Editor's Note

Welcome to our Fall 2017 issue and to its paradoxical Interiors, at once distant and familiar. Hailing from 31 countries, our contributors include two who sadly left us this year: revered Argentine author Ricardo Piglia and star translator Bernard Hœpffner, whose body was found off the coast of Wales in June. Along with startling vignettes contributed by Yasujiro Ozu, famed director of Tokyo Story, their knock-out essays offer us a way to commemorate lives dedicated to the pursuit of art. We also present new translations of Lu Xun, father of modern Chinese literature, and of the great Marina Tsvetaeva, with a selection of her political poems. These are featured alongside the work of rising stars such as Akhil Sharma, the Indian-American novelist who won the 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award for Family Life; Bibi Slippers, the Afrikaans poet whose first collection was published just last year to critical acclaim; and Maryam Madjidi, winner of this year’s prestigious Goncourt Prize for a first novel.

Maryam Madjidi headlines our New Voices in French Literature showcase, comprising six stories which are all connected in some way to the figure of the mother. In Madjidi’s powerful fiction, we witness the Iranian revolution through the eyes of an unborn child. Valentine Goby’s stunning novel excerpt is about an abortionist and her executioner, and should be paired with Togolese author Michel Faleme’s unforgettable point-of-view rendering of an execution. If Camus’ Meursault once shocked us with his emotional alienation, opening his novel with “Today, mother died,” Frédérique Martin’s unsentimental narrator takes it one step further in The Despair of the Roses: “I sold my mother the other day.”

Leading off our regular fiction section, beloved Catalan writer Miquel de Palol touches the real in all its vertiginous vastness in childhood moments spent face to face with the cosmos. And seemingly in response to Palol’s unflinching contemplation of the world without, Karine Nyborg plunges into the inchoate and the unrepresentable: “The gap that opens up within me from time to time is difficult to describe,” she begins. For the characters drawn by Iraqi playwright Karim Rashid, that interiority instead recalls the unbearably vivid scenes of trauma: “It’s the same nightmare every night.” Returning to more comforting interiors, Saba Ahmed reviews Lydia Davis’ translations of letters by the very icon of inner life, Marcel Proust. Rather than leaving his carefully maintained apartment, Proust wrote many letters . . . to his upstairs neighbor.   

“Who am I?” Lu Xun’s narrator awakens to this perplexing question, and the world continues to intrude upon his attempt to compose a story, The Happy Family. A translator might also entertain self-doubts after reading Bernard Hœpffner’s piece comparing the translator to a “con-man” and an artist of “craftsmanship and craftiness, versatility and trickery.” Turkish visual artist Yigit Kolat shows us yet another one of the translator’s guises by “mistranslating” data into music. His work is paired with that of Greek-British artist Mikhail Karikis, whose community-based projects are devoted to the soundscapes of labor and industry and raise the question: How can one be both a group and an individual? 

Elsewhere, don’t miss new work by Monchoachi, the poet whom Patrick Chamoiseau credits with “renew(ing) our vision of the Creole language,” Steve Komarnyckyj’s introduction to Ukraine’s “executed renaissance,” M. René Bradshaw on Equatorial Guinea’s leading dissident writer, Dylan Suher’s portrait of translator Patrick Hanan, Peter Mitchell’s review of Nicola Pugliese's Malacqua in the age of Hurricane Harvey, and Catherine Léger’s drama about a sexual indiscretion caught on tape. As with most good literature, the offerings in the Fall Asymptote, accompanied by specially commissioned illustrations from guest artist Jiin Choi, can help you reflect on the issues of the day. 

