Publisher Interview: Albert Eibl of Das vergessene Buch (DVB)

Austrian publisher Albert Eibl speaks with Regan Mies about the mission of Das vergessene Buch Verlag (DVB), exile writers and the importance of “forgotten literature.” 

Regan Mies: To start, I’d love to hear a bit about yourself and your background. What did you study? And when did you first discover your love for books and literature? 

Albert Eibl: I studied German language and literature, philosophy and political science in Zurich and Vienna. My love for literature began very early, when I was still very young. My father is a big reader himself. At home, I was always surrounded by tall bookshelves, which certainly inspired me to engage further with what are arguably the most fascinating cultural objects in the world. I’ve always felt at home in the world of books and surrounded by them. So, to quote a beautiful line by Ernst Jünger, I lead a second life as a reader, in a way.

You were only 24 years old when you founded Das vergessene Buch (The Forgotten Book). How did you decide to start a publishing house? Is there a specific moment you can recall, or a specific book? 

Yes, there’s something of a founding legend. During my German studies at the University of Vienna, I spent evening after evening with fun, literary friends over wine and jazz. During a conversation on one of these evenings, a catchy name for a publishing house suddenly came into my mind, “Das vergessene Buch.” 

Shortly before then, in a lecture on the literature of the Austrian interwar period, I’d heard the name Maria Lazar for the first time. I got hold of a copy of her debut novel, Die Vergiftung (The Poisoning), from the Austrian National Library, which was one of the very few copies available at the time, and I began reading it straightaway. I’d never before come across such strong, expressionist language. The first book of my about-to-be-founded publishing house had been discovered. On top of that, the publishing house’s name, too. In hindsight, it was a real stroke of luck. 

Could you tell us more about the philosophy behind DVB?

“Das vergessene Buch” sees itself as a playing field, networking arena, and platform that makes the wrongfully forgotten works of earlier days newly­­––or in some cases, for the very first time––accessible to a broad, historically interested reading public. Under the category of “wrongfully forgotten works” I’d include novels, narratives, theatrical works, short stories, etc. that possess a distinctive literary quality and are simultaneously timely, because, through the mirror of the past, they allow us to draw conclusions about contemporary social conditions, problems and frictions. A literary rediscovery is successful when these wrongfully forgotten authors or rediscovered works have found entrance into the everchanging literary canon. That is, when the press begins writing about them, when readers begin asking after new works from these authors and when those in the field of German studies begin dealing with them in lectures and seminars. 

If I’m right, you’ve published almost 20 books with DVB since 2014. There are similarities and themes that connect a lot of these works. Many are from the 1910s, 20s and 30s. And several of your authors are women from Austria who were forced into exile because of National Socialism––for example, Marta Karlweis, Grete Hartwig-Manschinger, Maria Gleit and the Jewish author Maria Lazar. What is it that draws you to these books and authors?

First and foremost, it was the moving life stories of these authors, which themselves oftentimes read like novels––flight, displacement, exile, togetherness, homelessness, friendship, love. That’s the material out of which great stories are woven. And then, it’s the works­­­­––from Leben verboten! (No Right to Live)by Maria Lazar, to Rendezvous in Manhattan by Grete Hartwig-Manschinger, to Abteilung Herrenmode (Department of Men’s Fashion) by Maria Gleit––which are astoundingly modern in their societal approach and in their psychological understanding of the shoals of the human soul. Through reading these novels, written nearly 100 years ago, we can better understand our own time. Literature can do that. 

And how is it you actually find the forgotten books you end up wanting to publish or republish?

In the beginning, I regularly visited second-hand booksellers and archives on my own, rummaging through estates, diaries and collected letters of well-known authors who have already been rediscovered. Nowadays, I receive about ten letters per month from writers, publishers, university professors and private readers who recommend works that have already long been forgotten and possibly deserve a renaissance. I look at these very closely to see whether there’s anything fitting for DVB. 

