out second sons of Wayo Wayo Island, or Melanie Taylor Herrera's "The Voyage," set in 17th century Panama, all these stories address just what happens when we leave all that we have and are behind. The lyrical black-and-white photographs of Guillaume Gilbert, our guest artist, extend this theme throughout this issue, capturing frozen moments just before.

Beginning with an ekphrastic and closing with a meditation on sculpture, the poetry in this edition is profoundly concerned with the elemental: the basic structures of our physical and metaphysical worlds. Pierre Peuchmaurd's eye observes and unflinchingly records, Kim Kyung Ju's inner world is overwhelmed by its contact with the outside world; Ihor Pavlyuk, our first Ukrainian author, like a mussel, senses "the whisper/ Of distant tides." The attitude is one of "feeling the whole hunger," of attempting to express something large via the small and the sensual. Each poet is presented with an audio recording in the original language, sometimes, as with Ulrike Almut Sandig and Enrique Winter, with astonishing musical accompaniment.

Our enormous international translation endeavor, the JHK Project, will soon boast 25 (!) translations of Jonas Hassen Khemiri's "Open Letter to Beatrice Ask" (featured in our last issue and thereafter in the New York Times. Check out the 17 translations already published here.) The success of our IndieGoGo campaign and many many volunteer hours have now also made it possible to access our growing archive of global literature through—what could be more apt—a clickable world map. Try out our beta version as well as our new About page revamped to host our issues' video trailers; let us know what you think!

We'll leave you with three reminders: Our October issue plays host to Asymptote's annual English-language poetry feature and this time there's no unifying theme, no set task, our only question that your work (submit here) be exploratory, adventurous, involved. Then, the first entries for Asymptote's $1,000 translation contestClose Approximations, judged by Eliot Weinberger and Howard Goldblatt, are already coming in (you can still send work! Deadline: 1 Sep 2013). Finally, though upwards of 15 new staff (watch for our official News release in a week or two) have joined through our recent June recruitment exercise, we are still looking for new team members to fill our Managing Editor (Administration), Executive Assistant (Personnel), Publicity and Fundraising Positions (guidelines here; available until filled). Remember, these summer days go by quick!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Jul 2013

Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Senior Editor:
Florian Duijsens (Germany/Netherlands)

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)

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

Assistant Editors: Megan Berkobien (USA), Dolan Morgan (USA), Julia Sanches (Brazil/Spain)

Editor-at-large, Argentina: Maureen Shaughnessy
Editor-at-large, Central Asia: Alex Cigale
Editor-at-large, Hong Kong: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, Hungary: Ágnes Orzóy
Editor-at-large, India: Rahul Soni
Editor-at-large, Kenya: Natalya Din-Kariuki
Editor-at-large, Paris: Daniel Medin

Managing Editor (Content): Tara FitzGerald
Special Feature and Criticism Editor: Aaron Kerner
Contributing Editors: Brother Anthony of Taizé and Ellen Elias-Bursac
Editor-at-large, Croatia: Ervin Felić
Editor-at-large, Iran: Farzaneh Doosti
Editor-at-large, Korea: Jina Song
Editor-at-large, Macedonia: Christina Kramer
Editor-at-large, Malaysia: Nicole Idar
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood

Masthead for Issue Jul 2013

Interview: Lee Yew Leong
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama and Drama Special Feature: Caridad Svich
Visual: Simon Morley
Illustrations and Cover: Guillaume Gilbert
Guest Artist Liaison: Lee Yew Leong
Technical Manager: József Szabó
Graphic Design: Lee Yew Leong and Susan Lin
Events Planner: Laurel Burchfield
Executive Assistants: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan and Alex Sham
Publicity (Chinese): Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Interns: Mounia Abousaïd, Tariq Adely, Jan Cao, Vivian Chih, Patricia Nash, Greg Nissan
Legal Counsel: Lindy Poh