We’re about a month away from unveiling a revolutionary way of discovering world literature. If you’re interested in helping us make it a reality, hop over to this reader survey right now! To make sure you’ll be first to receive news of it, subscribe to our fortnightly newsletters at our newly revamped page with an easy-to-remember URL (http://tinyurl.com/asymptoteme) or follow us on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, which we also have in Spanish and now in French (c’est vrai!). While you enjoy the many spoils of our Fall 2017 issue, do bear in mind that “World literature isn’t inevitable or automatic,” as critic Martin Puchner writes. “Colonialists, nationalists, enemies of the market, advocates of censorship have all opposed the circulation of literature, and continue to do so. This means that world literature is an achievement that, without active support, can be lost.” Help us stick around by making a one-time tax-deductible donation or, better yet, signing up as a sustaining member. Get involved with Asymptote today!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Oct 2017

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

Assistant Managing Editors: Sam Carter (USA), Janani Ganesan (India), and Jacob Silkstone (Norway/UK)

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)
Ah-reum Han (South Korea/USA)
Eva Heisler (USA)

Editor of New Voices in French Literature showcase: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Assistant Editors: Alexis Almeida (USA), Lizzie Buehler (USA), Victoria Livingstone (USA), Erik Noonan (USA), Chris Power (USA), P. T. Smith (USA), and Lin Chia-wei (Taiwan)

Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang (Germany/Hong Kong)

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)

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

Podcast Editor: Dominick Boyle (Switzerland/USA)

Art Director: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Director, Educational Arm: Lindsay Semel (USA)

Educational Arm Assistant: Laura Davies (Wales)

Editor-at-large, Argentina: Sarah Moses 
Editor-at-large, Australia: Tiffany Tsao
Editors-at-large, Brazil: Maíra Mendes Galvão and Lara Norgaard
Editor-at-large, Chile: Tomás Cohen
Editor-at-large, Egypt: Omar El Adl
Editor-at-large, Guatemala: José García
Editor-at-large, Hong Kong: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, Indonesia: Norman Erikson and Valent Mustamin
Editor-at-large, Iran: Poupeh Missaghi
Editor-at-large, Mexico: Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn 
Editor-at-large, Morocco: Hodna Nuernberg
Editor-at-large, Romania and Moldova: MARGENTO
Editors-at-large, Singapore: Theophilus Kwek and Tse Hao Guang 
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-large, South Africa: Alice Inggs
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, Tunisa: Jessie Stoolman
Editor-at-large, UK: Megan Bradshaw

Masthead for Issue Oct 2017

Fiction: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Writers on Writers: Ah-reum Han
New Voices in French Literature showcase: Lee Yew Leong
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Henry Ace Knight
Illustrations and Cover: Jiin Choi

Chief Executive Assistant: Sarah Burik
Senior Executive Assistant: Alice Fischer
Executive Assistants: Emily Cocco, Emma Holland and Cassie Lawrence

Asst. Blog Editors: Sneha Khaund, Stefan Kielbasiewicz, and Aurvi Sharma

Assistant Interviews Editor: Claire Jacobson

Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan

Chief Copy Editor: Laura Garmeson

Proofreaders: Laura Garmeson, Lorenzo Andolfatto, Anna Aresi, Catilin O’Neil, Noah Ross, and Lara Zammit

Technical Manager: József Szabó

Assistant Director of Outreach: Evelyn Chin

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

Spanish Social Media: Sergio Serrano

Chinese Social Media: Jiaoyang Li and Jessica Wang

Assistant Newsletter Editor: Talia Behrend-Wilcox

Marketing Manager: Giorgos Kassiteridis

Assistant Graphic Designer: Eliza Chen, Geneve Ong, and Kari Simonsen

Communication Manager: Alexander Dickow

Business Developer: Duncan Lewis

Business Strategist: Nathaniel Jones

Incoming: David Moscovich and Rachael Pennington (Asst. Managing Editors), Filip Noubel (Director of Outreach), Kyrstin Rodriguez (Graphic Designer), Marissa Anne Ayala and Marina Sofia (Marketing Managers), Sarah Booker and David Smith (Asst. Blog Editors), Maxx Hillery (Newsletter Editor), Manel Mula Ferrer (Editor-at-large for Spain), Barbara Halla (Albania), Jen Mavzer (Turkey), and Diána Vonnák (Hungary).

