Featured Translation: The Indian by Jon Gnarr


There were over 450 new translations published this year, and trust us, we know from experience, keeping track of them all can be a maddening exercise. Each weekday from now until the end of the year we’ll focus on a different title that you may have missed. From short story collections to epic novels, from award winning works of the highest literary caliber to trashy romantic beach reads, we’ll highlight the very best, and the very worst that 2015 had to offer, one book at a time.

Indian by Jón Gnarr / Translated from the Icelandic by Lytton SmithHave you ever read an entire book while standing? That was me with The Indian on a warm afternoon in late April. As I waited in hopelessly long lines at Six Flags New England, back aching, surrounded by children of all ages, some behaving, most not, I furiously flipped through page after heartbreaking page of Jon Gnarr’s autobiographical novel on my iPhone. There was something surreal, yet oddly appropriate about reading the trials and tribulations of a misunderstood youth while surrounded on all sides by a throng of sweaty, impatient, wailing kids.

Yes friends, Gnarr had a difficult childhood, and in The Indian he combines his memories of feeling isolated and misunderstood with the actual clinical notes from the doctors that his parents brought him to in an attempt to “treat” him for his “condition.” Of course Gnarr would grow up to become a successful comedian and the unlikely governor of Reykjavik, so whatever was ailing him, can I get please get some some for my kids?

In his review for Three Percent, 2016 BTBA judge P.T. Smith gets straight to the heart of what makes the novel work so brilliantly:

When in sorrow, the directness of his expression leads not to pits of suffering that beg for a response closer to pity than empathy, but to closeness as we move in step with his thoughts. The Indian is so much about the great sorrows that are specific to childhood, to those vulnerabilities that, even if you experience them later in life, are always childish in their timidness, in their inward turning.

For more background on Gnarr, check out this piece titled 12 Reasons Why Jon Gnarr is the World’s Most Interesting Mayor from 2012. Also, look for Deep Vellum to publish the two remaining books in the autobiographical trilogy chronicling Gnarr’s early days, The Pirate, and The Outlaw, in 2016.

The Indian was translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith.

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About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.