Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Harry Rowohlt, 1945-2015

Germany's famous translator Harry Rowohlt has died at the age of seventy. He was the son of publisher Ernst Rowohlt but was never involved in running the publishing house before he and his half-brother sold it in 1982, although he did train at Suhrkamp Verlag and took an internship at Grove Press. He began translating from English in 1971 and was particularly loved for his live events, at which he would interrupt his readings with anecdotes and whiskey (he was apparently made an "ambassador of Irish whiskey" in 1996 and translated a number of Irish writers, including Flann O'Brien and Ken Bruen). And he also recorded hugely popular audiobooks, wrote occasional newspaper columns and played a tramp in the long-running Lindenstraße soap opera.

Readers were very keen on his translation style, which he applied to both children's and adult books. He had a hand for comedy, translating Frank Muir, Andy Stanton, David Sedaris and Robert Crumb, but also writers who are tough in other ways: Kurt Vonnegut, a little James Joyce and probably most famously A.A. Milne. I never met him; as far as I understand, he preferred not to keep the company of other translators. 

Harry Rowohlt made translators visible in Germany like no other, and did a great deal to establish an image for literary translators as creative writers with personalities of their own rather than dictionary-wielding robots. He will be greatly missed by his many readers.


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