26 October 2012 - Michael Henry Heim

Copyright Vicki Tyley (c)


Quote of the day:

"It is better to bite your tongue

than let it bite someone else."


Michael Henry Heim

- Special Guest

G'day guys,

Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to a man with great gifts - Michael Henry Heim. Mr Heim, a well regarded scholar of Slavic languages at UCLA known for his translations of works by Gunter Grass, Milan Kundera, Thomas Mann and Anton Chekhov, has died. He was 69.

Fluent in six languages -- Czech, French, German, Italian, Russian and Serbian/Croatian -- and possessing a reading knowledge of six more, Heim had taught at UCLA since 1972 and served as chairman of the Slavic languages department from 1999 to 2003.

Among his best-known translations are Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” from the Czech original, Grass’ “My Century” and “Peeling the Onion” from German, a 2004 translation of Mann’s “Death in Venice” from German and a 1975 collection of Chekhov’s letters from Russian.

Born Jan. 21, 1943, in New York, Heim attended Columbia University, where he studied as an undergraduate under Gregory Rabassa, who translated Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” He received his doctorate in Slavic languages from Harvard.

“A good translation will allow a person who has read the work in the original and a person who has read the work in translation to have an intelligent conversation about it,” Heim said in a 2001 profile in The Times while explaining how he approached his task.

“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.”

Mr. Heim donated $734,000 to the PEN Translation Fund that helps support translations of foreign language works. Heim and his wife, Priscilla, established the PEN fund in 2003 and gave the money anonymously. The PEN American Center, of which Heim was a longtime member, announced Wednesday that he and his wife were the benefactors.




Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of California at Los Angeles, July 1986 - present.
Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of California at Los Angeles, July 1979 - June 1986.
Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University, September 1985 - January 1986.
Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of California at Los Angeles, July 1972 - June 1979.
Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of California at Berkeley, September 1977 - June 1978.
Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Wisconsin at Madison, September 1970 - June 1972.



  • Harvard University, M.A., Ph.D., Slavic Languages and Literatures, September 1964 - June 1970. M.A., June 1966. Ph.D. February 1971.

  • Columbia College, A.B. magna cum laude, Oriental Studies. June 1964. Phi Beta Kappa.


Trediakovskij, Sumarokov, and Lomonosov as Translators of European Literature


  • Fluent: Czech, French, German, Italian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian

  • Reading Knowledge: Danish, Hungarian, Latin, Slovak, Romanian, Spanish.



Professional Interests

  • Literature: Czech, Croatian, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian (Eighteenth Century; Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Prose), Serbian

  • Comparative Literature

  • Translation: Contemporary and classical prose and drama

  • Translation Studies

  • Methodology of Foreign Language Teaching.

Courses Taught at UCLA

Introduction to Russian Prose (Lectures and Readings in Russian); Elementary Czech, Advanced Czech
Literature (Undergraduate):
Russian Civilization, Soviet Civilization, Survey of Nineteenth Century Russian Literature, Survey of Twentieth-Century Russian Literature, The Russian Novel, Russian Literature in the European Context, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Undergraduate Seminars (War and Peace, Doctor Zhivago), Survey Czech Literature, Interwar Central European Literature, Postwar Central European Literature.
Literature (Graduate):
Eighteenth-Century Russian Literature, Seminar in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature (Chekhov), Comparative Slavic Literature (Czech, Croatian, Serbian)

Dissertations Directed

  • Orphans as Metaphors in Soviet Literature

  • The Rise of the Russian Tendentious Novel

  • Exile in the Works of Henry James and Vladimir Nabokov

Selected Translations

  • Anton Chekhov's Life and Thought (University of California Press), The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard (various theaters in the US, Canada and England). From the Russian.

  • Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Knopf/Penguin), The Joke (Harper & Row/Penguin), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Harper & Row/Penguin), Jacques and His Master (Harper & Row/Penguin). From the Czech.

  • Bohumil Hrabal, The Death of Mr. Baltisberger (Doubleday), Too Loud a Solitude (Harcourt Brace), Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (Harcourt Brace). From the Czech.

  • Vassily Aksyonov, The Island of Crimea, In Search of Melancholy Baby (Random House). From the Russian.

  • Henri Troyat, Chekhov (Dutton). From the French.

  • Danilo Kis, Encyclopedia of the Dead (Farrar Straus/Penguin), Early Sorrows (New Direcions). From the Serb.

  • Karel Capek, The White Plague, Talks with T.G. Masaryk (Catbird). From the Czech.

  • Sasha Sokolov, Astrophobia (Grove). From the Russian.

  • Péter Esterházy, Helping Verbs of the Heart (Grove). From the Hungarian.

  • Dubravka Ugresic, Fording the Stream of Consciousness (Northwestern). From the Croat.

  • Felix Roziner, A Certain Finkelmeyer (Norton/Northwestern). From the Russian.

  • Jan Neruda, Prague Tales (Chatto & Windus/CEU Press). From the Czech.

  • Eduard Uspensky, Uncle Fedya (Knopf). From the Russian.

  • Milos Crnjanski, Migrations (Harcourt Brace). From the Serb.

  • George Konrád, The Melancholy of Rebirth (Harcourt Brace). From the Hungarian

  • Bertold Brecht, The Wedding. (Produced at The Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles). From the German.

  • Josef Hirsal, A Bohemian Youth. (Northwestern). From the Czech.

  • Aleksandar Tisma, The Book of Blam. (Harcourt Brace). From the Serb.

  • Hans-Magnus Enzensberger. The Number Devil. (Henry Holt). From the German.

  • Günter Grass, My Century. (Harcourt Brace). From the German.


  • The Russian Journey of Karel Havlícek Borovsky (Slavistische Beiträge, 1979).

  • Contemporary Czech (Slavica, 1982).

  • The Third Wave: Russian Literature in Emigration ([edited with Olga Matich] Ann Arbor 1984)

  • Un Babel fericit (Bucharest 1999).




  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship

  • National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

  • Fulbright Visiting Scholar Fellowship

  • Columbia University Translation Center Prize (Astrophbobia)

  • Hungarian Government Prize for Translation (The Flower Show)

  • American Literary Translators Association Prize (Migrations)

  • PEN America Center West Prize for Translation (A Bohemian Youth)

  • AATSEEL Prize for Service to the Field

Editorial Boards

  • Cross Currents

  • East European Politics and Society

  • Slavic and East European Journal

  • Writings from an Unbound Europe (Northwestern University Press)


  • National Endowment for the Humanities, Translation Panel

  • National Endowment for the Arts, Translation Panel (Chair)

  • PEN American Center, Translation Prize

  • German Government/Goethe-Institut Prize for Translation from German

  • Zerilli-Marimò Prize for Italian Fiction

  • Stephen Spender Memorial Trust

National and International Committees

  • American Council of Learned Societies, Joint Committee on Eastern Europe

  • Association for the Translation of Central European Literatures (Founder)



Clancy's comment: Thank you Mr. Heim. Pax vobiscum - CT!

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