Reviewed by: Cheryl LaGuardia, Research Librarian, Widener Library, Harvard University
Absinthe: A Journal of World Literature in Translation is published twice yearly in both print and digital format by the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. It is edited by graduate students in the Department and, occasionally, by guest editors. The journal publishes foreign literature in English translation, and focuses on contemporary fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction by living authors that has not been previously translated. Individual issues have specific themes “emphasizing transnational approaches.”
This transnational approach is well represented in the Winter 2016 issue of Absinthe, subtitled Pen and Brush. In it, editor Emily Goedde, in collaboration with Etienne Charrière, has selected works “weav[ing] together literary work from and about Europe and East Asia, citing the poem, “Renoir’s ‘Portrait of a Young Girl’” by the Chinese poet Zheng Min (an ekphrastic poem by a Chinese poet on a European work of art) to create the connection that binds together the material in the issue. As Goedde states in her Note from the Editor: “Although a poem about a woman coming into adulthood (Zheng Min was a young woman when she wrote it), it suggests questions that all the writers in this issue of Absinthe take up in some way: How do I scrutinize myself, even as I open up to the world outside? And how does this world outside bring me to scrutinize myself?”
This material includes, among other pieces, translations of three non-fiction pieces by Wei-Yun Lin-Gorecka, poetry by Xi Xi and Yang Lian, four watercolor frontispieces by Chen Limin, and fiction from Chang Ying-Tai and Tsou Yung-Shan. There is also a “reflection” on where readers can find English-language publishers of contemporary Chinese Literature.
It’s important for literature from around the world to be as accessible to as broad an audience as possible, for cultural, artistic, political, and social reasons, and Absinthe provides an excellent means of making this material more widely-available than it otherwise might be. This is a significant, and aesthetically-pleasing, addition to academic collections supporting comparative literature and arts programs.