When Michael Henry Heimone of the most respected translators of his generationpassed away in the fall of 2012, he left behind an astounding legacy. Over his career, he translated over sixty works from more than eight different languages, including books by Milan Kundera, Dubravka Ugresic, Hugo Claus, and Anton Chekov.
But Mike, as he was known to his legion of friends, was much more than that. His classes at UCLA on translation inspired a new generation of translators, and his work altering the way translation is viewed in the university will impact the livelihood of translators for decades to come.
If that weren't enough, upon his death it was revealed that Heim was the anonymous donor responsible for the PEN Translation Fundthe largest fund in America supporting up-and-coming translators.
Hundreds of people in the literary community were impacted by Heim's life and actions, and this book is a small way of honoring this quiet, humble man who, among many other things, is responsible for the title The Unbearable Lightness of Being (and all its variants) entering the English idiom.
Comprising a number of different sectionsa short autobiography, pieces from authors he worked with, essays detailing his impact on literary cultureThe Man Between opens a window onto the life and teachings of Michael Henry Heim, and, similar to David Bellos's Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, will be of great interest to anyone interested in language, international culture, and the art of translation.
Esther Allen translates from Spanish and French and has worked to promote a culture of translation in the English-speaking world, most notably by directing the PEN Translation Fund from 2003 to 2010 and helping launch the PEN World Voices Festival.
Sean Cotter teaches at the University of Texas at Dallas and translates Romanian poetry and fiction, including Nichita Stanescu's Wheel with a Single Spoke for which he received the 2013 Best Translated Book Award.
Russell Scott Valentino is the current president of the American Literary Translators Association. He is also a professor at Indiana University, a translator, and the founder of Autumn Hill Books. He previously ran the Iowa Review.
Part I: The Life:
Excerpt (about 21,000 words) from Michael Henry Heim's interview/autobiography, Un Babel fericit (Iasi, Romania: Editura Polirom, 1999). Translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter.
The autobiographical pages cover many topics, including his family history, early interests in photography and piano, his first trips to the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, his language study, and his meetings with famous authors. He was in Prague for the 1968 Soviet invasion, interpreting between Czechs and the Soviet soldiers —this section is the most dramatic. In addition to describing some of his work on particular authors, he also comments on his approach to literary translation, teaching translation, publishing translations in the United States, the lack of professional status for American translators, and translating women writers.
Part II: Translated by Michael Henry Heim
Excerpts from the correspondence between Heim and Milan Kundera regarding the English translation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. (Correspondence held in the Lilly Library at the University of Indiana. To be translated from the Czech.)
Andrei Codrescu: two essays and a poem
Dubravka Ugresic on Heim, translated from the Serbo-Croatian.
Breon Mitchell's memorial lecture at UCLA
A close reading of Heim's translations of Hrabal and Kundera
Part III: In the University
Rosanna Warren's reminiscence
Maureen Freely on Heim's translation teaching techniques
Part IV: The Activist
Andrzej W. Tymowski on the Social Science Translation Project
Esther Allen on the PEN Translation Fund
Catherine Porter on Heim and the Modern Language Association
Part V: The Teacher
Russell Valentino on Heim in the classroom.
A brief anthology of techniques Heim uses to teach translation. Heim is renowned for innovative techniques such as giving his students a paragraph of a French translation of Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, without telling them what it is. He then asks them to imagine the characters and scene depicted in it, and translate the paragraph into English. Once each student has produced their own English version, Heim produces the original English paragraph from Babbitt.
"Well translated, the novel is tart and testy, filled with insight into writers’ ability to lie, omit, and fabricate."Publishers Weekly
"The Man Between not only offers a fascinating glimpse of Michael Henry Heim, its reportedly modest and reticent protagonist, but of translators themselves the invaluable but often invisible men and women in today’s literary marketplace." Helen Epstein, Arts-Fuse
"This is a wonderful and illuminating account of a wonderful and luminous writer. Heim's impact on American letters was profound and far-reaching. [The Man Between] pays handsome tribute to the work of a uniquely adventurous translator, and shows just how much we all owe to him."David Bellos
"Michael Henry Heim was an unusual person, a scholar of many talents, a dedicated linguist, a gifted translator. With his passing, I have lost a friend. The gap he leaves will not be filled."Günter Grass
"This delightful collection provides a richly detailed portrait of the life and work of an extraordinary writer, translator, linguist, scholar, educator, benefactor, intellectualabove all, an extraordinary human being. . . . I am proud to have known this brilliantand yet entirely unassuming and modestpolymath. Readers of The Man Between are in for a rare pleasure!"Marjorie Perloff
"When I met Michael Henry Heim in the mid-Eighties, I was surprised he was a being of flesh and blood. I had expected an urbane, Borgesian phantasm composed of libraries and dictionaries, an angelic messenger of subtle powers, who could acquire another difficult language between spring and summer every year. He was all that. But he was also a smiling, warm enthusiast, generous and modest, and a passionate Los Angelenoalive to issues of Californian ecology and utopian politics. Mike was one of literature’s greatest advocates, who threw open door after doorto individual writers, to worlds of reading, to his idealistic vision of Happy Babel.’ The Man Between gives us a valuable manifesto about translation as a crucial way of making literature, as well as a marvellously rich, polyphonous portrait of a uniquely brilliant mind and a most wonderful, kind man."Marina Warner