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support of: Yann Martel, Margaret Jull Costa, Aron Aji, Ros Schwartz, Matilda Colarossi, Stuart Ross, Yannick Stiassny, Erin Montanez, Chad Post, Margot Miriel, Clarissa Botsford, Praveen Krishna, Bénédicte Barbier, and Klara du Plessis.

For their generous donations, our heartfelt thanks go too to Gregory Kossinets, David Lowry Pressly III, Jeffrey Boyle, Velina Manolova, Mark Cohen, Nina Perotta, Julie Hillery, Daniel Hahn, Garcia Bertha, Pavlos Stavropoulos, Carolyne Lee, Maira Mendes Galvao, Siobhan Mei, Anne Berk, Lara Norgaard, Monica Timms, Geoffrey Howes, Anna Aresi, Il Park, and Philip Kim.



Miquel de Palol, from The Garden of Seven Twilights

Translated from the Catalan by Adrian Nathan West

​To what extent is a person different from everyone else?

Karine Nyborg, The Convex Hull Will Always Exist

Translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger

The gap that opens up within me from time to time is difficult to describe.

Milena Solot, Vultures

Translated from the Spanish by Robin Myers

And the train’s racing heart comes closer, chugging with patience, almost with love.

Jérôme Orsoni, The Windowpanes

Translated from the French by Alex Dudok de Wit

I am a peroxide blonde in the land of possibles.

Lu Xun, The Happy Family

Translated from the Chinese by Margaret Xuanyi Lu

A mountain of cabbage appeared beside the bookshelf behind him. There were three at the bottom, two in the middle, and one on top. They seemed to form a large letter ‘A’.


Han Bo, from Borrowed Meanings

Translated from the Chinese by Eleanor Goodman

what an / unleapable tiger, what reasonlessness.

Valerie Mejer Caso, from Edinburgh Notebook

Translated from the Spanish by Michelle Gil-Montero

One of my sentences hits an atmospheric peak.

Marcus Terentius Varro, from Menippean Satires

Translated from the Latin by Joseph McAlhany

won’t you please quit looking like an old billy-goat, / Strobilus?

Bibi Slippers, from Photostat Machine

Translated from the Afrikaans by Alice Inggs

“cicada. shiba inu.” “irritable panda face.” / “bicep.” “suggestive eggplant.”

Ḥusayn Mardān, Two Poems

Translated from the Arabic by Suneela Mubayi

Because I love the revolver that rings out / across the Dead Sea

Marina Tsvetaeva, Four Poems

Translated from the Russian by Margaree Little

Honor— / how?

Monchoachi, from Black and Blue Partition (‘Mistry 2)

Translated from the French by Patricia Hartland

sovereigness water / sovereigness water

Alejandro Crotto, from Chesterton

Translated from the Spanish by Robin Myers

As, engendering, rotting

Ruxandra Novac, from ecograffiti

Translated from the Romanian by Sarah Thompson

Bucureşti opens like a giant syphilitic flower

Carlito Azevedo, from Monodrama

Translated from the Portuguese by Sarah Rebecca Kersley

and what if a cloud of matter / crashed // into one / of antimatter?

Lieke Marsman, from Man with Hat

Translated from the Dutch by Sophie Collins

because poems


Dylan Suher on translator Patrick Hanan

The good scholar, like the good translator, does not pay attention to the details out of myopia, but precisely because she understands the paradox of the vast gap between the part and the whole.

Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, The Gurugu Pledge

Translated from the Spanish by Jethro Soutar

A review by M. René Bradshaw

Let it be known that I chose the southern face, that my gaze was turned toward the River Zambezi.

