Obituary: Eric Kahane

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
ERIC KAHANE was the younger of the two sons of Jack Kahane, an Englishman who went to Paris after the First World War and started the notorious Obelisk Press, which published in English many authors banned in Britain, including Henry Miller, Cyril Connolly, Norman Douglas, Frank Harris, Lawrence Durrell and Cecil Barr (his pen name for himself).

The elder son, Maurice Girodias, continued to publish after the war under different imprints including the equally notorious Olympia Press, which continued with Miller, but also introduced some Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs, Terry Southern, J.P. Donleavy, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and a host of other daring books, some of which are now classics and others pornography.

Under the guidance of his brother, Eric Kahane made translations of risque French books into English, and these included L'Histoire d'O (The Story of O, 1954) and Zazie dans le Metro (Zazie in the Metro, 1959). He also translated from English into French, increasingly specialising in the theatre and translating English and American playwrights for French theatres and theatre publishers. His biggest success came with the plays of Harold Pinter, and his facility with work that required delicate nuancing, as well as a facility to translate work of considerable literary difficulty, must be considered a principal factor in Pinter's great reputation and success with the public in France.

Eric Kahane was born in 1926 and was a teenager at the outbreak of the Second World War. His brother Maurice changed his surname to Girodias, his mother's name, during the war because his father was Jewish, but Eric left Paris to work on a farm and never learned, until the war was over, having been separated from all his relatives for the duration, that Kahane was a Jewish name; he thought it was Irish.

His agricultural beginnings led him to work for the French Department of Agriculture to make a living, and he became a specialist promoter of Charolais cattle, a breed which the French successfully exported to many countries, especially South America. However, he had the same literary bent as his father and brother, and began undertaking translations.

Kahane also translated both ways for films, but in the main dubbing English and American films into French. He installed editing equipment into both his Paris home and a house in the country that he shared with his sister, where he was able to do the whole job, fitting the words to the mouth movements of the actors with great expertise. His agricultural work for the government ceased as soon as he was able to make a good living from translation.

Kahane liked all the good things of life, a trait which he shared with his much more eccentric brother, but, unlike Girodias, he ran his affairs responsibly, and until Girodias's death a decade ago, Kahane certainly contributed to his brother's upkeep after the various calamities and bankruptcies which befell him because of carelessness and misguided publishing adventures which ended badly.

Eric Kahane was convivial, a lover of women who prized his independence too highly to marry, and a good friend to many.

Eric Kahane, translator: born Paris 29 April 1926; died Paris 8 October 1999.