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Written Vivien Prais

“Some Kind Of Company” is a novel by the acclaimed Swedish author, Nan Östman (who died in 2015).  The book has just been published in English for the very first time.  Written by Vivien Prais, Director of Aspal Press, the company responsible for publishing this (and other) English translations of great European novels which we may otherwise have missed …

Tell me about Nan Östman – the author of Some Kind of Company

Nan Inger Östman (1923-2015) was a much-loved Swedish writer and for many years the most borrowed author in Swedish libraries. In 1987 she won the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.  Nan Östman was born and raised in Östermalm, a wealthy, residential area of Stockholm.  She graduated from Stockholm University in 1946 and worked as a journalist and a teacher before becoming a full-time author in 1980.

Swedish author, Nan Inger Östman, 1923-2015
(Photo credit: Ulla Montan)

Tell me a bit about yourself

Although by profession a lawyer and university lecturer, I have had a life-long passion for literature and foreign languages. My legal research projects required frequent visits abroad and I took the opportunity to pick up the latest best sellers in the European countries I visited.

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When did you first want to publish translated books?

I was reading and enjoying the Henning Mankel novels in German (translated from the Swedish) well before they were available in English and thought I would like to help to make such novels accessible to English readers.

When did you take a step to start translating and publishing?

On my semi-retirement from the legal world in 2014 I set up a publishing company Aspal Press Ltd which specialises in translated fiction. 

How long did it take you to translate and publish your first book from the first idea to release?

I registered my company in 2014 but because I wanted initially to learn to do everything myself – from setting up the website to layout of the books – it was 2017 before my first book was translated, printed and published. I now outsource the website and layout but I am pleased to be aware of what is possible and how it can be achieved.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

I found the Swedish novel, Some Kind of Company by Nan Östmanat Arlanda airport while on a research trip to Sweden in 2014.  I read it on the flight back and thought that English readers would enjoy it. I had to obtain a licence to translate and publish because although the author was no longer alive it was still subject to copyright. That proved to be quite an undertaking, which is why it took some seven years between conception and publication in March 2021.  I translated this one myself and it took me about four months.

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Focusing on Some Kind of Company, what made you want to translate and publish this book?

I was particularly attracted by the gentle nature of the story and its portrayal of upper and middle class Swedish society toward the end of the 20th century.  It is very different from the genre of Swedish noir which we have become accustomed to associate with Sweden during recent years, and will be particularly attractive to mature English readers.

What were your biggest challenges in translating it?

The biggest challenge in translating any novel is to capture the voice of the original while rendering an attractive English test.  I also had to make decisions for this book about how many Swedish expressions to leave in to give an authentic flavour while not sacrificing clarity.  The same consideration applies to footnotes which need to be limited in order not to impede the flow of reading but sufficient to inform the reader when it adds to the understanding of the narrative.

Does the book have an identifiable protagonist and antagonist, and what is the main conflict of the book?

The main character in the book is a seventy-two-year-old translator, Anna, who lives with her difficult and uncommunicative husband in the Swedish countryside.  If one wants to identify a protagonist it would be Anna, and perhaps the antagonist is her husband Håkan. The main conflict is really an internal one which goes on in Anna’s mind and concerns the development of her relationship with her new friend and confidant, a widower called Bo.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did your book need?

The editing was done by a professional editor. I did not always agree with her suggestions as she does not speak Swedish and I have to take care not to stray too far from the original text.

 Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to publish?

I am planning to translate and publish, probably in early 2022, a book of short stories by the Nobel Prize winning author Grazia Deledda called The Cedar of Lebanon. The collection contains themes which were dear to Deledda’s heart and drew on both her Sardinian childhood and her later years in Rome. Aspal has just published the first English translations of two other books by Italian authors –  a novel, Come With Me  by Nicola Viceconti (released on 6th September); and a collection of short stories, Tales from the Italian South by Angelina Brasacchio (released on 4th October).

And finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Some Kind of Company has received favourable reviews and that is a satisfying endorsement.  I am happy to know that I have made a delightful story available to English readers who would otherwise not have access to it.

Some Kind of Company by Nan Östman is publishing by Aspal (paperback, £12.99) and is available through the publisher, bookshops and internet booksellers.

Visit the Aspal Press website to discover lots more wonderful European literature available in English translations:

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