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Two Sad Russians

Walter Kendrick, 5 September 1985

The Confessions of Victor X 
edited by Donald Rayfield.
Caliban, 143 pp., £7.95, October 1984, 9780904573947
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Novel with Cocaine 
by M. Ageyev, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Picador, 174 pp., £7.95, February 1985, 0 330 28574 2
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... published, in Paris, in ‘the early Thirties’, according to its English translator, Michael Henry Heim. It appeared in the émigré journal Numbers and shortly thereafter as a book; fifty years of oblivion later, a copy turned up in a second-hand bookshop and was translated into French, bringing overdue fame to its ...

Bohumil Hrabal

James Wood: The life, times, letters and politics of Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal, 4 January 2001

Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Harvill, 103 pp., £6.99, May 1998, 1 86046 215 4
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Too Loud a Solitude 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Abacus, 112 pp., £6.99, May 1997, 0 349 10262 7
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I Served the King of England 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Paul Wilson.
Picador, 256 pp., £6.99, May 1990, 0 330 30876 9
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Closely Observed Trains 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Edith Partiger.
Abacus, 128 pp., £5.99, May 1990, 0 349 10125 6
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Total Fears: Letters to Dubenka 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by James Naughton.
Twisted Spoon Press, 203 pp., $13.50, June 1998, 80 902171 9 2
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... What is funny and forlorn, where is the comic pathos, in the following sentence? ‘A fortune-teller once read my cards and said that if it wasn’t for a tiny black cloud hanging over me I could do great things and not only for my country but for all mankind.’ Instantly, a person opens before us like a quick wound: probably a man (that slight vibration of a swagger), grandiose in aspiration but glued to a petty destiny, eccentric and possibly mad, a talker, rowdy with anecdote ...

Kundera and Kitsch

John Bayley, 7 June 1984

The Unbearable Lightness of Being 
by Milan Kundera, translated by Henry Heim.
Faber, 314 pp., £9.50, May 1984, 9780571132096
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... There is always comedy in the ways in which we are impressed by a novel. It can either impress us (if, that is, it is one of the very good ones) with the sort of truths that Nietzsche, Kafka and Dostoevsky tell us, or with the truths that Tolstoy and Trollope tell us. To the first kind we respond with amazement and delight, awe even. ‘Of course that’s it! Of course that’s it!’ The second kind of truths are more sober, more laboriously constructed, more ultimately reassuring ...

Witchiness

Marina Warner: Baba Yaga, 27 August 2009

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg 
by Dubravka Ugrešić, translated by Ellen Elias Bursác, Celia Hawkesworth and Mark Thompson.
Canongate, 327 pp., £14.99, May 2009, 978 1 84767 066 3
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... like Chandler, the heroine muses in a Woolfian fugue and so on (the veteran translator Michael Henry Heim was in action here). This time, Canongate has reproduced her polyphony of registers by commissioning three translators to work on the different parts of the book and give the memoir, fiction and essay a different feel. Ugrešić studied in Moscow ...

The Iron Rule

Jacqueline Rose: Bernhard Schlink’s Guilt, 31 July 2008

Homecoming 
by Bernhard Schlink, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Weidenfeld, 260 pp., £14.99, January 2008, 978 0 297 84468 6
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... Towards the end of Bernhard Schlink’s best-known novel, The Reader, the narrator is pondering his future after taking his state exam in law. He has just seen his former lover, Hanna Schmitz, convicted of war crimes: she had been a concentration camp guard, something he hadn’t known when she seduced him as a 15-year-old boy. None of the roles he saw played out in court appeals to him: ‘Prosecution seemed to me as grotesque a simplification as defence, and judging was the most grotesque oversimplification of all ...

The Politics of Translation

Marina Warner: Translate this!, 11 October 2018

This Little Art 
by Kate Briggs.
Fitzcarraldo, 365 pp., £12.99, September 2017, 978 1 910695 45 6
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Translation as Transhumance 
by Mireille Gansel, translated by Ros Schwartz.
Les Fugitives, 150 pp., £10, November 2017, 978 0 9930093 3 4
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Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto 
by Mark Polizzotti.
MIT, 168 pp., £17.99, May 2018, 978 0 262 03799 0
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The 100 Best Novels in Translation 
by Boyd Tonkin.
Galileo, 304 pp., £14.99, June 2018, 978 1 903385 67 8
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The Work of Literary Translation 
by Clive Scott.
Cambridge, 285 pp., £75, June 2018, 978 1 108 42682 4
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... Many celebrated translators, like Gansel, carry on adding to their linguistic crane bag: Michael Henry Heim, who worked on slippery ironists (Milan Kundera, then writing in Czech, and Dubravka Ugrešić, then writing in Serbo-Croat, now known as Croatian), liked to acquire a new one every year or so and to get to grip with that language’s neglected ...

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