Cultural bonds between Norway and Israel are growing stronger. Dana Caspi receives Ramat Gan Municipality's “Excellence in Literature” award.

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On the occasion of this year’s winner of the Ramat Gan Municipality’s “Excellence in Literature”, awarded to Ms. Dana Caspi for her outstanding translation of Norwegian Writer Dag Solstad’s “Eleventh novel, book eighteen” into Hebrew, the Norwegian Ambassador, Mr. Jon Hanssen-Bauer hosted a reception in his residence in Herzlia Pituach.

Among the guest were the Vice-Mayor of Ramat Gan, Mrs. Adna Polak together with her colleagues from the Ramat Gan Municipality, the prize committee of Ramat Gan, representatives of the cultural institutions cooperating with the Norwegian Embassy, literature critics, journalists and others fromt the culture life in Israel.

The guests had the pleasure of listening to an excerpt from “Eleventh novel, book eighteen”read by Mrs. Caspi and her husband Nils Torvald Østerbø.

The Norwegian Ambassador Mr. Jon Hanssen-Bauer congratulated Dana Caspi, and thanked all the guests and friends of the Norwegian Embassy for contributing to stronger cultural bonds between Norway and Israel. The speech of the Ambassador can be found below:

 

Dear Guest of Honor tonight, Dana Caspi, Dear Vice-Mayors of Ramat Gan, Dear friends,

We are here, first and foremost, to celebrate that the Municipality of Ramat Gan, on the 2 February, will award the prestigious “Literature Prize for Excellence” to Dana Caspi for her translation into Hebrew of a novel written by one of Norway’s most famous contemporary writers, Dag Solstad.

We are here; also, to celebrate the strong and growing bonds and bridges that Israel and Norway are building through cultural cooperation and exchange. It doesn’t show in our trade statistics – where we find mostly fish – but last year was probably one of our best years ever. In the Embassy of Norway we have ambitions for doing more!

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From my home, as a kid, I bring with me a deep appreciation of the vital influence, spanning over centuries, of Jewish intellectuals, artists and thinkers on European thought, art and civilization. Therefore, I was prepared and looking forward to enjoying top quality art and culture during my stay in Israel. And, I certainly have, thanks to many of you who are here tonight.

I was less prepared, however, but became so much more pleasantly surprised, to find a taste and love for Norwegian culture by the Israeli public. OK, I expected at least some to know about the composer Grieg and the painter Munch. Munch’s iconic “Scream” is the most copied, most expensive and most misused piece of art of the world.

On the walls around you, you see five of his works. One, Towards the Light, is from 1914. The others, particularly those over the piano, are dark descriptions of a dead mother and her daughter. I have added two contemporary paintings, both from 2015, by Svein Johansen. They help us draw the lines from Munch to our time.

What surprised me most coming here, was the broad taste in Israel for contemporary Norwegian culture. It ranges from black heavy metal bands via modern interpretations of Ibsen to contemporary literature.

Last year was a great year. Norwegian artists exhibited at the Tel Aviv Museum of Arts. In collaboration with Prog-Stage-Productions music bands performed in various venues in Tel Aviv. A performance-band performed at TLV-Fest LGBT Film Festival and Pride Parade. Norwegian movies were shown at DOCAVIV, CoPro, EPOS, Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival and Children’s Film Festival. Henrik Ibsen was staged in very modern, refreshing and interesting adaptations at The Cameri Theater and Tel Aviv University’s Theatre Arts Department. [I want to thank the translator of Ibsen, Gad Kaynar]. A translation into Hebrew of a book by Jo Benkow, our former speaker of Parliament and the first Norwegian of Jewish descent to hold such a high position, was launched by Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman in the Israeli Knesset.

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Let me dwell a moment on two particular memories from last year. First, Tel Aviv Museum, a most fabulous and rich museum of art, one which marries the canons of world painting with experimental contemporary expressions. I have really enjoyed every visit there! I think you can still see the “Powerless structures” by Elmgren and Dragset there; and enjoy the complex and timeless questions they ask of biography, of identity and self, within our modern world. Take a look on the replica of the Berlin Wall and the boy at the balcony. Fabulous art!

The second breathtaking experience I would like to mention, was the modern staging of Ibsen by the Cameri Theatre and the Tel Aviv University. Even if my poor Hebrew made it difficult for me to understand the dialogues, I understood sufficiently to be deeply touched by the very modern way of asking, again, timeless and crucial questions for our humanity.

We are extremely grateful to all of you who invited and organized Norwegian culture to Israel. It is important to emphasize that our Embassy did not initiate these events. We only reactively support a demand that comes from you on behalf of the Israeli public. Therefore, we celebrate all of you here tonight. Toda Rabah!

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Let me turn back to contemporary literature. I was surprised to learn that so many from my generation of Norwegian novelists are being translated into Hebrew – and actually have a marked here. For this, I have to express our deep gratitude to the excellent translators, Dana Caspi, Sabina Messeg, Ruth Spira and Shira Hefer, as well as their publishers such as Bavel – and the bookstores such as Steimatsky, who are promoting the books. A score of novelists are translated recently, among which figure Dag Solstad, Kjell Askildsen, Jo Nesbø, Roy Jacobsen, Per Petterson.

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Dana, you are particularly to be thanked and celebrated today. Since your first encounter with the Norwegian language in 1990 at the University of Oslo, you have translated 14, fourteen!,  Norwegian authors. For this tremendous contribution, you were awarded the Norwegian Translator Award in 2013 by NORLA, the agency for Norwegian Literature Abroad. It warms our hearts that now you are awarded the Ramat Gan Literature Prize of Excellence.

The award is for your translation of Dag Solstad’s book “Eleventh novel, book eighteen” from 1992. We will soon enjoy reading from the book.

In my view, this is one of the best contemporary books in Norway. All Solstad’s books from the 1990’ies have a dark outlook and raise deep existential questions. They feature intellectuals despairing over the cultural decay of their times and depict the impossibility of interpersonal communication, with a fine sense of irony.

Eleventh novel book eighteen is no exception. In the book, a friend of the main character Bjørn Hansen, who I believe talks Dag’s mind, says that “what he now wishes to read, is a book that shows that life is impossible, but without any trace of humor, whether dark or of any other kind.” Another soul-friend of Solstad is Kjell Askildsen who is being translated by Shira. It is my hope that we can make a serious literary event this year in Tel Aviv, where we can explore such literary themes more deeply.

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I called Dag a few days ago to tell him the good news. He was moved, and tasked me to convey his congratulations, his very best wishes and thanks to you Dana. We also convey the congratulations and very best wishes from NORLA.

Please join me in congratulating Dana Caspi and celebrating the flourishing cultural ties between Norway and Israel. L’haim!