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.
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .