The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Life can be so surreal sometimes.

While at Eslite looking for a new book today, I picked up Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers And Sons. I’d been hoping to read it ever since I took the Introduction to Russian Literature class with Professor Michael Henry Heim, a noted translator, during the first quarter of my freshman year at UCLA. That class changed my life.

I adored Professor Heim; he remains my favourite UCLA professor to this day. His lectures – the topics, the structure, the way he spoke – somehow put into words all the reasons I loved literature, expressed in a way I wasn’t able to my perception of the world and the role of literature in it.

I kept in contact with Professor Heim during my freshmen year, sometimes visiting him in office hours. We weren’t super close, but I remember him clearly and fondly, often seeing him walking around campus with his raggedy backpack filled with books. Professor Heim died of melanoma in 2012, when I was in my third-year. I had no idea he was sick.

Fathers and Sons was on the top of a list of recommended books Professor Heim gave us after the quarter was over, which was why I had wanted to buy it in the first place. And I almost did today, until I realized that I had no idea which translation to buy. I thought of Professor Heim then and wished he were still here so I could ask him.

Instead, I bought a beautiful paperback copy of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, without thinking twice about checking the translation as I was in a rush and sold by its beautiful cover. When I got home, I re-read a few of Professor Heim’s obituaries in the L.A. Times, the Daily Bruin, and I see this sentence in the New York Timesobituary:

He was known in particular for his translations of Mr. Kundera’s novels, including the original English-language editions of “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” (1980) and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1984), which became a best seller in the United States.

I rush over to my newly-bought The Unbearable Lightness of Being book, flip it open, and what do you know?

milan kundera unbearable lightness of being translation michael henry heim ucla professor translator

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