Today’s Shelf Awareness is basically one long love-letter to Norwegian author Per Petterson (Out Stealing Horses) and his U.S. publisher Graywolf celebrating the release of Petterson’s new novel, It’s Fine By Me, which is translated by Don Bartlett and available in better bookstores everywhere on October 2nd. (Phew.)
Here’s a bit about the book itself:
In 1965, on 13-year-old Audun Sletten’s first day at Veitvet School, the headmaster asks him to remove his sunglasses. Audun simply and firmly demurs, “I have scars.” When pressed, he adds, “They’re so goddamn terrible.” Though he is lying and has no physical scars, he has also told a deeper truth. Audun carries his scars inside, and he has no intention of revealing the stories behind them. Over the next five years, Audun holds tightly to his secrets. No one is allowed to know of the abuse his drunken father inflicted on his family before disappearing; the tragic car accident that took the life of Audun’s delinquent younger brother, Egil; or his concern that his sister, Kari, has taken up with a layabout. Only his sister knows the most dangerous secret: Audun has seen their father on the streets of their town and lives in fear that he has come to terrorize the family again. Audun navigates a realm of specters unimaginable to his peers.
Even his best friend Arvid Jansen—the main character of Petterson’s previous novels In the Wake and I Curse the River of Time—finds Audun an enigma. Arvid especially cannot understand why Audun is considering dropping out of school. But despite his desire to become a writer, Audun worries that he doesn’t belong in school. He asks, “Did Jack London finish school . . . or anyone else worth reading?” Despite Arvid’s appalled reaction, as the narrative slides back and forth through Audun’s teen years and the occasional childhood memory, Audun feels increasingly out of place in secondary school and unable to relate to his peers, admitting that without Arvid, he would “feel naked and cold and lost in this world.” From seventh grade through his employment as a worker in a printing factory at age 18, Audun uses a refrain of “It’s fine by me” to disguise his perturbation at the misfortunes of his life and the unfeeling actions of others, even from himself.
Out Stealing Horses was a huge success, and I suspect that this book will do really well with indie booksellers and literary readers as well. In addition to info about the book itself, Shelf Awareness included a short interview with Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae:
How does the process of selecting a translator work?
In the case of Per, the U.K. publishers make the selection. I think all of us who work in the field of translation go by reputation and trust. If we have worked well with someone, we look to repeat the experience. We get samples in advance to check that the translator has a good feel for the work, and then we often look at the work after a chunk has been translated, just to check for any repetitive glitches. We would rather read every language ourselves, but it is beyond us, so we rely on trusted readers and translators. It is quite exciting, waiting to read the first English draft of a book that we have signed up in a foreign language.
What is it like to work with an author who doesn’t write in English?
Foreign writers are mostly very excited to be published in America—it is an important market for them. Per Petterson has become quite close to Graywolf and has visited the States twice, so we have managed to spend quite a bit of time together. It is also very gratifying to connect with a foreign writer’s publishers across the world. In Per’s case, we had a dinner at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair and invited his publishers and editors from about six or seven different countries. We were all connected by our enthusiasm for this one writer.
Can we expect further Graywolf/Petterson collaborations?
I gather he is just finishing up a brand-new novel, which will be out in Norway later this year. We are also planning to publish an early collection of short stories and some essays. I have not read them in English yet, and I can’t wait.
We’ve raved about the beautiful Seagull Books from time to time on Three Percent, so it’s really great/interesting to see this short interview in Shelf Awareness with Seagull’s publisher, Naveen Kishore:
On your nightstand now:
A combo. IQ84 by Haruki Marukami. Dorothy Sayers’s Five Red Herrings and loads of delightful manuscripts, from Marc Auge to Dominique Edde. Oh, and Beckett’s Letters, the first two volumes. [. . .]
Book you’re an evangelist for:
Recently? Viktor Halfwit by Thomas Bernhard. And since two’s company; Ivan Vladislavic’s The Loss Library. Three? Most of Ursula le Guin. Past? . . . Most of Conrad. [. . .]
What do you love about books in translation?
The “edginess” of literature different from mine. The “getting-under-the-skin” quality. The sense of dislocation and being “torn asunder.” And the intuitive recognition of humor across cultures!
What do you think is the future of the printed book?
Healthy. More beautifully crafted than ever before. Shine on, you crazy diamond!
Shelf Awareness points to a story that confirms their suspicions as well as my own: parents, if they had their druthers, would leave their kids at the bookshop and let the books be their temporary nannies. That’s what some parents are doing in the Chinese city of Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang.
“We’re too busy to care for our son on workdays and had to leave him inside a bookstore. It’s a safe place for him to spend time on vacation,” a mother surnamed Yuan said to China Daily, which was meant by something far less than amusement on the bookstores’ part. “Of course we welcome the young readers but have to take the consequences of more books possibly being damaged during their reading,” a manager surnamed Liu said.
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .