Dreams we carry

Nahed Nasr , Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

Nahed Nasr reports on Norway as the Cairo International Book Fair’s guest of honour



The Kingdom of Norway’s cultural programme at the 55th Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF, 24 January-6 February) carries the slogan “The Dream We Carry”. The slogan comes from a poem about opening minds and hearts by Olav H Hauge (1908–1994), a fruit farmer who became a central figure in Norwegian culture: “It is the dream we carry / that something wonderful will happen…”

Organised by the Norwegian Royal Embassy in Cairo, the Norwegian Literature Abroad Institute (NORLA), the Norwegian Institute for Children’s Books (NBI), Munch Museum, and Diwan Publishing and bookstore, the programme was inaugurated last Thursday by Norwegian Crown Princess Mette-Marie, Egyptian Minister of Culture Nevine Al-Kilani, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide,  and Norwegian Ambassador Hilda Clemetstad.

According to Dina Rokk Hansen, NORLA’s senior adviser, the CIBF is an exciting opportunity to present a wide range of Norwegian literature in Egypt and the Arabic language market: “NORLA wants to help ensure that the breadth of Norwegian literature reaches its readers worldwide. We also hope that the meeting between literature from Norway and Arab readers at the CIBF will bring more knowledge of the Arab cultural world back to Norway.” Since 2005 NORLA has supported  99 translations into Arabic. To make the Norwegian titles available to Egyptian readers this year, NORLA has cooperated with Diwan Publishing. NORLA Director Margit Walsø believes the programme facilitates contact between Norwegian literary agents and Egyptian publishers.

“We aim to strengthen the supply of translators from Norwegian to Arabic and stimulate dialogue between the Norwegian and Arabic public,” Walsø says. “Books in translation bring different parts of the world closer together. They allow us to expand our understanding of each other and gain new experiences. Literature has the unique ability to bridge cultures, strengthen people, communities, and cooperation across borders. This is the message that has been accompanying us through this project. NORLA and our partners are grateful for the invitation to be guest of honour at the Book Fair in Cairo 2024.”

On each of the 13 days of the programme, a different Norwegian author is highlighted. Many are newly published in Arabic. Overall 20 Norwegian and 15 Egyptian authors are participating, together with four Norwegian-to-Arabic translators including Sherin A Wahab, NORLA’s cultural and literary consultant.

One of the key figures in the programme is Norway’s first Nobel laureate for almost one hundred years, Jon Fosse, who unfortunately was unable to come to Cairo in person. Because his writing is universal and profoundly existential, circling the fundamental questions of life, death, and God, the spiritual side of Fosse’s work was highlighted in a lecture that reads him in the light of Sufism. It featured a concert with poems by Jon Fosse and music by the Egyptian jazz musician Mohamed Abu Zekri.

Other figures include Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), Norway’s most popular playwright of all time. Ibsen had a special relationship with Egypt, which he visited in 1869 when the Suez Canal was opened; and part of his major work, Peer Gynt (1876), takes place here. Nina Marie Evensen from the Centre for Ibsen Studies at the University of Oslo discussed Ibsen’s connection with the Arab world in her own lecture.

Present in person is Jostein Gaarder, whose bestseller Sophie’s World  (1991), an introduction to the history of philosophy in fictional form, has been translated into more than 60 languages including Arabic; Terje Tvedt, the historian and hydrologist, who gave a lecture on his book The Nile: History’s Greatest River (2021); Jørn Lier Horst, the former police officer and investigator, who became one of the most widely read Norwegian crime authors; and Linn Stalsberg, the sociologist whose second book to be published in Arabic Enough Is Enough: How Neoliberalism Is Destroying People and Nature is published by the Egyptian publishing house Sefsafa.

Highlighting the importance of children’s literature, NORLA partnered with the Norwegian Institute for Children’s Books (NBI) to  present over 50 events in a special programme that takes place from 31 January to 5 February. In one event, five of the leading Norwegian children’s book authors present trends and tendencies in Norway. Among the topics to be discussed are: picture books and the illustrator’s role in Norway; education for those who want to write for children and young adults; cartoon books for children; Norwegian folk tales; sustainability and climate change in Norwegian children’s literature; different approaches to visual communication and illustration in Norway and Egypt; character design and visual development; the importance of  humour in children’s and youth books; the Arabic influence on Norwegian children’s literature; what is it like to be a writer in Norway and in Egypt? The programme also includes mini courses in skating for girls presented by the project Girlskate that aims to encourage more girls to skate, book reading and film screenings, and mini concerts with selected Norwegian songs.           

In cooperation with the Munch Museum, one of Modernism’s most significant artists, Edvard Munch is also highlighted at CIBF. Several events exploring the artist’s works and influences are presented by Josephine Langebrekke, the head of Munch Museum Publications. According to Langebrekke, Edvard Munch  was active for more than sixty years; from the time he made his debut in the 1880s, right up to his death in 1944. He was a pioneer of Expressionist Art from the beginning of the 1900s onward. Among other works, Edvard Munch produced four colourful versions of his phenomenally famous work The Scream. Two of these remained in his own possession and are in the Munch collection today. Of the remaining two, one is part of Norway’s National Museum’s collection.

The Sun is another of Edvard Munch’s most famous works. It depicts a sunrise over the rocky Norwegian coast, which is one of his most frequent motifs. A reproduction of the painting has been incorporated into the Norwegian stand. Together with other elements, it creates a Munch corner, where the visitor can be immersed in the painter’s work. Among the many picture books for adults and children about the work, life and influence of Edvard Munch, three books translated into Arabic are available.

“The Munch Museum’s participation in the Cairo Book Fair is very important,” Langebrekke said. “One of our goals is to attract a wider audience to Munch’s works, not only through visiting the museum but also through the dozens of books we produce for adults and children about his work and life. It is wonderful that the copy of the sun painting placed in the Norway pavilion has become a photo op for children and young visitors where they are taking photos and selfies. They also ask a lot of curious questions that show their great interest. This is definitely what we dream of, to arouse curiosity, especially among young people and children.”

The Norwegian pavilion in Hall 3 is the key element in the guest-of-honour programme’s visual identity at the CIBF. The pavilion is designed by architect Anetta Blassejrecte Błażej. Its light colour palette emphasises openness, closeness to nature, conversations, and literature. It is based on an open concept that allows the public to roam free while surrounded by the various visual and auditory experiences representing Norway. It encompasses a large exhibition area for books and visual art, a stage for hosting literary events, and a creativity area. It is also the main working area for Norwegian literary agents and includes an information desk. The Norwegian pavilion also emphasises some of the highlights of Norway including images of its landscapes, common heritage and traditional Norwegian houses with their wooden architecture and steep-pitched roofs blending seamlessly with the rugged landscapes. Created by NODE Berlin Oslo, this visual identity is also visible on digital and printed materials and at various locations in the fair’s halls.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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