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Balkenende Chew & Chia (Advocates & Solicitors), Adam Snyder, Aaron Posehn, Michael Stein, Scott Esposito, Will McGrath, Kasia Pilat, Anna Redman, Sarah Irving, Marcia Lynx Qualey, Yasmine Seale, Sharon Wang, Philip Jeyaretnam, Adrian Tan, Sherman Ong, Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren, Wah-Ming Chang, Luisa Chang, Anthony Pizzini, Little Ong, Joan Hua, Joey Rubin, Louise Court, Eliot Weinberger, Sanae Nakajima, Kodansha, Kazuto Yamaguchi (Kodansha), Andrew Lau, Farooq Alvi, Kevin Kunstadt, Nikki Barrow, and the more than 20 translators who stepped forward to volunteer for our JHK Translation Project.

Thanks go too to the more than 230 donors who backed us so generously during and after our Indiegogo campaign; to show our deep appreciation, we have inscribed your names into our hearts and onto our new Acknowledgments page here.



Rachel Shihor, from Stalin Is Dead

Translated from the Hebrew by Ornan Rotem

It was my misfortune to have been born inside a mine.

Followed by a translation into the Chinese by Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan and a translation into the Spanish by Julia Sanches

Ramo Nakajima, from Tonight, in All the Bars

Translated from the Japanese by Sayuri Okamoto and Sim Yee Chiang

The parade had three layers: old men on the left, old women on the right and in the middle a throng of meter-high dwarves of indistinct gender.

Banaphool, Nawab Sahib

Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha

Just as doctors use a stethoscope to gauge the condition of the heart, Noor Mohammad too could make out from the bubbling sounds within the pot how much longer the pulao needed to be cooked.

Wu Ming-Yi, from The Man with Compound Eyes

Translated from the Chinese by Darryl Sterk

The people of Wayo Wayo thought the whole world was but a single island.

Melanie Taylor Herrera, The Voyage

Translated from the Spanish by Christina Vega-Westhoff

"By our Blessed God, who keeps me from lying, the pirate named Morgan, the worst of all pirates, is heading towards the city."

László Krasznahorkai, I Don't Need Anything from Here

Translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet

I would leave here the exit routes, the evenings in the kitchen, the last amorous gaze, and all the city-bound directions that make you shudder.


Pierre Peuchmaurd, from The Nothing Bird

Translated from the French by E.C. Belli

This is no white creature, this is a hole in the sky.

Lam Thi My Da, On Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy

Translated from the Vietnamese by Martha Collins and Thuy Dinh

Will the lion kiss the woman, or swallow her up?

Sylvia Geist, from Periodic Song

Translated from the German by Catherine Hales

from lightning/ we can expect nothing nor more from talking/ about lightning.

Ihor Pavlyuk, Mussel

Translated from the Ukrainian by Steve Komarnyckyj

in the rosy flesh of this mussel,/ My anguish, scalloped as a wave,/ Foam-crested. 

Valerie Mejer, The Whole Hunger of My Life

Translated from the Spanish by Torin Jensen

Show me your human side/ and your torso/ tell me something/ so the foam, so the sea's distant foam/ enters the room

Szilárd Borbély, from The Hasidic Sequences

Translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet

when Shekinah weeps over the/ eradicated I, her tears inadvertently/ wash away the Aleph—on the Sabbath of Memory.

Ulrike Almut Sandig, from Thicket

Translated from the German by Bradley Schmidt

it's about/ the weather, it's about everything/ that can be named

Tóroddur Poulsen, from Super 8

Translated from the Faroese by Randi Ward

let thoughts boil up/ put them on the table// and dig in

Kim Kyung Ju, from I Am a Season that Does Not Exist in the World

Translated from the Korean by Jake Levine and Jung Hi-Yeon

lying on some desolate rotation, I think of the relationship of the earth in the key of snow exorcising a star

Enrique Winter, Sculpture

Translated from the Spanish by Mary Ellen Stitt

Perpetuity is revolutionary./ Perpetuity is f r a g i l e .


