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August 25th, 2010



The True Deceiver
by Tove Jansson
(New York Review of Books, 2009)

I love stories of hermits and outcasts.  I think it dates back to my first exposure to Heidi and her hermit grandfather.  From the minute Heidi appeared on his doorstep, I knew his hermit days were over, but I never tire of his journey.  This weakness of mine made me particularly vulnerable to the charms of The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson.  The Summer Book had well-prepared me for Jansson's lovely-in-their-oddness characters.  Yet Katri's journey in The True Deceiver, still surprised me by the degree to which she was left broken by her decision to abandon her independence to help her brother Mats build the boat of his dreams.  The brittle dance between Katri and her co-conspirator Anna (a children's book author and illustrator ) seems to have all the steps carefully choreographed, but  just when you think Katri is doing all the leading in this Tango, Anna takes over the lead and turns the story in unusual ways.  Additionally, having read as many Russian novels I have, I thought I was used to snowy tales, but The True Deceiver's remote wintry Swedish setting made me yearn for the snow in the same way I did when I read Smilla's Sense of Snow many years ago.  Jansson is gifted at making both characters and setting crackle with life's hardness and fleeting moments of warmth.  Don't less this book pass you by!  

Here's a sample to savor:

"Serenity returned to the rabbit house.  Mats moved as quietly as his sister, and Anna was never sure if he was at home.  When they happened to meet in the house, Mats would stop, pause for a moment, smile, and bow his head before waling on -- his own chivalrous gesture.  Anna experienced some of the same shyness that Katri felt toward him.  She never thought of anything to say at these encounters, and anyway she thought it unnecessary to bother him with the conventional greetings that people exchange on a staircase simply because they happen to be passing.  Mats and Anna were together only in their books, everything else was an accepted no-man's land."


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