Austrian writer wins China’s annual foreign novel award

By Bi Mengying Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/29 15:48:40

Austrian writer Robert Menasse Photo: AFP

Cover of the Chinese version of the novel The Capital Photo: Courtesy of Douban

Austrian writer Robert Menasse's The Capital won China's prestigious foreign novel award, the 21st Century Best Foreign Novel of the Year 2018-19 and Zou Taofen Annual Foreign Fiction Award, on Friday.

The ceremony for the award, which comes with a prize of 50,000 yuan ($7,048), was originally planned to be held in Beijing. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers of the event resorted to an online ceremony.     

"Vienna and Beijing seem to be far away from each other. But they are not… We have become close in terms of business, or maybe politics as well… We cannot understand each other only through trade. Cultural exchanges have become extremely crucial. Giving a European novel the opportunity to earn a major Chinese literature award, the proposal itself is already very meaningful," said 65-year-old Menasse in his acceptance speech video. 

The award was organized by the People's Literature Publishing House, the Chinese Association of Foreign Literature and the Taofen Foundation. 

China has long been working hard to promote literary exchanges. With the pandemic affecting people across the world, furthering communication and conversations in the field of literature has become more important than ever, Taofen Foundation director Nie Zhenning told the Global Times. 

Changing stereotypes

First published in 2017 in German, The Capital was acclaimed as a first-class satire on EU bureaucracy. The book has been translated into more than 25 languages and the Chinese version was published by the People's Literature Publishing House in 2019. 

"This is probably the most hilarious beginning of a novel that I've read - a pig on the loose," one netizen wrote on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

The book currently holds an 8.8/10 on Chinese media review site Douban. According to reviews on the site, it has changed many of the stereotypes Chinese readers have held about German literature. 

"It is a thought-provoking work that combines many elements such as European history, the current situation, religion and conflicts through several masterfully organized threads. It gives Chinese readers a better understanding of Europe. Unlike most German novels, which tend to be philosophical and too deep to have a wide appeal, this book is interesting and funny," said Ouyang Tao, director of the Foreign Literature Editorial Department at the People's Literature Publishing House.  

Cultural exchanges

In another video Menasse sent to the committee in January, he pointed out that narrative literature and novels about current events help people realize that despite different cultural backgrounds, they have much more in common than they think.  

Ouyang also noted that this lack of understanding sometimes may result in bias and discrimination, or even stigmatization.

"But there is no need to be afraid, as there is such a group of writers endeavoring to deepen mutual understanding through literary exchanges," he said.   

Ouyang gave an example of the reputed German writer Martin Walser, who won the award in 2009 with his work A Man in Love. Walser first met Chinese writer Mo Yan at the award ceremony in Beijing. 

Ouyang noted that when Mo Yan won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature, he was faced with an unsubstantiated backlash from Western media. Walser spoke up immediately and defended Mo Yan's work as "extremely critical and very open."

In his interview with German magazine Der Spiegel in 2012, Walser recalled his pleasant conversation and "unbelievably comfortable" interaction with Mo Yan at the award ceremony in Beijing, admitting he was not only impressed by Mo Yan's work, but also by him as a person.

"My Chinese interpreter Huang Liaoyu translated, but time and again we enthusiastically forgot that we were speaking different languages," said Walser.

Looking back at the friendship between Mo Yan and Walser that developed through the awards, Ouyang noted, these heart-warming interactions are truly making a difference. 

He agreed with what Menasse said in his video, and they all very much looked forward to more face-to-face communications and exchanges when the pandemic ends.
Newspaper headline: Ties that bind

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