The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim & A Life in Translation


by Esther Allen, Sean Cotter & Russell Scott Valentino, eds.

October 14, 2014
essays | pb | 313 pgs
5.5" x 8.5"

“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

When Michael Henry Heim—one of the most respected translators of his generation—passed away in the fall of 2012, he left behind an astounding legacy. Over his career, he translated more than 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 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 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 sections—a short autobiography, pieces from authors he worked with, essays detailing his teaching and translation techniques, over twenty photos—The Man Between opens a window onto the life and teachings of Michael Henry Heim. (Read an Excerpt)


About the Editors: 

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.


“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

"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 Angeleno – alive 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