The summer issue of Asymptote was published this week with a gorgeous spread of short fiction in translation from Spanish, Croatian, Persian, and more. If you’re not already familiar the journal, it publishes English translations of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and more from across the globe (the website cites 105 countries and 84 languages so far) alongside the original text and often accompanied by audio of the author or translator reading an excerpt in the original language, making it a treasure trove for language nerds and literature lovers alike. Asymptote’s summer issue features a short story by Pedro Novoa, an award-winning author in his native Peru, which is translated not only into English but fourteen other languages from Albanian to Tamil, as well.
Novoa’s “The Dive” (original Spanish title “Inmersión”), translated to English by George Henson, is a brief story of just under 1,000 words that carries a big emotional punch as it tells of a family’s intergenerational efforts to save a dying son through science and, when science fails, mystical family lore.
You dive. As you descend you hear your Grandmother Hiromi: “Bring back the algae of the old ways.” The words float around your handmade mask like fish shedding scales of light. Your bet on modern medicine came up empty. The iodine tablets that your brother Yochan took to combat anemia had little effect; at most, they turned his cheeks pink for a few weeks.
The second person “you” is the daughter of the family, and she has come home to undertake a dangerous dive to harvest an algae that was used by her ancestors for its powerful healing properties. This already perilous task is complicated further by the fact that her mother lost her life during the same desperate dive when she stayed under too long and couldn’t make it back to the surface. But that doesn’t stop the daughter, though she knows the risks and is doubtful of the lore. She does it for love of her brother but also, the story seems to suggest, because of some familial tug of fate. What emerges from the elegant and atmospheric prose is a story of the blood-deep connections between three generations of women and beyond.
When Yochan was eight, Grandmother dived; at sixteen, Mama Misuki; and now, at twenty-four, the responsibility passed to you, the next generation. Your brother’s wife offered to go in your place, but she lacked history in her veins. The women of our family had dived in the sea for thousands of years in search of oysters and pearls. Distraught, she would dial your number with the same desperation with which she now held the rope tied around your waist. From the boat, your sister-in-law was sweating, suffering: your submerged body was in some way her body.
Also included in the summer issue is a short story by Iranian author Mahsa Mohebali from her award-winning 2004 collection Love in the Footnotes, which despite its success is currently banned in Iran; an interview with Sawako Nakayasu, this year’s PEN Award for Poetry in Translation winner; and, for the nerdiest of the English majors among us, there’s even a new translation of an Old English poem that was partially destroyed in a house fire. Check out the issue. You won’t be sorry.