Similar to years past, we’re going to be featuring each of the 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist over the next month plus, but in contrast to previous editions, this year we’re going to try an experiment and frame all write-ups as “why this book should win.” Some of these entries will be absurd, some more serious, some very funny, a lot written by people who normally don’t contribute to Three Percent. Overall, the point is to have some fun and give you a bunch of reasons as to why you should read at least a few of the BTBA titles.
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The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal
Publisher: New York Review Books
Why This Book Should Win: Big favorite among booksellers; has been gathering buzz for over a year; that whole writes in Swedish but lives in Finland thing; one of NYRB’s most notable recent rediscoveries (NYRB also publishes her Fair Play and Summer Book.
Today’s post is from Kenny Brechner of DDG Booksellers in Maine.
Objectivity, like high fructose corn syrup and polyester suits, is very much out of fashion. The triumph of relativism is such that objectivity is considered now more an historical curiosity than a concept to be applied seriously. We do know, however, that the following statement, “True Deceiver should win The Best Translated Book Award for 2011,” is an objective fact. How can we be certain of that? Let us consider the matter objectively. From the standpoint of this award _True Deceiver was certainly reborn into English with a silver spoon in its mouth, for the concept of being a true deceiver lies at the very heart of translation itself. A successful translation cannot help but be the epitome of true deception, a consistent application of perspective which transforms a complex object from one shape to another. Jansson’s portrait of the corrosive effect of deception on the integrity of personal identity is compelling and unsettling to the nines. It grabs the reader with that most potent force of all: strong identification with a character in the thrall of a subtly corrupting evil. Its perfection as a work of translated fiction is plain to see in the power of its inversions, a portrait of deception and instability which yields truth and focus. These are matters of opinion you say? Hardly, for True Deceiver steps firmly away from any subjective accounting of its worth in its unique willingness and ability to speak directly on its own behalf, using only quotations from its pages, to anyone who questions it. The proof of these matters is to be found directly in the interview below.
KB: Do you feel that this BTBA will be conducted fairly?
True Deceiver: “You know nothing about Fair Play!”
KB: Perhaps not, but how can the awards committee reach truth?
True Deceiver: “The truth needs to be hammered in with iron spikes, but no one can drive nails into a mattress.”
KB: I see. Perhaps you’re right and the committee will need to take a firm line. Now do you feel that Tomas Teal handled his translation of you properly, considering how taut the prose is?
True Deceiver: “Cluttering the ground with Flowery Rabbits would have been unthinkable”.
KB: I see. Now if you had a word for a judge what would it be?
True Deceiver: “He must understand how hard I try, all the time, to put everything I do to a strict test—every act, every word I choose instead of a different word.”
KB: Is there any other objective data that would make the selection of any book other than yourself as the BTBA winner a danger to the future well being of the human enterprise?
True Deceiver: “I’ve given security where there was no security, no direction, Nothing. I provide safety!”
KB: I really appreciate your willingness to go on record and clarify these points. The stakes are terrifying.
True Deceiver: “I can assure you that you needn’t be nervous, there’s no cause for alarm.”
KB: I guess there’s nothing else to be said on the matter!
True Deceiver: “We’ve done what matters most.”
KB: Well I certainly hope so, for all human interconnection involves translation, and without an exploration of its dark possibilities we should all be much the poorer. And, if you don’t mind my saying so, you really add something vital to the whole of Tove Jansson’s sublime body of work. After all the Moomins may demonstrate the delightful exercise of freedom, but your pages reveal both the cost and the means of losing it.
True Deceiver: “Thank you for calling.”
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