The Austrian Riveter: ADAM FREUDENHEIM (Pushkin Press) introduced and interviews by Rosie Goldsmith

Pushkin Press publishes novels, non-fiction, crime, children’s books, everything from timeless classics to contemporary literature, including some of the 20th century’s most acclaimed authors, such as Stefan Zweig. Publisher and Managing Director Adam Freudenheim joined Pushkin in May 2012. Born in Baltimore, Adam lived and studied in Germany and came to the UK in 1997.
Stefan Zweig was born in 1881 into a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family in Vienna. His dramatic short stories and gripping biographies of major historical and literary figures, including Beware of Pity and The World of Yesterday, made him one of the world’s most popular writers. In 1934, with the rise of Nazism, he briefly moved to London and New York, then settled in Brazil where he died in 1942.

RG: Pushkin Press publishes many modern classics in translation. When did you start to publish Stefan Zweig?

AF: Pushkin Press was founded in 1997, and Zweig’s works were among the first titles released in 1998. Pushkin founder Melissa Ulfane deserves all credit for her focus on Zweig from the start, a focus I’ve continued since taking over the Press. We publish about twenty-five different books by Zweig – stories, novels, essays, fiction, non-fiction – and no other author has anything like as many books on our list. Our editions are a mix of new translations and reissues of old translations, but all the major works – Beware of Pity, The World of Yesterday, Shooting Stars, Chess – are published in new translations.

Anthea Bell, the great translator who died in 2018, was closely associated with Zweig. How many texts did she translate for you? 

Most of our new Zweig translations were done by Anthea Bell, who was a big fan of his work and really enjoyed translating him, I know. I remember a Zweig event with her at the Austrian Cultural Forum in London, where Ali Smith read aloud from one of Anthea’s translations, and Ali Smith said she wished she could write as well!

How widely read is Zweig today? 

Sales remain very steady – and strong – for all of Zweig’s major works, but his bestsellers remain the one novel he completed in his lifetime, Beware of Pity, and his memoir The World of Yesterday. The Brexit referendum and the rise of populism in the UK and across Europe have undoubtedly contributed to current interest in The World of Yesterday, which is primarily about pre–First World War Europe and the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire Zweig grew up in. Sadly, I suspect these trends will be with us for some time to come. I hope Zweig will continue to be read, but if he becomes less ‘relevant’ that might be no bad thing!

You are of German-Jewish background yourself, and you are the publisher of  Stefan Zweig: what does he signify for you? 

My father was born in Stuttgart in 1937 and fled with his family – his parents and his brother – in March 1938. They were lucky enough to end up in the US, though it wasn’t easy for them to get out, as you can imagine. As a high school student in 1990/1991, I spent nearly a full year as an exchange student in a small town near Moenchengladbach and in college I majored in German literature and language.  There’s no doubt that my German-Jewish background influences me – I am drawn to German-language writers, and I’ve been very pleased and proud of the success we’ve had with so many German-language writers – some of whom we’ve published in English for the very first time. I read The World of Yesterday one summer when I was in college. I was initially most attracted to Zweig’s pen-portraits of people like Freud and Romain Rolland, among many others. It’s also undoubtedly a nostalgia-tinged book, and I confess to having a certain amount of nostalgia myself, particularly for pre-Second World War, pre-Holocaust Germany and Austria. Though I know there were problems for Jews – and Jewish writers – long before 1933, things were immeasurably worse after that.  

Were you involved when The Grand Budapest Hotel was filmed by Wes Anderson?

I wish I’d been involved in Wes Anderson’s masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel! Unfortunately, I only helped put together Anderson’s wonderful selection of Zweig’s writing which inspired the film, which we published as The Society of the Crossed Keys in 2014, still in print today. Anderson’s film is more inspired by Zweig’s life and work generally than a direct adaptation, but Zweig does know how to tell a good story so it’s no surprise that many of his stories and novellas have been adapted for the screen.  I’m sure there will be more to come too!

Much less literature from Austria is published in English compared with that from Germany. Does Pushkin publish other Austrian authors?

Pushkin does indeed publish other Austrian writers!  I’m perhaps most proud of an incredible 19th-century autobiography we published in English for the first time, which unfortunately received far too little attention. The book is A Life in the Making by Franz Michael Felder, translated by David Henry Wilson, and published in January 2021.  Felder was an autodidact from rural, western Austria who died at just twenty-nine, and it’s a beautiful, moving book. Austria is a much smaller country than Germany, so it’s no surprise fewer Austrian writers are translated in absolute terms, but considering that I think a fair amount is translated. Pushkin also publishes Austrina authors Leo Perutz (too little known in English), Alexander Lernet-Holenia and Peter Handke, among others. 

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