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Michael Henry Heim, UCLA scholar and translator, dies at 69

October 2, 2012 |  2:47 pm

Michael Henry Heim

Michael Henry 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.

Heim died Saturday at his home in Westwood from complications of melanoma, the university announced.

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.”

A full obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.


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Photo: Michael Henry Heim in 2001. Credit: Stefano Paltera / Special to The Times