Editor's Note

Dreamers may often lie, yet they do dream things true, proclaimed Romeo. This summer, Queen Mab hath been with Asymptote, whispering in twenty-one languages of “Dreams and Reality” and gracing us with new work from thirty countries along with guest artist Mirza Jaafar’s crisp visions. For Canadian luminary Nicole Brossard, “The figure is as real as politics,” and words are well capable of “injur[ing] lives,” as Moroccan novelist Siham Benchekroun suggests. Don Quixote might agree that words are more than mere illusions: his illustrious translator Edith Grossman joins us for a candid interview on the art of bringing dreams to life across languages. 

Yiddish lives on in this issue’s Special Feature headlined by celebrated modernists Yankev Glatshteyn and Itzik Manger—thanks in part to the generous support of the Yiddish Book Center. Aided by generous helpings of Biblical tales and ancient traditions, this eminently international language conveys everything from Isaac Berliner’s dreams of ancient South America to Yermiyahu Ahron Taub’s modern-day America. Even Dvoyre Vogel’s urban landscapes of Europe seem to have leapt from our dreams in tones of grey and yellow.

Of course, death is no dream. Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz ponders our inexplicable demises in his crime story-turned-parable. Avant-garde Korean poet I Sang contemplates a dying butterfly (“a hotline to the other world”); Matt Reeck, on the other hand, discusses compatriot Kim Hyesoon’s much more disturbing evocations of our brutal condition. Yet however troubling, however irrefutable the realities we face, “we’re also determined to find a way back to the world, to the body, to the overwhelming tumult of the present,” as Fausto Alzati Fernández did to overcome debilitating addiction.

But even this ineluctable pull of reality does not drive dreams away. Sophocles’ famed warrior, bulwark of the Achaeans, cannot escape from the labyrinth of madness Athena has cast over him. The protagonist in Bijan Najdi’s “A Rainy Tuesday” clings to a blue umbrella as though it were her father at last freed from an Iranian prison. The poets too cherish their madness: “I was dreaming about being a boy once again in Gijón,” writes Leonardo Sanhueza, while Pamela Proietti observes that “Being lost / isn’t voluntary, it just naturally follows / when I wake up.” Do we ever truly awaken? Or else, may we ever rest and dream at last? 

Whether awake or dreaming, we all “contend with the impossibility of the impossible” (Michael Autrey). Jorge Wellesley’s blank, decaying, or blurred billboards, featured in our Visual section, stand like empty, surreal slogans. But for Asymptote, words are more than slogans: they bear witness to our folly, our illusions, and our humanity. Support us (and the independent publishers that make world literature possible) by subscribing to our Book Club. Is there an author you’re dying to introduce to the English-speaking world? If so, submit to our essay contest, judged by none other than J. M. Coetzee. The Nobel Prize winner will help us award $1,000 in prizes alongside publication in our special ninth anniversary issue! The deadline to enter this contest is October 1st. We’ll bring you updates on this contest, along with the latest in world literature, via our daily blog as well as on Facebook and Twitter. If you are a fan of our work, join us in living the dream by becoming a sustaining member or even a masthead member for as little as $5 per month. Together, we can bring about a more inclusive world literature.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue July 2019

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

Senior Editor: Sam Carter (USA)

Assistant Managing Editors: Janani Ganesan (India), Josefina Massot (Argentina), Rachael Pennington (Spain/UK), Garrett Phelps (UK/USA), Lou Sarabadzic (UK/France), and Jacob Silkstone (Norway/UK)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Ellen Jones (UK)
Joshua Craze (UK/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Sam Carter (USA)
Sarah Timmer Harvey (USA/The Netherlands)
Ah-reum Han (USA/South Korea)
Victoria Livingstone (USA)
Eva Heisler (USA)

Editor of Special Feature on Yiddish Poetry: Alexander Dickow (USA) and Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Assistant Editors: Alyea Canada (USA), Ben Dreith (Canada), Helena Fornells (UK), Erik Noonan (USA), Chris Power (USA), Andreea Scridon (UK/Romania), Lindsay Semel (Portugal/USA), P. T. Smith (USA), and Lin Chia-wei (Taiwan)

Contributing Editors:
Ellen Elias-Bursac (USA), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore), Dylan Suher (USA), and Adrian West (USA)

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

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

Art Director: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Assistant Director, Educational Arm: Barbara Thimm (USA/Germany)

