Breon Mitchell

Contemporary American translator of German literature

Portrait of Breon MitchellBreon Mitchell

Breon Mitchell

Breon Mitchell is a professor of Germanic studies and comparative literature at Indiana University. Mitchell is the director of the Lilly Library, a repository of rare books and manuscripts from all ages. A past president of the American Literary Translators Association, he has received numerous national awards for literary translations, including the American Translators Association’s Ungar German Translation Award, the association’s Translation Prize and the Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award.

cover image of the book Morenga


by Uwe Timm

Translated by Breon Mitchell

A gripping historical novel about colonial power and tribal rebellion, set in German-occupied Southwest Africa. Uwe Timm (Headhunter, The Invention of Curried Sausage) has been described in The New Yorker as “an extraordinary storyteller.” In this early novel, he focuses his narrative talents on the historical conflict between German colonists and African tribes under the leadership of the legendary Morenga in the first decade of the 20th century. A daring and brilliant military tactician, Morenga was fluent in several languages and by all reports a man of compassion, intelligence, and integrity, as he led his people towards freedom. Recounted through the eyes of Gottschalk, an engaging fictional military veterinarian, the narrative blends quotations from historical sources with actual accounts of everyday life and military excursions. The parallels between past events and later German history, with its notions of the Untermensch (subhuman beings) and racial inferiority, are subtly brought to mind, while significant philosophical, political, and human issues are at play. Morenga is an intriguing novel of scope and significance, and it has been well served by Breon Mitchell’s prize-winning translation.

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cover image of the book Knife Edge

Knife Edge

Knife Edge (Messers Schneide), originally published in Germany in 1986, introduces American readers to the work of Ralf Rothmann, an award-winning poet and novelist born in Schleswig in 1953. Set in West Berlin before the collapse of The Wall, Knife Edge on its surface is a sardonic love story gone awry. Manfred Assen, an indecisive writer-manqué who drives a taxi, is pursued by Iris, who insists on her entitlement, as a woman, to a child. His natural ambivalence to fatherhood and her determination make these two a classic mismatch from start to finish. To this human comedy Rothmann brings an existential dimension that resonates back through Camus to Dostoevsky. Like the stranger Mersault, Assen is trapped not so much by his circumstances as his own indecisiveness. And like the Underground Man, his attempt at redemption fails. Knife Edge is that rare first novel: a philosophical narrative rooted in the grit of life.

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cover image of the book The Color of the Snow

The Color of the Snow

The Color of the Snow, German writer Rüdiger Kremer’s first novel, is a most unusual and haunting work of art. Carefully constructed and elegantly written, The Color of the Snow consists of twenty-one texts which spiral around the character of Jakob, who first appears as a seemingly retarded boy born during World War II. The texts include stories, a script for a film, a radio play, a short essay––a tour de force of narrative possibilities. The twenty-one parts are interrelated and form a narrative, but their relationship to the “story” and to each other is intentionally complex: they circle Jakob, they reflect him in his shifting shapes (it begins to appear that he may well be the author of the texts we are reading), but what is at the center remains a mystery. Mysterious too is the alchemy Kremer employs to create a stunningly moving novel out of intellectual challenges.

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