Bu­dapest-based Chi­nese writer who’s happy in­Hun­gary

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By XING YI xingyi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Yu Zemin is known as the spokesman for Hun­gar­ian writ­ers in China’s lit­er­ary cir­cles.

The Bu­dapest-based trans­la­tor and au­thor has in­tro­duced many well-known nov­el­ists from the coun­try to Chi­nese read­ers through trans­la­tions and his own writ­ings.

Pub­lished ear­lier this year, Pa­per Fish­bowl is Yu’s lat­est novel. It tells the story of a young Chi­nese man who moves to Hun­gary amid its rad­i­cal changes in the early 1990s.

The pro­tag­o­nist, Situ Jiqing, grewup in a work­ing fam­ily in Bei­jing but rebels at the prospect of liv­ing a mo­not­o­nous life.

Situ grabs an op­por­tu­nity to run a small busi­ness in Rus­sia but ends up be­com­ing an il­le­gal im­mi­grant in Hun­gary, where his friend­ships and ro­mances with Hun­gar­i­ans be­gin.

“I’m not Situ. I haven’t stowed away or made a liv­ing sell­ing small goods on the street,” Yu says dur­ing a book talk in Bei­jing on Sun­day. “But the feel­ing is real.” Huang Ji­akun, a lit­er­ary agent at Andrew Nurn­berg Lit­er­ary Agency, says: “From the per­spec­tive of the growth of a young man, the novel is univer­sal. Whether in China, Hun­gary, the United States or the United King­dom, young peo­ple all seek their iden­ti­ties from their bod­ies, cul­tures and places they live in.”

Yu went to Hun­gary in 1991 with­out know­ing about the coun­try. He couldn’t speak a word of the lan­guage.

“I just wanted to go out and see the world, and Hun­gary was visa-free for Chi­nese,” says Yu.

“So I boarded a train toMoscow and an­other from there to Bu­dapest.”

Yu was born in Bei­jing in 1964. For­eign lit­er­a­ture was Fish­bowl. Pa­per largely for­bid­den dur­ing his child­hood be­cause of the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (1966-76). Still, he cul­ti­vated a love of read­ing be­cause his cousin was a high school li­brar­ian.

He writes in his mem­oir that he read­more­lit­er­ary than med­i­cal books as a Bei­jing Med­i­cal Univer­sity stu­dent.

His first years in Hun­gary were tough. He didn’t have a sta­ble job and was just be­gin­ning to learn the lan­guage. But lo­cal friends helped him.

“I was lit­er­ally a drifter,” he re­calls.

“I ate and stayed with friends. At one point, I had a key chain with keys to lots of friends’ homes.”

He didn’t study Hun­gar­ian in for­mal classes.

“Pubs and cafes were my school, and friends and dic­tio­nar­ies weremy teach­ers.”

Yu kept a di­ary dur­ing this pe­riod. He says the ini­tial idea of his new novel was de­rived from sto­ries about the peo­ple he en­coun­tered.

In 1992, Yu met Univer­sity of Szeged pro­fes­sor Janos Herner, who in­tro­duced him to sev­eral Hun­gar­ian writ­ers, in­clud­ing Ga­bor Karat­son and Akos Szi­lagyi.

In 1998, Yu ac­com­pa­nied Las­zlo Krasz­na­horkai as an in­ter­preter dur­ing his China visit. His trans­la­tion ca­reer be­gan when he trans­lated one of Krasz­na­horkai’s short sto­ries af­ter­ward. TheHun­gar­ian won the Man Booker In­ter­na­tional Prize in 2015.

Yu be­came known by Chi­nese read­ers through his trans­la­tions of the works of Imre Kertesz, the late Hun­gar­ian nov­el­ist who won the No­bel in 2002.

“I re­allyad­mireYuZem­in­for his trans­la­tions of Hun­gar­ian writ­ers,” Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Univer­sity lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor Liu Yan says.

“Over the past 20 years, we’ve paid a lot of at­ten­tion to for­eign lit­er­a­ture from ma­jor lan­guages. But what Yu has done is very mean­ing­ful and can­not be sub­sti­tuted.”

XING YI / CHINA DAILY

Bu­dapest-based au­thor Yu Zemin and his new novel,

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