Editor's Note

Fresh from winning this year's London Book Fair's International Translation Initiative Award, Asymptote brings you its July issue, focused on the multilingual condition and the parallel worlds inhabited by those speaking numerous tongues (video trailer here). Even if "all writers dream of wielding a simple language," as the great Sergio Chejfec explains in this brand-new edition, the polyglots in this issue of Asymptote attempt that dream in English and Arabic, Dutch and Danish, Chinese and Japanese, to name just a few combinations. Moving (or fleeing) to a different country can occasion a move into a different language, but how do we translate our identity when we are, as visual artist Mekhitar Garabedian says, "always speaking with the words of others"?

In a thrilling excerpt from her Muslim, A Novel, Zahia Rahmani tackles this issue head-on, as do Aleš Šteger in a poetic short story and Mireille Gansel in a moving memoir about a childhood encounter with new languages (one of many accounts of childhood in our Nonfiction section—including one by Datuk Shahnon Ahmad, Malaysia's second national laureate). Our special feature on multilingual writing further plumbs the multilingual condition in heart-stopping pieces by Mircea Cărtărescu, Cia Rinne, and the rising Danish star Naja Marie Aidt. In editing this special feature, Asymptote's criticism editor Ellen Jones was inundated with more than two hundred submissions, proving that multilingual writing is far from untranslatable–it's flourishing!

Of these offerings, the trickiest to translate had to be the excerpt from Yoko Tawada's As Clear as Cloud, written originally in Japanese and Chinese. Contributing editors Sayuri Okamoto and Sim Yee Chiang chose to render the Akutagawa Prizewinner's work into English and Middle English, so as to justly replicate the foreign "syllabubbles" in the mind of an exiled poet who has spent so much time in solitary confinement that he can no longer "speak words known to men." First-generation New Yorkers Valeria Luiselli and Yuko Otomo, on the other hand, reveal the unexpected boons of living and writing through a foreign lens in their candid interviews.

The importance of the translator is also highlighted in Adrian West's review of Thomas Mann in English, a piece that takes critics to task for their flippant denunciations of new translations. At its best, translation yields up a work as lucid and immediate as those written in one's native tongue. Perhaps no other piece in the issue articulates this transformative potential of translation as well as in Hayashi Amari's erotic and religious tankas, pleas for direct and open communication across all borders: "His voice now—low, clear, and soft— / is the voice we've longed for most in all the world."

A different take on parallel worlds appears in two bewitching tales of haunted houses, one by the acclaimed Chinese writer Can Xue (who recently won the Best Translated Book Award for The Last Lover) and one by Uruguayan Mario Levrero, a former cruciverbalist (crossword puzzle maker) who makes his English debut here, leaving behind the dubious honor of "Best Untranslated Writer." That same fiction section also features two heavyweights, last year's Nobel winner Patrick Modiano and inaugural Neustadt Prizewinner (as well as perennial Nobel bridesmaid) Ismail Kadare, whose pieces pry into the parallel world of memory. Politics pops up in our survey of Palestinian literature and in Romano Bilenchi's bittersweet memoir of his friend Elio Vittorini and their misadventures under the Italian fascist regime. There's also a strong political thread running through our poetry section, with writing about "the barbed wire of exile" (Abdellatif Laâbi, Morocco) and "brotherhood and gas masks" (Gökçenur Ç, Turkey). Greek poet Yiannis Efthymiades then takes us into the heart of terror, writing from the perspective of a man falling from a 9/11 WTC: "the horror becomes an image like the others / and this image becomes gigantic until it takes the shape of a complete world."

Our intriguing cover image, suggesting summerscapes from both hemispheres, comes courtesy of photographer Cody Cobb, our American guest artist who illustrated this immensely diverse issue, which contains work from more than thirty countries and from four new languages, bringing our tally to seventy-two(!). As for what's next, we'll soon launch the next edition of our Close Approximations translation contest (watch our Facebook and Twitter feed in early August, or subscribe to our mailing list to get the news delivered to your inbox), judged by translation heavyweights such as Michael Hofmann. Though that contest is exclusively geared towards emerging translators of under-translated authors, our submissions are open to anyone at any time. After the Hong Kong Poetry Feature coming up in October 2015, we are planning a very exciting Experimental Translation feature for January 2016 entirely dedicated to translations that use unconventional techniques to reimagine a foreign-language text. (Check out the guidelines here.) Have a most multilingual summer y'all!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue July 2015

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

Assistant Managing Editors: Sam Carter (USA), Etienne Charriére (Switzerland/USA), David Maclean (UK) and Justin Maki (USA)

Senior Editor: Florian Duijsens (Germany/The 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)
Ellen Jones (UK)
Matthew Jakubowski (USA)
Luisa Zielinski (Germany)
Eva Heisler (USA)

Assistant Editors: Alexis Almeida (USA), Daniel Goulden (USA), Bradley Schmidt (Germany/USA), Kara Billey Thordarson (USA) and Lin Chia-wei (Taiwan)

Contributing Editors:
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)

Spanish Contributing Editor: Soledad Marambio (Chile/USA)

Blog Editors: Patricia Nash (USA) and Katrine Øgaard Jensen (Denmark/USA)

Chief Copy Editor: Diana George

Podcast Editor: Emma Jacobs (UK)

Audio Editor: Sally Decker (USA)

Editor-at-large, Argentina:Andrés Hax
Editor-at-large, Australia: Beau Lowenstern
Editor-at-large, Belgium: Veronka Köver
Editor-at-large, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mirza Puric
Editor-at-large, Brazil: Bruna Lobato
Editor-at-large, Canada: Marc Charron
Editor-at-large, Denmark: Katrine Øgaard Jensen
Editor-at-large, Hong Kong: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, Hungary: Ágnes Orzóy
Editors-at-large, India: Naheed Patel and Poorna Swami
Editor-at-large, Indonesia: Tiffany Tsao
Editor-at-large, Iran: Poupeh Missaghi
Editor-at-large, Italy: Antony Shugaar
Editor-at-large, Israel: Yardenne Greenspan
Editor-at-large, Malaysia: Nicole Idar
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: Paula Porroni

Masthead for Issue July 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: Cody Cobb
Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan
Proofreaders: Hannah Berk, Jimmy Cloutier, Ellen Elias-Bursac, Emma Jacobs, Veronka Köver, Yardenne Greenspan and Paula Porroni 
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, Hannah Berk, Jimmy Cloutier, Evan Kleekamp and Hannah Vose
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: Kazuto Yamaguchi, Silvia Monteiro, Julia Sanches, Cui Mok, Mabel Wong and Alice Cottrell.

Our heartfelt thanks go too to Fionntan O'Donnell and Nathaniel Jones for their kind donations.



Aleš Šteger, from The Book of Bodies

Translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry and Urška Charney

The difference between my language and yours is that my language doesn't allow cars to drive across the cemetery.

Zahia Rahmani, from Muslim, A Novel

Translated from the French by Matt Reeck

One night, a night of dreams and nightmares, gave me over to another language, that of Europe.

Patrick Modiano, from Paris Nocturne

Translated from the French by Phoebe Weston-Evans

During those sleepless nights, what I regretted most was having left all my books in my room on Rue de la Voie-Verte.

Mario Levrero, The Abandoned House

Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle

Something pulses, something grows in the attic. It's suspected to be green, it's feared to have eyes.

Can Xue, Crow Mountain

Translated from the Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping

I saw a little light across from me, as if someone was carrying a candle, or as if a candle were floating along of its own accord.

Ismail Kadare, The Migration of the Stork

Translated from the Albanian by Ani Kokobobo

Love letters never arrived here, because everyone knew that letters were opened.


Abdellatif Laâbi, Letter to My Friends Overseas

Translated from the French by André Naffis-Sahely

I have started to dig / entire tunnels / and underground passages / even into my veins / even into my mind's vital parts

Florencia Walfisch, from Garlic Soup and Mezcal

Translated from the Spanish by Alexis Almeida

my // two tits / firm witnesses of your darkness scattering / in a time without duration without regions and without air

Yvan Goll, from Neila, Evening Song

Translated from the German by Donald Wellman

The red songs of the father resound in your mouth / A golden animal horn of fervor / Announces you to fate

Sodéh Negintaj, And Should You Feign Resistance

Translated from the Persian by Alireza Taheri Araghi

telling the gendarmes, someone was on his way to his father's mansion, he went instead to the Milky Way / and you continue: magic?

Friederike Mayröcker, from études

Translated from the German by J. D. Larson

on your pansy I bedded myself on your coat : how it MOUTHS, I say, when your branches tend themselves toward me steaming hands

Guy Jean, from Air Triste

Translated from the French by Jen Lagedrost and Catherine Fagan

Tango of the funeral parlor, / My steps sink below ground.

Hayashi Amari, Selected Tanka

Translated from the Japanese by Jon Holt

Beyond the window curtain, it's probably raining but / inside, like a skylark twittering away, fellatio for him.

Petr Bezruč, from Silesian Songs

Translated from the Czech by Jacob A. Bennett

One morning / a hectic calyx burst from the stalk: / a red flower.

Gökçenur Ç, Three Poems

Translated from the Turkish by Erik Mortenson

3—This island happened when a tired swallow alighted on the sea; so begins my country's history. This is a summary of cherry blossoms.

