Priscilla Heim, Michael Henry Heim’s widow, was looking for a place for his books, and I volunteered to take them and find homes for them.
Seventy-six boxes showed up last week, and I started going through them on Friday. As some readers of this blog will know, Mike was my teacher at UCLA, a mentor and guide in many ways. It was he who introduced me to the “communicative method” of foreign language instruction. He wrote countless letters on my behalf. I also had my first translation workshop with him circa 1989. I was sitting in his office in 1992 when he got a call from a faculty member at the University of Virginia: a colleague (Katherine Feuer) had suddenly passed away and they were looking for someone to come on short notice as a one-year lecturer. Did he know anyone? He looked at me and told the person on the other end (Grace Fielder) that he might.
Later that year, I flew back to LA from Charlottesville to defend my dissertation, and afterward, the schedule was tight and I didn’t have time before my flight, so Mike volunteered to take it over to Powell Library to meet the official filing deadline on Monday. When I once told him I was interested in the mix of cultures in the Adriatic, he suggested I have a look at Fulvio Tomizza’s work — Tomizza’s Materada become my first published translation). And during my Fulbright year (Mike wrote the main recommendation) in Croatia, he introduced me by email to Predrag Matvejević — two more translations were the result. I’m sure I’m missing a few things in this list.
Going through the books has been surprising sometimes, and also moving. Many are signed by their authors and/or labeled “Michael and Priscilla Heim,” in Mike’s handwriting, usually with a date. Sometimes they have clipped reviews stuck inside. In one Günter Grass volume, I found Mike’s typed notes for a presentation he must have been giving at a local event circa 1988. I set it aside to add to his papers, which are in Indiana’s Lilly Library.
Yesterday, I opened a box filled with Heim translations that weren’t from Czech: Aksyonov’s Island of Crimea, Ageyev’s Novel with Cocaine, Chekhov: The Essential Plays (from the Russian); Konrád’s A Guest in My Own Country and Örkény’s The Flower Show. The Toth Family
(from the Hungarian); Ugrešić’s Lend Me Your Character and Ministry of Pain (from BCS); Max Blecher’s Adventures in Immediate Irreality (from the Dutch); Henri Troyat’s Chekhov (from the French); and a little volume in Romanian called Un Babel Ferecit (A Happy Babel), part of which Sean Cotter translated for a special feature on Heim originally at The Iowa Review and now preserved at M-Dash. And it was a rather small box.
Tucked inside another volume, a thank you from the local public library for a donation. Inside another (a Pelican Shakespeare signed as a gift from a friend) a to-do list, again in Mike’s hand — which I recognize with ease, it is quite distinctive: water trees (crossed out), weed patio (still to do), walk? (crossed out), German (crossed out), mulch front (still to do).
And then, from a volume I didn’t see, a slightly dried out page 3 from a manuscript in an old computer font, probably Palatino, with justified margins, that begins “…novel includes a pervasive moral element, no doubt a feature of the Russian nineteenth-century novel in general, a fact that adds considerably greater scale to the typical Russian novelistic undertaking. It is as if to the picaresque literary heritage a Napoleonic impulse were being added.” And I suddenly recognize the words in this little excerpt from my dissertation, preserved in a Heim book that has now made its way to me.
My grades are in as of ten minutes ago, so I’m heading back to the boxes. What will I find today, I wonder?
A beautiful tribute. Thank you. He lives on in you.
Christopher Merrill, Director
International Writing Program
430 North Clinton Street
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242-2020