Ihågkom oss till liv
(Remember Us To Life)
by Joanna Rubin Dranger
reviewed by B.J. Woodstein
Ihågkom oss till liv (Remember Us To Life) is the newest graphic work from Joanna Rubin Dranger, a writer and illustrator who is best known for humorous and thoughtful books such as Fröken Märkvärdig och karriären (Ms Remarkable and Her Career) but who has now changed direction and brought readers a powerful memoir created with impressive artistry.
The title of the book comes from the Jewish prayer Zochreinu l’chayim, which means ‘Remember us to life’ and is said during the Jewish new year, known as the High Holy Days. The prayer – and Dranger’s book as a whole – is about the importance of not forgetting. Throughout the text, which follows Dranger’s attempt to trace the history of her relatives who were killed during the Holocaust, the author wrestles with the idea of why we need to remember these specific people – or indeed any individuals in particular – and what it means to our society today.
Dranger’s parents both came from Jewish families that had immigrated to Sweden from eastern Europe. As is common for many such families, they did not talk about their history, and Dranger did not even realise that so many of their relatives had been murdered by the Nazis until she was well into adulthood. She carries out detective work both to understand her family as a whole but also as a way of ensuring that these lives – from the youngest toddler whose name Dranger struggles to find out, to the elderly relatives who don’t believe the Nazis are really carrying out this horrible final solution – are not forgotten. Dranger clearly depicts their stories in loving detail, while also worrying that the average reader won’t care.
But of course we should care and we do care. In part we do because Dranger is a talented storyteller who engages us and draws us into these tales, but also we do because the consequences of being cut off from the past, even when it is not our direct family that has been affected, are too great. Society needs these stories to help prevent further conflicts and to complicate and deepen our understanding of what has come before us.
Dranger’s book will inevitably be compared to Art Spiegelman’s Maus and while there are certain similarities, one of the great strengths of Dranger’s is that she also explores Sweden’s supposedly neutral past. Far from being a country that wasn’t involved in World War II, as Dranger shows, the Swedish government and high-level politicians were aware of what was going on and they made choices about how to support Hitler and Nazi Germany. Few people dared to speak out or to help protect the Jews of Scandinavia. This is history that should be more widely known and must be reckoned with.
Ihågkom oss till liv may be Dranger’s masterpiece, and it helped contribute to her winning the Svenska serieakademin (the Swedish comics academy) award Adamsonstatyetten (the Adamson statuette), although I also look forward to seeing what she produces next. This book encourages us to look beyond our cultural, political, religious and other differences and to truly see one another as human beings. We must remember the past as a whole and also all the individual mosaic pieces within it.
Ihågkom oss till liv
Albert Bonniers förlag, 2022
Rights: Johanna Lindborg, Bonnier Rights Sweden
Joanna Rubin Dranger is an illustrator and author of several graphic novels. Ihågkom oss till liv has been nominated for the Nordic Council Prize for Literature 2023.