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Asymptote Summer 2015 Issue

This post is from current intern, soon to be Literary Translation grad student, Daniel Stächelin.

From Mexican poet José Eugenio Sánchez and Danish poet Naja Marie Aidt, to Albanian author Ismail Kadare, among others, Asymptote’s Summer 2015 issue features some mind-bendingly vivid nuggets of literary and existential gold. And to call them gold is no stretch of the imagination; Asymptote blog editor Patty Nash writes, “This might be our most star-studded issue yet—our translators, our writers, and, as of the London Book Fair, Asymptote itself have all been bestowed with gold medal love.”

José Eugenio Sánchez has two poems featured in this issue that were translated by Anna Rosenwong, who recently won the the Best Translated Book Award for her poetry translations of Rocío Cerón. Definitely a great start to fantastic issue.

The selections from Maja Marie Aidt’s collection of poetry Everything Shimmers (translated by Susannah Nied), with their colorful and vivid vignettes, made me at times feel a little woozy. But that’s exactly what made them stick; from death and violence to the mundane, Aidt packages life in a surreal and captivating box that lacks corners or edges. Here are two stanzas from the first selection:

Spiderweb-fine jellyfish
moon jellies
floating through
the water as through
et himmelrum, a sky
now in their fifth stage
of peculiar existence and like
the shining violet
veins on your
suntanned hand:
the child in his fifth year
understanding now that people
can really be gone
and disappear

Children are left to cry themselves to sleep
while the adults talk psychoanalysis;
sikke en fest, what a party.
On the subway a mother hits her child; there’s no law against that;
so many threats, so many games.
At night I walk home along sinister streets. Rats scuttle.
People throng. Loud music
from a car full of bitching women. I have a bunch of carnations in my hand,
a blood-spotted dress with a train. Back behind the light is
a darkness I do not understand.
And the moon rises like a glowing grapefruit.
And the clouds drift.
Someone spits from a window
up high.

Boom. That hits me pretty hard in the gut. Not just because of its content, but because of the incredible quality of Aidt’s word choice and use of juxtaposition; having the crying, emotional children side by side with the cerebral and emotionless adults would definitely be a party where I’d sit by myself in a corner and quietly sip my drink and rethink my life and life in general.

The other submission that really stuck out to me was the short story, The Migration of the Stork,= by Albanian author Ismail Kadare (translated by Ani Kokobobo, Ph.D.). First written in 1986, the story follows the narrator as he follows the second-hand details of a love affair between a woman from the north and an older poet. But the version presented in Asymptote is the version he wrote in 1998, after the fall of communism, which makes itself pretty evident when it shifts to move political narration.

Here’s what the translator has to say:

. . . the mystery of the love story is a smoke screen for the darker realities of communist Albania. The discussions of the leader H are obvious allusions to Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator who regularly vacationed in Pogradec. Kadare renders the significant political tensions and downright paranoia typical of Hoxha’s later years in power. There are numerous road checks en route to Pogradec and reference is made to the fall from grace of Mehmet Shehu, Enver Hoxha’s second in command, who was found dead under suspicious circumstances in 1981. The death was declared a suicide, but there have been speculations that it was a murder ordered by Hoxha. (Kadare produces a fictionalized account of these events in his 2003 novel, The Successor.)

Kadare reflects on the realities of being a writer in such a political climate, relating an incident of writers reprimanded for falling short on socialist realist cheerfulness. This cultural moment shows just how little room there was for any display of authorial creativity during Enver Hoxha’s repressive regime (1944-1985). Aside from limiting creative freedoms, the hyper-ideologized reality of communist Albania also appears drab and boring. The story’s narrator is grateful for the few surviving specters of an earlier era, like the great “stork,” Lasgush, a valuable muse that brings otherworldly charm to the socialist wasteland.

Lastly, there’s an interview with Mexican author Valeria Luiselli, in which she explains to writer and translator Ezio Neyra her progression as a writer and the insecurities that went along with being raised bilingually, having been forced to move frequently to different countries due to her father’s political career as an ambassador. Here’s an excerpt:

With so much traveling about and so many different languages, did Spanish end up becoming a sort of home that gave you confidence, the place where you felt most at ease?

I’ll start by saying that I don’t think Spanish ever became that sort of refuge you mentioned. In fact, the language in which I was writing and reading was English. Outside home, my life was lived in English; my school life, my intellectual life all happened in English. The language in which I felt most comfortable was English, and that was the way it was for a long time. But you could say that, in terms of Spanish, I felt more confident writing than speaking. I didn’t communicate badly in Spanish, but there were always high levels of uncertainty and resistance, and a sense of its not being natural. I spoke a sort of vacuum-packed Spanish. Out of context. I was aware that I spoke strangely, that I didn’t speak with the same fluency as my sisters (they had stayed in Mexico), who used to tell stories at mealtimes, make us laugh, things I couldn’t manage to do with Spanish. The terrain of writing in Spanish also ended up being a space where I could take more risks. It was a space where I could get my own back. I could experiment more without feeling observed or judged. In a sense, I used written Spanish as a way of making the language mine.

They then go on to discuss Luiselli’s novels Papeles falsos (published in English as Sidewalks), Los ingrávidos (published in English as Faces in the Crowd), and her most recent book, La historia de mis dientes (published in English as The Story of my Teeth, and which Chad tells me is “fucking fantastic”), all of which were translated in close collaboration by Christina MacSweeney, “the results of which often feed back into the Spanish ‘original.’”

If you’re looking for some gripping stuff to read this summer, then Asymptote’s Summer 2015 has a great selection. Sikke en fest!



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