Joanna Rubin Dranger’s graphic novel, “Remember Us to Life” wins Nordic Council Literature Prize

“Ihågkom oss till liv” (“Remember Us To Life”), by Joanna Rubin Dranger (Albert Bonnier Forlag, 2022)

The Nordic Council Literature Prize has been awarded for a graphic novel for the first time, for the powerful, thought-provoking story Ihågkom oss till liv (“Remember Us To Life”), by Swedish author Joanna Rubin Dranger, tracing her family history.

The English language rights to the book have yet to be optioned, but editions are lined up for publication in Arabic and Spanish.

“Joanna Rubin Dranger’s unflinching and unostentatious ability to depict our existence is unique, and in Remember Us to Life, her portrayal of the hardest part of life will shatter your heart and prompt new insights,” enthuses her Norwegian publisher, Albert Bonnier Forlag.

Published last year in Norway, the novel received high acclaim and an outstanding reception from readers and critics alike.

Joanna Rubin Dranger receives the 2023 Nordic Council Literature Prize last week. Photos: Photographer Magnus Fröderberg,
Joanna Rubin Dranger receives the 2023 Nordic Council Literature Prize last week. Photos: Photographer Magnus Fröderberg,
Joanna Rubin Dranger receives the 2023 Nordic Council Literature Prize last week. Photos: Photographer Magnus Fröderberg,

Joanna Rubin Dranger is a Swedish author and illustrator. She is the author of Miss Remarkable & Her Career, which gained the Swedish Illustrator’s Award in 2000 and has been sold in seven countries, including the United States, published by Penguin. She was Sweden’s first female professor of illustration, and held this position at Konstfack University of Arts between 2007-2017.

That her book project is growing against a fund of increased, new-age anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Europe escapes neither the reader nor Rubin Dranger herself. She does not stand for the history that has been. But not for the ongoing one either. “Ih agkom us til liv is a stylistically complete work and a courageous document of the times,” says the Nordic Council. “How we read the book is in many ways connected to several of the questions of the fate of contemporary Europe.”

The Nordic Council Literature Prize has been awarded by The Nordic Council of Ministers and The Nordic Council since 1962, and is given to a work of fiction written in one of the Nordic languages. This may be a novel, a play, or a collection of poems, short stories, or essays that are of a high literary and artistic quality. The prize is designed to generate interest in the literature and language of neighbouring countries, and in the Nordic cultural community.

The 2023 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize went to Eldgos by Rán Flygenring, from Iceland.

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 was 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 World War Two, 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.

“Ihågkom oss till liv” (“Remember Us To Life”), by Joanna Rubin Dranger (Albert Bonnier Forlag, 2022)

“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,” says the Nordic Council, who make the awards. “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,” an award statement continues. “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.”

There are more details about Remember Us to Life here on the Albert Bonnier Forlag website

Find out more about the Nordic Council prizes

Categories: Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News

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