OBITUARY: Michael Henry Heim

“The reader must believe he or she is reading a work in French or Japanese and yet be reading it in English. That’s the real paradox. It’s a scam, if you like. A feat of legerdemain. But I think it can be done.” ~ Michael Henry Heim

Michael Henry Heim

MICHAEL HENRY HEIM, professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) and literary translator of Central and Eastern European authors, died September 29 from complications of melanoma. He was 69 years old.

He translated the works of German Günter GrassThomas Mann, and Bertolt Brecht, Czech Milan Kundera and Russian Anton Chekhov, most prominently "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," "Uncle Vanya," and "Death in Venice," which ultimately won him the 2005 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize sponsored by the Goethe-Institut in Chicago and the German government. He was fluent in Czech, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Hungarian, Romanian, French, Italian, German, and Dutch.

Upon his death, his widow authorized the PEN American Center to disclose the fact that he had donated over $700K anonymously for the creation of the PEN Translation Fund in 2003 in order to promote the publication of translated world literature in English. For the past nine years, the Fund has given grants of $2,000–$10,000 to 72 translations from 30 languages, including Armenian, Basque, Estonian, Farsi, Finland, Swedish, Lithuanian, Mongolian, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic.

Read complete stories from The New York TimesThe Los Angeles TimesThe Huffington Post and the PEN American Center