Ismat Chughtai's Short Stories

Translated from the Urdu by Tahira Naqvi

A review by Aamer Hussein

These hands were neither legitimate nor illegitimate; they were only hands, living hands that wash away the filth from the face of this planet.

Bai Hua's Wind Says

Translated from the Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain

A review by Henry W. Leung

What tigerful summer should it be/ Fiery hair awakened by a gaze/
Swift and seasoned, the sea howls/ holds flowers from down deep

MARGENTO's Nomadosofia/Nomadosophy

Translated from the Romanian by various translators

A review by Martin Woodside

The book reads like a passport of sorts, bearing the stamps of the many friends and collaborators he met along the way.

Nairi Hakhverdi, Translating Atom Egoyan's Calendar

Egoyan refuses to subtitle the many languages that fleet by to show the viewer how it feels to be faced with a wall of incomprehensible sound.


Fady Joudah, Dear God, Your Message Was Received in Error

The question of translation lies not in equating what is original to what is not, but in defining what is original writing in the first place.

Rodolfo Walsh, from Operation Massacre

Translated from the Spanish by Daniella Gitlin

Six months later, on a suffocating summer night with a glass of beer in front of him, a man says to me: "One of the executed men is alive."

Michal Pawel Markowski, Day on Earth

Translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft

Between lying and standing there unfolds a gray area of existence: squatting.

Naoki Higashida, from The Reason I Jump

Translated from the Japanese by David Mitchell and K.A. Yoshida

Once I've made a mistake, the fact of it starts rushing towards me like a tsunami.


Alejandro Ricaño, from Pork Kidneys to Soothe Despair

Translated from the Spanish by Daniel Jáquez

I needed to have Godot with me. I went back to his apartment to transcribe it. I could now read it every single night and sleep in peace.

Sébastien Joanniez, It's Me Down There

Translated from the French by Simon Pare

She says I mustn't look at her like that so she'd think I'm going to kill her or eat her, but it's not to eat her, just the opposite...


Michael Jacobson, On Asemic Writing

Not all emotions can be expressed with words, and so asemic writing attempts to fill in the void.

Ghada Amer, Norms and Forms of Translation

In a culture where there is an understanding that it is forbidden to publicly express love, there are nevertheless many ways to say 'love' that are more coded, elliptical, and circumspect.

Images followed by an essay by Simon Morley

Walker and Walker, Mount Analogue Revisited

Time is unhinged, off the hinges that subordinated it to movement, that made it the measure of movement.

A film followed by an essay by Fergus Daly

Special Feature

Mona Gainer-Salim on Rachel Shihor

A writer is someone who steps out from under the cover of how things are supposed to be done into a dangerous and blinding clearing.

Yardenne Greenspan on Contemporary Israeli Literature

We should be busy making peace, or even making war.

Self-Translation in Drama

Peca Ştefan, from Impossibility

Translated from the Romanian by Peca Ştefan

Kangaroos are animals that perfectly balance these two concepts—closeness and distance. But more about this later.

Chantal Bilodeau, Pleasure & Pain

Translated from the French by Chantal Bilodeau

Slowly, dutifully, like a bee extracting pollen from a flower, he sucks all the desire out of my body to later transform it into honey.

An interview with Maria Cassi

Our strong Florentine accent is, first of all, the accent in my heart. It is the language I grew up with, but over time, especially because of the image it has acquired on television, it has been taken to suggest cantankerousness.

An interview with Chantel Bilodeau

I become so intimate with the plays and authors I translate that they end up inspiring me, both directly and indirectly.


An interview with David Mitchell

Thanks to the book, I could look at my own son and instead of seeing an autistic boy, I saw a boy inside autism.

An interview with Can Xue

I turn towards the dark abyss of consciousness and plunge in. In the tension between those two forces I build my fantastic, idealist plots.

An interview with Tan Twan Eng

You know, some people ask me for writing tips, how to be a better writer. I always say, "Watch more stand-up comedy."