Nicola Pugliese, Malacqua: Four Days of Rain in the City of Naples, Waiting for the Occurrence of an Extraordinary Event

Translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside

A review by Peter Mitchell

In times of collective existential risk, there’s a weird comfort in exercising the apocalyptic imagination.

Eka Kurniawan, Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

Translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker

A review by Jackson Arn

More than a stroke of bathetic comedy, call this the crux of Kurniawan’s philosophy of time: at any given moment, no matter how poignant or terrifying, someone is shitting.

Marcel Proust, Letters to His Neighbor

Translated from the French by Lydia Davis

A review by Saba Ahmed

It is extremely touching to read in Proust’s letters his dual role as both clinician and patient, analyst and analysand.

Alejandro Tarrab, Litane

Translated from the Spanish by Clare Sullivan

An essay by the translator

Litane unites the suffering chorus that reveals the damage that surges from modernity and continues until our own time with its voice.


Bernard Hœpffner, Portrait of the Translator as Chameleon

The translator is a jocund and wanton chameleon, a pilfering, purloining, nimming, filching, and pleonasmical fool.

Ricardo Piglia, On the Threshold

Translated from the Spanish by Robert Croll

Experience, he had realized, is a microscopic profusion of events that repeat and expand, disjointed, disparate, in flight.

Mohammad Tolouei, Someone Without Peers

Translated from the Persian by Farzaneh Doosti

My friend’s message was brief and simple: Dig Alexander Dumas.

Chung Wenyin, Flesh and Bone

Translated from the Chinese by Jennie Chia-Hui Chu

Zhen Gu Shi was an artist. With his magic fingers, he pressed needles into my body.

Yasujiro Ozu, The Unexpected Scent of Salad

Translated from the Japanese by Adam Kuplowsky

You might say that trains, trams, buses, and other such modes of public transportation are the genre paintings of the modern world.

Eduardo Galeano, from Hunter of Stories

Translated from the Spanish by Mark Fried

In the pages of A Thousand and One Nights, this advice appears:

Get going, friend! Drop everything and get going! Of what use is an arrow if it never flies from the bow?


Catherine Léger, Babysitter

Translated from the French by Chantal Bilodeau

You do know that one out of three women has been sexually assaulted, right?

Karim Rashed, I Came to See You

Translated from the Arabic and Swedish by Margaret Litvin

Tell me what you got for ratting on your best friend.

Special Feature

Mireia Vidal-Conte on Miquel de Palol

Translated from the Catalan by Adrian Nathan West

In Palol, we are faced with a total writer. Consummate.

Steve Komarnyckyj on Ukraine’s “Executed Renaissance”

It is a literature of rebels and risk-takers, writers whose works injected world culture with new euphonies and expanded the boundaries of human expression.

New Voices in French Literature

Frédérique Martin, from The Despair of the Roses

Translated from the French by Hilary McGrath

I sold my mother the other day.

Maryam Madjidi, from Marx and the Doll

Translated from the French by Ruth Diver

The mother’s eyes are watching a feather fly off into the distance.

Elisa Shua Dusapin, from Winter in Sokcho

Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins

He handed me his passport so I could fill in the form for him. Yan Kerrand, 1968, from Granville. A Frenchman.

Pierre Jourde, from The Marshal Absolute

Translated from the French by Alexander Dickow

I wanted for there to be no consciousness I did not haunt, whether in hatred, dread or devotion.

Valentine Goby, from Touch My Body and I'll Kill You

Translated from the French by Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg

Tomorrow, at dawn, her head will be cut off. But history won’t preserve her name.

Michel Faleme, from Zarma: Yennendi

Translated from the French by Andrea Reece

Before his head rolled on to the ground, he saw, as if in a dream, the life that he had lived.


An interview with Akhil Sharma

So to me, these characters—it isn’t that they’re grappling with ennui. They’re just living difficult lives.

An interview with Marilyn Booth

I want readers in English to think about other languages and how bi- or multi-lingual so many of us are. English cannot and should not “say everything.”