Up until now, there have been four DVB titles strongly recommended by New Books in German: a stream-of-consciousness novel that revolves around friendship, self-deception and betrayal, Viermal Ich (Fourtimes Me); a New York novel from the 1940s, Rendezvous in Manhattan by Grete Hartwig-Manschinger; Ferien am Waldsee (Holidays at the Forest Lake) by Carl Laszlo; and Leben verboten!, which is a Weimar-era thriller that has been likened to the television series Babylon Berlin. The two novels Vermal ICH and Leben verboten!were both written by the aforementioned Austrian-Jewish writer-in-exile Maria Lazar (1895-1948). Could you tell us something about Lazar and her life?

Maria Lazar was born into a wealthy Jewish-assimilated Viennese family as the youngest of seven. She attended the famous Schwarzwaldschule in Vienna, where she got to know Adolf Loos, Egon Friedell, Elias Canetti, Hermann Broch and Oskar Kokoschka, among others. Kokoschka even immortalized her in his painting “Dame mit Papegei” (“Woman with Parrot”). 

After she came onto the scene in 1920 with her debut novel, Die Vergiftung, and her one-act play, Der Henker (The Executioner), she built a career as an astute journalist who pressed her finger into the wounds of her time with linguistic fluency and argumentative confidence. Realizing that National Socialism would inevitably spill over into Austria, she left Austria in 1934 and went into exile in Denmark together with Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel. In 1939, she fled to Sweden, where she voluntarily ended her life in 1948.

In her estate, which went to the Austrian Archive for Exile Studies at the Vienna Literaturhaus, there are a few works which have remained unpublished until now and are still waiting to be rediscovered. These works will be republished in succession in the coming years. 

What about these two novels in particular––Viermal ICH and Leben verboten!––is particularly interesting to you personally? What characteristics do they have that could interest an English-speaking audience?

Leben verboten! is an astonishingly cinematic novel about the period of global economic turmoil around 1931. It takes place in Vienna and Berlin and, like no other novel, dissects the precarious atmosphere out of which National Socialism later arose like an ulcer, spreading over almost every country in Europe. Viermal ICH is a wonderful novel about the schizophrenic aspects of adolescent friendships, the type of friendships that exist for such a long time that one no longer has any idea what bound them so tightly to the other person in the first place. I am delighted that Viermal ICH will be coming out in English with Seagull Books.

Are there any other books from the rest of the DVB catalog that you have an especially strong personal connection with?

Carl Lazlo’s Auschwitz survival narrative, Ferien am Waldsee, was also published as a paperback by btb Random House and appeared as an audiobook from speak low last year. It expresses the hell of Auschwitz and the unspeakable horrors of the world of concentration camps through literary prose in a unique way­­––in my opinion, it’s poetically even stronger than comparable works by Imre Kertesz and Primo Levi. In this case, an English-language edition is long past due. At any rate, the rights are still available.

In your opinion, what is the international significance of the books published by Das vergessene Buch Verlag? What role do “forgotten books” play in international literature today?

I think that in ten years’ time, some of the works we’ve rediscovered will have been translated into numerous other languages and that readers within these other spheres of language will find them fascinating, moving, shocking, and thought-provoking. Leben verboten! is already available in Danish and Croatian. Viermal ICH will be published in English by Seagull Press in 2026. In any case, the interest isn’t letting up. I have the feeling, at least, that the desire for testimonies from the past will grow stronger every year. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for the interview!

Thanks so much for sharing your time with us. 

Find out more about Albert Eibl, Das vergessene Buch Verlag and the books they publish on their website. And feel free to check out New Books in German’s recommendations for Maria Lazar’s Leben verboten! and Viermal ICH, Grete Hartwig-Manschinger’s Rendezvous in Manhattan and Carl Lazlo’s Ferien am Waldsee

Portrait Albert C. Eibl in den DVB Verlagsräumlichkeiten

Albert C. Eibl was born in Munich as the oldest of seven siblings. After completing the European Baccalaureate (EB) in Italy – a country to which he owes many literary inspiration – he settled in Zurich and completed a bachelor’s degree in German, philosophy and political science. He then completed his master’s degree (with distinction) in German Philosophy at the University of Vienna.

In 2014, Albert founded the publishing house, Das vergessene Buch (DVB).

Regan Mies is an NBG intern for the spring 2024 selection round. After graduating from Columbia University, Regan worked as an editorial assistant in New York. She is currently based in Hamburg, where she teaches English, writes, and translates with the support of a Fulbright grant. 

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