Editors-at-large, Brazil: Daniel Persia
Editor-at-large, Chile: Scott Weintraub
Editor-at-large, El Salvador: Nestor Gomez
Editor-at-large, Guatemala: José García
Editors-at-large, Hong Kong: Jacqueline Leung and Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, Iran: Poupeh Missaghi
Editor-at-large, Lebanon: Ruba Abughaida
Editor-at-large, Mexico: Paul Worley 
Editor-at-large, Morocco: Hodna Nuernberg
Editor-at-large, Romania and Moldova: MARGENTO
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih

Masthead for Issue July 2019

Fiction and Poetry: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Drama: Caridad Svich
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Writers on Writers: Ah-reum Han and Victoria Livingstone
Special Feature on Yiddish Poetry: Alexander Dickow and Lee Yew Leong
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Sarah Timmer Harvey
Illustrations and Cover: Mirza Jaafar

Chief Executive Assistants: Lucy Morgan
Director of Outreach: Alessandro Mondelli
Senior Executive Assistant: Daljinder Johal
Executive Assistants: Zane Lilley and Bernice Seow
Book Club Manager: Sophia Neitsch

Assistant Blog Editors: Jonathan Egid, Nina Perrotta, and Xiao Yue Shan

Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan

Co-Chief Copy Editor: Steven Teref

Copy Editors: Anna Aresi, Andrea Blatz, Devarati Chakrabarti, Choo Suet Fun, Angela Glindemann, Alice Horne, Clayton McKee, James Shrieve, Steven Teref, and Lara Zammit

Technical Manager: József Szabó

English Social Media: May Huang, Carlotta Moro, Leah Scott, and Ananya Sriram

Spanish Social Media: Sergio Serrano

French Social Media: Filip Noubel 

Chinese Social Media: Jiaoyang Li and Jessica Wang

Marketing Manager: Lauren Chamberlain

Marketing Analyst: Nicolás Llano Linares

Graphic Designer: Anna Wang

Communications Manager: Alexander Dickow

Assistant Director, Educational Arm: Barbara Thimm

Educational Arm Assistants: Kasia Bartoszyńska, Mary Hillis, and Maria Snyder

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support especially of:


without whose generous sponsorship the Yiddish Poetry Feature could not have happened. We also wish to thank Dubravka Ugrešić, Madeleine Cohen, Eliyana Adler, Astrid Alben, Maria Jesus Alonso, Forrest Gander, Francesca Vinter, Jacob Rogers, Chenxin Jiang, and Sarah-Jayne Carver.

For their generous donations, our heartfelt thanks go too to Anna Aresi, Daniel Hahn, Danielle Farnbaugh, Jeffrey Boyle, Julie Hillery, Lara Norgaard, Mallory Truckenmiller, MMark Cohen, Martin Ingebrigtsen, Matthew Mazowita, Monty Reid, Nancy Relaford, Ruth Diver, Siobhan Mei, Ulf Jacobsen, Velina Manolova, William Cadwallader. In addition, we’d like to welcome Maria Figueira to our family as a sustaining member, as well as shout out to the fine folks at OOMPH! Press who took out a month-long ad at our daily blog.



Bernardo Esquinca, from Flies

Translated from the Spanish by Audrey Manchester

Imagine: a million flies and one single man at the center of the spectacle.

Naguib Mahfouz, Culprit Unknown

Translated from the Arabic by Emily Drumsta

The motives for killing are as numerous as the motives for living!

Bijan Najdi, A Rainy Tuesday

Translated from the Persian by Michelle Quay

She knew in order to touch her father’s face, she would have to traverse a long distance between dream and reality.

Chen Xiwo, from Pet

Translated from the Chinese by Nicky Harman

I was the only one it trusted. And now I was leading it to its death!

Siham Benchekroun, Living Words

Translated from the French by Hannah Embleton-Smith

There are words that I caress as you might shine a creature’s coat. To make them purr within me.


Serhiy Zhadan, Four Poems

Translated from the Ukrainian by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

Eastern Ukraine, the end of the second millennium.
The world is brimming with music and fire.

Nicole Brossard, from SeaMother, or the Bitteroded Chapter

Translated from the French by Robert Majzels and Erín Moure

In her interpretation of figuration, of tangible form, she visibly altered the dream.

Bijan Elahi, High Tide of the Eyes

Translated from the Persian by Rebecca Ruth Gould and Kayvan Tahmasebian

my cold cheek was a sun
that did not reply

Kornélia Deres, Five Poems

Translated from the Hungarian by Timea Balogh

Is this the past,
or is it still the future?

I Sang, from Crow's Eye View

Translated from the Korean by Dan Kwon

To my dream where I’ve been sentenced to capital punishment I am late.

