German, History, literature, memory, Translation, trauma, Women

From Nazi Austria to New York’s 9/11 Attacks: Ilse Aichinger’s “Improbable Journeys”

asphalt road between trees
Photo by Craig Adderley on

Submission by Dr Geoff Wilkes

Ilse Aichinger (1921-2016) was one of the most significant prose writers to emerge in Austria after the Second World War. Her work was acknowledged by numerous national and international awards, and has received considerable attention from scholars around the world. Aichinger was particularly known for her novel Die gröβere Hoffnung (The Greater Hope; 1948), which was prompted by her experiences in Vienna in 1938-45. During those years, Ilse and her mother Berta (one of the first women to study Medicine in Vienna) were forced to leave their flat and work in government-assigned jobs, her twin sister Helga emigrated to England on the last Kindertransport, and her grandmother Gisela, aunt Erna and uncle Felix were deported, and murdered in a concentration camp.

In the 1990s, after an extended period of almost complete (literary) silence, the elderly Aichinger began writing short texts again, many of which appeared in the Vienna daily newspaper Der Standard (The Standard). In 2005, a selection of those texts was published under the title Unglaubwürdige Reisen (Improbable Journeys).

350 Guardian
Ilse Aichinger, The Guardian

The texts in Improbable Journeys are idiosyncratic, ranging from the life of Aichinger’s great-grandfather to the attacks on New York on 11 September, and from Aberdeen to Shanghai. Improbable Journeys was Aichinger’s last substantial publication, and by contrast with the companion volume Film und Verhängnis: Blitzlichter auf ein Leben (Film and Fate: Camera Flashes Illuminating A Life; 2001); it has a valedictory tone, with a stronger emphasis on the changes which occur in a world and an individual over a lifetime, of the continuities and discontinuities between generations, on abiding effects of major historical and personal events, and on the distillation of experience.

Here Dr. Geoff Wilkes presents the first English translation of the last major work by leading figure in postwar Austrian literature. It complements his recent translations of The Greater Hope and Film and Fate.

For further information on this translation, please see here.

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