Happy Birthday, Asymptote Book Club!

It’s been one year since a minuscule team of volunteers operating on a shoestring budget launched the Asymptote Book Club and what an adventurous journey around the world it has been! Although we are sometimes at the mercy of publishers’ schedules and catalogues, we’ve made a deliberate effort to be as diverse as possible: 12 countries, 12 languages, 7 men and 5 women. 

But it’s about more than just ticking the boxes. Our editors have made a real effort to find not just high-quality literature and sterling translations, but also works which make us ponder, debate, and want to explore more about a particular author or country. And they have a pretty good eye for winners: two of our selections were English Pen Translates Award winners and another two were shortlisted for the inaugural National Book Award Prize for Translated Fiction in the US.

Then there are all of the unseen skirmishes behind the scenes with late arrivals from abroad, postal delays because of snow or holidays, sudden changes in publishing dates… Still, it has been a labour of love and a venture that I’m very proud to be associated with.

And the excellent, superb, phenomenal news is that we are doing a ‘counter-Brexit’, i.e. we are expanding into the EU! In other words, as of immediately, you can subscribe to the Book Club if you have an address in the EU (previously, it was only open for the US and UK).

I have to admit I’ve not managed to read all of the books, as review demands and other reading challenges came in. The three early summer titles are a blur: Brother In Ice by Alicia Kopf, transl. Mara Faye Lethem; The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge, transl. Nicky Harman and Revenge of the Translator by Brice Matthieussent, transl. Emma Ramadan, but I look forward to exploring all of them in the near future.

Of the ones that I did read, each one has meant something special to me.

December 2017: The Lime Tree by César Aira, transl. Chris Andrews – got me started on a love affair with this Argentinian writer 

January 2018: Aranyak by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, transl. Rimli Bhattacharya – the dark Bengali horse which most surprised me and which I still find myself thinking about

February: Love by Hanne Ørstavik, transl. Martin Aitken – this short Norwegian novella was the most emotionally wrecking, had me on tenterhooks

March: Trick by Domenico Starnone, transl. Jhumpa Lahiri – the cleverest in its blend of everyday minutiae and intertextuality

July: The Tidings of the Trees by Wolfgang Hilbig, transl. Isabel Fargo Cole – the most personally relatable and relevant

August: I Didn’t Talk by Beatriz Bracher, transl. Adam Morris – the most interesting from the political point of view, can see it becoming a talking point now and in the future, with Brazil descending once more into totalitarianism

September: Moving Parts by Prabda Yun, transl. Mui Poopoksakul – the boldest choice, the funniest and most experimental and also most blatantly contemporary

October: Like a Sword Wound by Ahmet Altan, transl. Brendan Freely and Yelda Türedi – the most ‘moreish’ – really got swept up in the family saga, the political intrigues and historical period

November: The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić, transl. Ellen Elias-Bursać – have just started this one, which I expect will be very emotionally resonant with me, as one of my best friends lived through that terrible period in Yugoslavia (with a Serb mother and a Croat father)

We had our first ever Book Club meeting in London on Thursday evening and we couldn’t quite agree on an overall favourite. Do I have a personal one? I think each one gave me something different to love and I simply cannot pick between them. But if you were to twist my arm, I might have to choose Hanne Ørstavik and Ivana Bodrožić.

I cannot wait to see where the second year of our travels will take us. If you want to join us in our exploration of world literature, you can find all the details about the Book Club and how to subscribe here.

17 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Asymptote Book Club!”

    1. Ha! That often happens to me with Romanian authors… hard to keep up. It was the real dark horse of the selection, by the wonderful Seagull Press, and it really was memorable!

  1. I’m very happy the club’s been doing so well, Marina Sofia! What a great reminder that we’re better off together, if I can put it that way. And I love your description of the way the club is expanding into the EU. 🙂

  2. I’m really happy to hear that you are expanding to the EU! Of course I still can’t join as I’m in Norway, but I’m hoping that the expansion will be a great success and that we may be able to join in the next round..

    1. Ah, that’s the situation for several friends of mine in Switzerland! What they are thinking of doing is getting together and placing a group order to be delivered to a single address, which should make matters easier (and slightly cheaper).

      1. I can usually get my hands on the books themselves if I get tempted by all the reviews that your members write (I discovered the Lime Tree by that indirect route) so I don’t really feel sorry for myself. And I do appreciate that it is no longer US and UK exclusive, even though I still can’t use it myself.

  3. Well done, Marina – you can be justifiably proud of your achievements here. I’ve been following Ali’s experiences of the books via her reviews, and the diversity of styles/content has really come through.

  4. Congratulations!

    I’m happy it works out as it’s a fantastic initiative and a great Book Club to join. It’s very nice to hear you’ll expand to the EU.

  5. Congratulations on your book club.
    I am reading “The Linden Tree,” which is the same as “The Lime Tree.” Am enjoying it, so witty it makes me smile. Got it from the library which has a few of Cesar Aria’s books in Spanish and English.

    1. Yes, I also call it a linden tree! Glad you enjoyed it – he can be a very funny and yet serious writer too. Perhaps over-prolific, but I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read by him so far.

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