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And the winner is…

07.10.2020

Books spread over a table

The Nordic Council Literature Prize will be awarded via a television broadcast on 27 October in Iceland. The prize was first awarded in 1962. It goes to a literary work written in one of the Nordic languages. Different genres, tonalities, and approaches vie against each other in a race where there are no losers. After all, is it even possible for there to be competition in literature or art, in the classical sense? Among this year’s thirteen nominees are books that address common themes that take the pulse of society and the individual both today and in times past. Who are we, and where are we headed? What contexts do we operate within?

Yahya Hassan’s collection of poems Yahya Hassan 2. is Denmark’s nominee. It consists of autobiographical poems on racism, violence, and crime. The tone is raw and honest, and forces the reader to take a long hard look at themselves. Monika Fagerholm, nominated by Finland for her novel Vem dödade bambi? doesn’t shy away from fiery, important themes. In her novel, she describes the consequences of a gang rape in a prosperous residential community, where no one wants to take responsibility for what happened. Bjørn Esben Almaas, nominated by Norway, depicts a broken upbringing and pure evil in his novel Den gode vennen. The book is not about reconciliation, but about trauma and suffering – painful themes that are often swept under the collective living room carpet.

Both Juha Itkonen’s autofiction novel Ihmettä kaikki, nominated by Finland, and Oddfriður Marni Rasmussen’s Ikk fyrr en tá, nominated by the Faroe Islands, deal with grief, but from different points of view. Mikaela Nyman’s poetry collection När vändkrets läggs mot vändkrets, nominated by Åland, also addresses the theme of grief. In Itkonen’s novel, a couple expecting a child are forced to make a difficult decision late in the pregnancy, while in Rasmussen’s poetic novel, the protagonist Janus loses his partner Elsa to a brain tumour, and in Nyman’s poems, the lyric I loses their sister. All three works get under the reader’s skin and have a lasting impact.

A more experimental narrative approach can be found in Hanne Højgaard Viemose’s HHV, FRSHWN – Dødsknaldet i Amazonas, nominated by Denmark, and in the historical novel Lifandilífslækur by Bergsveinn Birgisson, nominated by Iceland. In the former, the reader encounters a protagonist in search of himself, while in Birgisson’s novel, the enlightened and epileptic Markús Árelíus embarks on a journey of discovery to Iceland, where nature refuses to obey human laws. Matias Faldbakken’s novel Vi er fem, nominated by Norway, is also characterised by playfulness and absurd humour. Faldbakken’s origins as a visual artist leave their mark on his texts.

The only collection of short stories among the nominees this year is Kládi by Frida Ísberg from Iceland, which tackles interpersonal relationships. Ísberg skilfully portrays the modern human in an ever-changing reality. The novel W., written by Steve Sem-Sandberg from Sweden, stands out from the crowd with its documentary-like theme. Sem-Sandberg writes about the soldier and assailant Johann Kristian Woyzeck. Another nominee from Sweden is Johan Jönson, with a collection of poems comprised of two books: Marginalia/Xterminalia. Jönson drills into the outermost spaces of darkness to describe a society under the iron fist of capitalism. Niillas Holmberg, who is nominated by the Sami language area for the collection of poems Juolgevuođđu, also writes political poems. The collection is graphic and explores the paths on the sole of the foot. It challenges us to return to our roots. A valuable tip in a time of chaos.

All the books are available at Nordic Culture Point’s library in one or more of the Nordic languages. Please visit our online library or call +358 10 583 10 00 to place an order. You need a library card to do this.

Kira Nalin, specialist librarian at the Nordic Culture Point library.

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