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Time is common to all men as is the secret hope that our portion of it should prove to be, against all reason, infinite.  It is an elastic phenomenon and our perception of it is, mercifully, saltatory: we are none of us Borges’ Funes.  Time changes speed, it accelerates and decelerates according to no discernible law, and though we charge our calendars and watches and sundials with its regulation, we know that they too are subject to its universal dissolution.

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In his short story The Prophecy, Slovenian author Drago Jančar parallels the fall of socialist Yugoslavia with the parable of the last king of Babylon taken from the Book of Daniel.  Belshazzar is feasting his entourage in his palace, an opulent event, lavish, complete with gustatory blasphemy (the king and his guests drink from sacred vessels taken from the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem), decadent, doomed.  Read the rest of this entry »

Despite the stirrings of political agitation and the breath of dissent blowing across her steppes the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris was dominated by the achievements of the glittering Russian Empire.  Amongst the wonders and showpieces Russia boasted a Grand Prix de Champagne-winning wine (a coup in France), the awarding of a gold medal to Lavr Proskuryokov for a bridge in Krasnoyarsk, and the appearance of a cultural icon that has become more than just a child’s toy, it has become a tangible metaphor for recursive phenomena: the matryoshka doll.  These dolls, you probably know, are (traditionally) carved wooden dolls, hollow, that come in a set of about a half-dozen.  They are of a size that the largest of them encapsulates the penultimate doll, which in turn encapsulates the next smallest (and so on), down to the diminutive last.  Matryoshka dolls, in their recursive function, serve to illumine the structure of Enrique Vila-Matas’ Best European Fiction 2011 story Far from Here, and it is for this reason that they open this review.

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I

Nela and the Virgins by Mercè Ibarz is a celebration.  It is a woman’s recollection of her teenage years spent in revolutionary 1970s Barcelona.  Valentina, Isi, Nela, and the unnamed narrator have all moved from provincial Spain to the capital of Catalonia, to an exciting but dangerous urban sprawl that offers the carnivalesque pleasures of a modern, progressive city and none of the stifling parochial conservatisms more generally associated with the rural population.  Most children chafe at the bit.  We  struggle to leave the nest as soon as we can, convinced we have what it takes to make it on our own.  The city, with its promise of freedoms, tumescent with the fantasies of youth, is a magnet.  Ibarz’s story is as much an ode to a time and place – 1970s Barcelona – as it is an ode to the new experiences of our young selves, when each day brings with it the loss – and here is introduced a small sadness – one of our many virginities.

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Welcome, Asymptote

01/02/2011

The debut issue of new literary journal Asymptote is now available (http://asymptotejournal.com/index.php) and it promises to provide some excellent reading.  Asymptote’s purview is wide with a strong focus on translated literature: this first issue features, not counting the poetry and drama and essays, writing translated from Chinese, German, Polish and Hebrew.  Something that sets Asymptote apart from the plethora of other literary journals is its emphasis on not just the translated/written text, but the aesthetic of the language itself.  The shape of the script and the sound of its reading are also explored in some of the pieces, with readings of poetry available in the original language.  This inaugural edition is a thing of beauty that shines with an embarrassment of riches for the lover of fine literature.  Asymptote is one to watch.

“We are lovers of literature who have come together to honor the art of translation.”  Count me in.