Thursday, 2 February 2012

RIP Helmut Frielinghaus

Helmut Frielinghaus was a translator, editor and writer. He was born in 1931 and spent part of the 1950s in Madrid then working as a senior editor at Rowohlt, Claassen and Luchterhand. He went freelance in 1991 and moved to New York in 1995, from where he sent dispatches on 9/11 for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. He returned to Hamburg in 2002, although he also had strong ties to the UK with a home in Sussex. He translated Raymond Carver, Nicholson Baker, John Updike and William Faulkner, often working with his partner Susanne Höbel, and edited Günter Grass. He received the Bundesverdienstkreuz in 2008.

I had the privilege of meeting him in 2009, when he gave a workshop on creative writing for literary translators. It was held in the small town of Wolfenbüttel, not far from where Frielinghaus grew up, and the assignment for the class was to write about a morning in that town. During the course of the day, he revealed that he had loathed the place as a child, forced to spend long, dull afternoons traipsing round the medieval town centre. Yet he still had an open ear for those participants who enthused about the quaint narrow alleyways and timbered facades. I was struck by his honesty and calm judgement - he was not one to give false encouragement to people he did not think had talent, but when he expressed praise it was heartfelt. He knew and loved good literature, and he had a mischievous sense of humour.

Helmut Frielinghaus died on Sunday after a long illness. He will be sorely missed by many of us translators in Germany, and also by Günter Grass, who dedicated him a poem in memoriam. You can read it at Die Zeit.

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