Published out of Farmington Hills, Michigan, Absinthe identifies its contributors with the help of more than 40 editorial advisors, including Aleksandar Hemon, Adam J. Sorkin, and Sonja Lehner. These advisors, themselves writers and translators, along with Absinthe’s editors, have selected for this issue a preponderance of Eastern European works, including contributions from Romania, Moldova, the Czech Republic, and Croatia, as well as Spain, France, and Scandinavia.
The magazine’s focus is on quality English translations of work that would otherwise not be available to most readers in the U.S., and the appreciation of literary translators is one of the strengths of the publication. Photographs of each contributor accompany generous biosketches, and in two cases the translators contribute commentary on their translations—a one-act play by Vlad Zografi and a novel excerpt by Marco Candida.
In addition to Candida’s piece are fiction pieces by Hernán Migoya, Iulian Ciocan, and two Galician authors. First-person narratives and themes of sex and religion dominate, served up with irony and black humor. It seems as though the current economic and cultural upheaval in the region may have soured the attitudes of the fiction writers represented here. Migoya’s farcical account “A Man Alone in Paris” circles around and around an episode in which a visitor to the City of Lights plays at soliciting sex he is not sure he wants from a woman who may or may not be sincere in her request for six hundred euros. Escaping from the encounter, the protagonist “zipped out of the building with a mixture of intense terror and no less intense relief, bordering on something close to happiness.” Soon, he says, “a wave of euphoria came over me: and to celebrate my fortuitous emancipation, I took myself to McDonald’s and splurged on a value meal, super-sized.”
The poetry in this issue includes Pia Tafdrup’s “Bird Table,” from her collection The Migrant Bird’s Compass. A member of the Danish Academy and the European Academy of Poetry, Tafdrup evokes both time and eternity:
My mother’s mother put out bread
in cold weather
for the birds on the terrace. Received song
and fighting and company
My mother did the same.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
One day I will also
Watch them come
to my table, where no one
will be an uninvited guest.
Zografi’s complete one-act play “Kiss Me! Confessions of a Bare-Footed Leper,” along with its translator’s commentary, lead off the issue—a tribute to the editors’ opinion of this author. Although Zografi is a scientist, with a Ph.D. in atomic physics, as well as a writer and critic, he chooses to address religious themes in this work, in an approach that his translator Ileana Orlich likens to that of Samuel Beckett in Waiting for Godot.
Of particular historical interest in this issue is a section on the language and literature of Galicia, where Spanish crossed with Portuguese to produce a unique literary environment. Home of Santiago de Compostelo, Galicia occupies the far northwestern corner of Spain and has been home to the strong cultural influences of the region. Suppressed during the dictatorship of Franco, the Galician-Portuguese language today is spoken by more than half of the Galician population. Jonathan Dunne contributes an introduction to his translations of the poetry and fiction of Xabier Cordal, Antón Lopo, Anxo Rei Ballesteros, and Manuel Rivas, one of the best known writers of Galicia today.
The editors offer recommendations of four recordings of pop music by European groups, cultural snapshots from Copenhagen, Prague, Rome, and Helsinki, and commentary on the career of Rainer Werner Fassbinder by Michael Stein, a writer now living in Prague. (Stein created the blog-turned-website Literalab.com, a lively source for news of contemporary Central European literature.)
The international theme resonates with many readers today. Absinthe has done some useful groundwork, and with the names and links provided in this magazine, U.S. readers with a hunger for expanding their awareness of contemporary literature can seek out the full spectrum of new European writing, prospecting wide, as in this issue, or deep, as in the upcoming Absinthe 19, featuring works from Turkey.