Dranger was awarded the prize at an awards ceremony at the Norwegian Opera & Ballet in Oslo on Tuesday evening. Norway’s Minister for Culture and Equality Lubna Jaffery awarded the prize. The winner also received the Nordlys statuette and DKK 300,000.
Awarded since 1962, the Nordic Council Literature Prize goes to a literary work written in one of the Nordic languages. A total of 14 works were nominated for this year’s literature prize.
Just as Joanna Rubin Dranger entered adulthood, her beloved Aunt Susanne took her own life. In “Ihågkom oss till liv”, the genre-transcending work that has been awarded the 2023 Nordic Council Literature Prize, Joanna portrays in both text and image how, many years later, she began to discover what led to her aunt’s suicide. As a result of her investigations, she is able to penetrate and explain the silences and circumlocutions that she grew up with, where relatives were “missing” or not mentioned at all. Joanna’s research leads her to the persecution of Jews in Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia up to and during the Second World War, as well as the anti-Semitism and associated fallout in the Scandinavian countries and the devastating consequences of their unwillingness to help. It also leads to the joy of meeting relatives who survived by escaping to the US and Israel.
This combined research and book project has resulted in a beautiful work, which calls itself a documentary novel on the cover but is so much more: graphic novel, historical story, writer’s diary of sorts, and autobiography, where the narrator’s personal life is interwoven with major political happenings. Photography, drawing, watercolour, and text are bound up together here in an almost devastatingly effective story which, in its unique form, continues in a tradition that includes classics such as Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”. Joanna is often drawn straight to the darkness, both the darkness of history and the darkness she soon discovers within herself, and to how this trauma continues to affect one generation after another.
Ultimately, the book heeds the words of Jewish prayer to remember the dead back to life. When Joanna discovers that a little boy in the family was murdered and no one even remembers his name, she takes the reader on a desperate search for answers. Suddenly it means everything to find out what his name was, and when she finally does, she and the reader both realise just how important memory and the representation of the lost are – to reach back through the decades and set the story straight. In this work, writing and picturing the stories of the lost becomes an act of resistance bordering on magical thinking: these people and the lives they lived were wiped out by the Nazis, and Joanna is rescuing them from oblivion. By recording the names of the murdered and carefully reconstructing their photographs and portraits, the dead are reincarnated. Although history cannot be changed, the dead come to life when we remember them.