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.
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