José Eugenio Sánchez, from galaxy limited café

Translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong

: the wind will hurl itself into the void / the moon will hang itself on the horizon

Yiannis Efthymiades, from 9/11 or Falling Man

Translated from the Greek by Karen Van Dyck

the man who falls must always know his own fall even as he is falling this is / his punishment

Paola Gallo, from Vermin

Translated from the Spanish by Adam Giannelli

As in the painting by Klimt . . . / Strange proximity, two.


David Horton, Thomas Mann in English

A review by Adrian West

Rooting around for inaccuracies may be one of the easiest and most repugnant pastimes of writers on translation.

Georgi Gospodinov, The Physics of Sorrow

Translated from the German by Angela Rodel

A review by Pete Mitchell

He's a figure of the writer as kleptomaniac, cat-burglar, and spy, constantly ravening for new materials and always unfulfilled.

Yuri Lotman, Non-Memoirs

Translated from the Russian by Caroline Lemak Brickman

A review by Michael Kinnucan

Soldiers, like lice, are to be found on every side of every war, involved in history and yet closed off from it.

Enrique Vila-Matas, A Brief History of Portable Literature

Translated from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead and Anne McLean

A review by Tyler Curtis

Imagine a machine that can pinpoint in any given book its most reprehensible quality.


Sergio Chejfec, Simple Language, Name

Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Carson

Some years ago I had the idea of asking several writer friends if they wouldn't care to reflect on their own surname.

Mireille Gansel, Translation as Transhumance

Translated from the French by Ros Schwartz

"Tonight, I am going to translate for you."

Alberto Prunetti, from Amianto: Una Storia Operaia

Translated from the Italian by Will Schutt

Shooting an action scene in a Western, you realize you're no longer the same bastard you once were. You're short of breath.

Shahnon Ahmad, from My Boyhood in an Impoverished Village

Translated from the Malay by Nicole Idar

When somebody slaughters a cow or a buffalo or a deer, I like sitting close to where the animal's neck has been slit.

Pavel Nikulin, I Am a Crimean Tatar

Translated from the Russian by Nathan Jeffers

What will become of us Tatars after all of this? You think they'll give us land? They won't give us anything.


Eyad Houssami, from Mama Butterfly

Translated from the Arabic and French by Eyad Houssami

I used to be an artichoke thief.

Miriam Boolsen, Text

Translated from the Danish by Miriam Boolsen and Madeleine van Leer

One moment you're busy on your milk route, whistling, and the next thing you know you have joined the brotherhood of weightlessness.


Mekhitar Garabedian, Always Speaking the Words of Others

My mother often reads her future in grounds of coffee, unfiltered Middle Eastern coffee.

Christine Davis, Machines for Thinking

Projecting slides onto orchids to see if sufficient photosynthesis can occur is still part of my studio practice.

Naho Taruishi, An Outside and an Inside

What you experience by looking at the exterior varies from what you experience within the interior.

Special Feature

Romano Bilenchi on Elio Vittorini

Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

For a long time our lives ran smoothly, unchanging; the same walks, the same readings, the same women.

Ruxandra Cesereanu on Alexandru Mușina

Translated from the Romanian by MARGENTO

"Budila Express" gravitates around loss, oblivion, and mortification—"A swift,/ aseptic, elegant abortion"

Fakhri Saleh on Palestinian Writers

Palestinian literature gives voice to an acute sense of loss, of instability and vulnerability.

Multilingual Writing

Susana Chávez-Silverman, All Green Will Endure Chrónicle

Translated from the Spanish and English by Ellen Jones

Something totalmente wormhole-ish, "invisible links-y," extraordinario just happened.

Rajiv Mohabir, Four Poems

Yuh limin' sunburned sting of salt and silk, / those pretty-boy white fags cyan't lick yuh peppah

Mircea Cărtărescu, from Air with Diamonds

Translated from the Romanian by Andrew K. Davidson

let's make love, chera mu, let's make love tujur / for tomorrow we'll fall victim to floods, landslides, and heavy drinking

Naja Marie Aidt, from Everything Shimmers

Translated from the Danish by Susanna Nied

A tiny Mexican man scurries along the street with a newspaper in his / mouth

Wilson Bueno, from Paraguayan Sea

Translated from the Portunhol and Guaraní by Erín Moure

For the nth time je déclare: it weren't moi qui killéd the oldie.

Cia Rinne, Excerpt

write a text. / now, take out all lies.

Yoko Tawada, from As Clear As Cloud

Translated from the Japanese by Sayuri Okamoto and Sim Yee Chiang

I was in solitary confinement on the side of a cliff for many years. The only things I could speak with were the waves, the wind, and the trees.


An interview with Yuko Otomo

Exophonic writers are given a rare opportunity to mirror ourselves in a multi-language identity.

An interview with Valeria Luiselli

Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney

Writing was a space I felt much more confident in than the space of speech.