Luis de Góngora, The Solitudes

Translated from the Spanish by Hamish Ballantyne

nightime orchard
morning’s ash

Karin Fellner, from Without a Cosmonaut Suit

Translated from the German by Zane Johnson

flood gates for
small euphoric suns

Homer, from The Iliad

Translated from the Ancient Greek by James Wilcox

And next the troops were tipping over, fast falling, dropping in blocks like dominos,—klonk klonk klonk

Leonardo Sanhueza, from Colonists

Translated from the Spanish by Tim Benjamin

You think this rifle doesn’t work, you old fuck?

Pamela Proietti, Poemetto in G-Minor

Translated from the Italian by Stephen Eric Berry and María Rodríguez Santiago

To block my skyward escape
I need your hands.

Andrei Monastyrski, from Nothing Happens

Translated from the Russian by Brian Droitcour and Yelena Kalinsky

here there are neither sounds
nor the rattle
of rattling things


Kim Hyesoon, A Drink of Red Mirror

Translated from the Korean by Jiwon Shin, Lauren Albin, and Sue Hyon Bae

A review by Matt Reeck

These musings tie in with the question of how any national literature folds into world literature canons, and how any writer inhabits a shared imaginative geography with others around the world.

Sigrún Pálsdóttir, HISTORY. A MESS.

Translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith

A review by Callum McAllister

What matters is how we tell stories of the past and how they inform the present.

Kaifi Azmi, Kaifiyat: Verses on Love and Women

Translated from the Urdu by Rakhshanda Jalil

A review by Jessica Sequeira

I am sympathetic to this reaching for other traditions, this scrappy creation of oneself from diverse cosmopolitan sources.

Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Human Matter

Translated from the Spanish by Eduardo Aparicio

A review by Aamer Hussein

The novel is at times baffling, infuriating; at others, it leads the reader into the maze of its confidences with great assurance.


Fausto Alzati Fernández, Personal Jesus

Translated from the Spanish by Will Stockton

We’re like those cacti that flower only once, and fifteen minutes later rot and feed the earth.

Andrej Bán, from An Elephant in Zemplín

Translated from the Slovak by Julia and Peter Sherwood

Thieves, as far as the eye can see, nothing by thieves!

Marcin Wicha, from Things I Didn't Throw Out

Translated from the Polish by Marta Dziurosz

Our bookshelves are a record of our failures as readers.

Silviano Santiago, Hélio Oiticica in Manhattan

Translated from the Portuguese by Lara Norgaard

This constant intellectual friction generated heat and energy so specific that I would leave his apartment levitating.

Mihaela Miroiu, from Thinking Like a Woman

Translated from the Romanian by Jozefina Komporaly

She’s reading, my darling. Just reading. Please don’t tell anyone.

Rasha Khayat, To my beloved, to my losses

Translated from the German by Susan Martin

I came across Elizabeth Bishop’s poem the other day. And I thought, felt—yeah, that is me, that is us. No?


Sophokles, from Aias

Translated from the Ancient Greek by William Heath

All things shall be cured by great time.

Luis Araújo, from Kafka in Love

Translated from the Spanish by Phyllis Zatlin

Every writer is a world unto himself.

Special Feature

Michael Autrey on Hans Faverey

Where am I, now that you are re-reading this?

Paul Worley on Humberto Ak’abal

More so than any other Maya writer of his generation, he deftly moved between overlapping worlds and identities.

Yiddish Poetry Feature

Yankev Glatshteyn, Two Poems

Translated from the Yiddish by Richard J. Fein

No matter how many flashes of eternity we have to smell,
our nostrils can’t get rid of the stink of the Khorbm.

Itzik Manger, from poems and ballads and Ruth

Translated from the Yiddish by Murray Citron and Lawrence Rosenwald

My muse will tri-li-li for you.

H. Leivick, Two Poems

Translated from the Yiddish by A. Z. Foreman

Between my teeth alone
This holy poem

Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Four Poems

Translated from the Yiddish by Richard J. Fein

Sing me something about your distant homeland, dear fly.

Rajzel Zychlinsky, from To Clear Shores

Translated from the Yiddish by Susan Cohen

So many shorn lives clinging
to me

Isaac Berliner, from City of Palaces

Translated from the Yiddish by Ilan Stavans

Carry me inside your body, Popo

Dvoyre Vogel, from Figures of the Day

Translated from the Yiddish by Jordan Lee Schnee

You were the mishap of my life.

Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, Two Poems

Translated from the Yiddish by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

My love, please don’t die without me.


An interview with Edith Grossman

I thought it’s bloody well about time that the translator not be treated as a poor relation.