Helen Lane, in memoriam

2004 September 7
Helen Lane, in memoriam

Helen Lane, a versatile translator whose projects included works by many important Latin-American authors, died August 29 in Albuquerque, where she had lived since returning from France 11 years ago. She was 83. Ms. Lane, who was at home in seven languages, translated mainly from four of them: French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. At her death, she and Ronald Christ , a friend and collaborator, were working on a six-volume autobiography of Victoria Ocampo (1890-1979), the Argentine writer and arts patron.

Ms. Lane's career started 60 years ago when she took a job as a government translator in Los Angeles. She worked for publishers in New York before turning freelance in 1970 and moving to the Dordogne region of southwest France.

She proved her versatility with translations of Mario Vargas Llosa's memoir A Fish in the Water (1994); Essays on Mexican Art (1993), by Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and 1990 Nobelist; and Caetana's Sweet Song, by the Brazilian novelist Nélida Piñon (1992).

Her work ranged from popular novels to searingly political works like Massacre in Mexico (1975), by the French-born Mexican journalist Elena Poniatowska, whose book is a reconstructive collage of the night of Oct. 2, 1968, when the Mexican army fired on a crowd of unarmed students and other protesters. It was published first in Spanish as La noche de Tlatelolco.

Ms. Lane made an impression with the English version of the Portuguese best seller The Three Marias: New Portuguese Letters (1975), by Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta and Maria Velho da Costa.

Among her most recent work was Juan Goytisolo's State of Siege (2002), a labyrinthine novel first published in Spanish in 1995, about the siege of Sarajevo.

She also translated three books by Tomás Eloy Martínez, The Perón Novel (1999), Santa Evita (1996) and The Memoirs of Fray Servando Teresa de Mier (1998), a Franciscan friar's account of the early days of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

She provided subtitles for foreign films like Weekend (1967), by Jean-Luc Godard, and Brazil: A Report on Torture (1971) by Haskell Wexler and Saul Landau.

She was born Helen Ruth Overholt in Minneapolis and graduated summa cum laude in 1943 from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she also received a master's degree in 1953. She then did postgraduate work at UCLA and at the Sorbonne.

She first went to work in 1943 in Los Angeles as a translator and editor for the United States Civil Service. In the 1950's she taught languages at UCLA, Goucher College in Maryland and New York University.

From 1960 to 1970 she was a foreign editor at Grove Press in New York, for which she translated writings by, among others, Juan Bosch, Marguerite Duras, Eugene Ionesco, and Jean-François Revel. Other authors she worked on for various publishers included Maria Montessori and Curzio Malaparte.