Publisher Spotlight: Tilted Axis Press

The Devils' Dance

There’s little doubt that three-year-old Tilted Axis Press is here to bring radical international content to English-reading audiences. The UK-based publisher is exclusively dedicated to global titles “that might not otherwise make it into English”, and derives its name from a desire to always be “tilting the axis of world literature from the centre to the margins…to challenge that very division”. With this mission in mind, the press is constantly developing a broader international presence, as evinced by its recent co-publishing partnership with Australian publisher Brow Books. Essentially, Tilted Axis Press is a “fantastic, weird and wonderful” publisher looking to blow English-reading minds in the best of ways.

Tilted Axis Press cover art is unmistakably their own. One can pull Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairytale or Sangeeta Bandyopadhyah’s Panty from any shelf and immediately know they’re Tilted Axis Press titles. The design signature is the monochrome bar-and-slash that anchors each books’ title and author/translator names. Additionally, all covers show a variation of hyper-realistic images rendered in deep colors. Of course, the press’ symbol at the top of every cover is also a giveaway, but with such strong design branding, it isn’t required for recognition. You know a Tilted Axis book when you see one.

The fact that one can easily identify the design markers of a Tilted Axis Press title might lead one to think that the stories themselves are similarly consistent in style. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Tilted Axis Press stories swing from surreal to disturbing and often blur the lines between genres. Take The Devils’ Dance, for example. It’s fair to assume that Central Asian fiction has little to no presence on the shelves of most English-readers. It’s rarer still to find a modern Uzbek title nestled between oft-translated classics. This makes Tilted Axis Press’ 2018 release of a “defiant” contemporary novel by an author banned in Uzbekistan especially groundbreaking.

The Devils’ Dance is as grounded in its geographic history as it is unfettered by genre. Written by Hamid Ismailov and translated by Donald Rayfield, this genre-blending piece unveils 19th century Turkestan—“a world of lavish poetry recitals, brutal polo matches, and a cosmopolitan and culturally diverse Islam”—by weaving together multilingual prose, quotes, and poetry. Ismailov builds the bones of the book around the real-life snatching, imprisonment and 1938 execution of famed Uzbek novelist, Abdulla Qodiriy. Fiction and poetry intertwine with facts as Ismailov imagines Qodiriy outlining his final lost novel in prison. Qodiriy endures beatings by Communist secret police while plotting the tale of Oyxon, a 19th-century “poet-queen” who married three khans during the era of the Great Game and eventually found herself under threat of execution, echoing Qodiriy’s own tragic end.

At its heart, The Devil’s Dance is a layered exploration of contrasts: fact and fiction, tradition and tyranny, physical confinement and the freedom of imagination. This book is highly recommended for those who enjoy spy stories, genre-benders, and historical fiction.

Interested in learning more about Tilted Axis Press? The blog is an excellent place to start. Check out the latest post, “Translating Feminisms | Poetry Chapbooks From Across Asia”, which details the press’ newest translation project. See an excerpt below:

As part of Tilted Axis’s wider project of decolonisation through & of translation, and in response to seeing WoC authors’ work misread through a white feminist lens, we wanted to re-imagine the possibilities of a fully intersectional, international feminism. In the process, we’ve expanded our own conception of feminist writing and being – we hope these chapbooks will do the same for you.

Click here to explore Tilted Axis Press’ catalog.

By Chelsey Slattum

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