Austrian Literature in Asia: Translators discuss Stefan Zweig and Fritz Jensen

Fritz Jensen with his wife and child. Foto: Oesterreichisch-Chinesische Gesellschaft

Fritz Jensen with his wife and child. Foto: Oesterreichisch-Chinesische Gesellschaft

It has only been in recent years that researchers from Austria and beyond seem to have warmed to the idea that literature produced in Austria and/or by Austrians can be looked at from a truly global perspective. Projects like PhD theses on the reception of Austrian literature in China or in the Iran, just like international conferences on Austrian authors in Asia, like the Elfriede Jelinek conference in China last year, demonstrate that the field of literary translation in theory and practice has become very appealing to theorists preoccupied with cultural transfer between Austria and the world.

The article below appeared online on 3 July 2013 and echoes a true, if maybe a somewhat obscure affinity to a variety of texts. It is no secret that Stefan Zweig has always been widely read on a global scale, but any interest in relatively unknown authors like Fritz Jensen, born Fritz Jerusalem in Vienna in 1903, must come as a little surprise to us Europeans in the first instance. Only by referring to Jensen’s biography – he was a doctor, escaped to China from the Nazis and became a devout communist, praisingly commenting on China and Vietnam in books like ” Erlebtes Vietnam” (Vienna, Stern 1955; Berlin, Dietz 1955; Vienna, Buchgemeinde 1955) – we might begin to understand this author’s appeal for the Vietnamese translators featured in the article below.



Translators discuss Austrian literature

HA NOI (VNS)— Several well-known Vietnamese translators recounted their memories of Austrian literary works at a conference held yesterday at the Ha Noi Library.

The conference was jointly organised by the library and the Austrian Embassy, and aimed to bring Austrian literature closer to Viet Nam and seek new opportunities for exchanges between Austrian and Vietnamese writers in the near future.

Despite a small population of eight million, Austria has attracted many people for its rich literature. The most well-known Austrian writers in Viet Nam include Stefan Zweig, Elfriede Jelinek, Daniel Kehlmann and Franz Kafka, whose works have been translated into Vietnamese.

At the conference, translator Hoang Thuy Toan said he was happy to have had the chance to translate the great book of Austrian writer Fritz Jensen, which showed his admiration and love towards Viet Nam and the courage of the Vietnamese people. Reminiscing About Vietnam (Viet Nam Dat Nuoc Cua Nhung Nguoi Anh Hung) was published in 1955 and describes the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.

“To me the book is like a precious object. It is part of my youth and has given me the drive to make the most of our ancestors’ sacrifices,” he said.

Translator Quang Chien expressed his emotions of the famous poem collection of Eric Fridge that he translated into Vietnamese, titled Und Viet Nam Und (And Viet Nam And). The collection denounces the American War in Viet Nam.

Translator, writer and poet Duong Tuong said that he burst into tears when he was translating The Letter of an Unknown Woman (Buc Thu Cua Nguoi dan ba khong quen) written by Stefan Zweig.

“I translated the book in just three days after I found it in a local library,” said the 81-year-old translator.

“The translation has been reprinted 10 times and remains my favourite of the 60 books I have translated,” he added.

At the conference, Austrian Professor Johann Holzner briefed delegates about the development of Austrian literature and its evolution since 1989. At that time, many Austrian writers left the country and continued to pursue their writing careers elsewhere, while some foreign writers moved to Austria and began to compose here.

Nowadays, the definition of “Austrian literature” is widely understood as literature written in Austria or by Austrian writers, which is mostly, but not exclusively, written in German.

Austrian literature has a close connection with German literature, and the gap between German literature and Austrian is porous, due to rich and complex cultural exchanges. — VNS

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