Cultural crossroads open up new worlds

Expanding our horizons, enriching our lives

Photo: Colourbox
A view of Kazbek Mountain from the village of Stepantsminda was one of the sights when Norwegian author Knut Hamsun traveled through the country of Georgia in 1899.

Dear readers and friends,

Have you been canceled lately? We certainly hope not! Our newspaper is all about the free press and providing a forum for opinions and viewpoints of all kinds. It’s about an open-minded self-confidence, something that we value as a hallmark of our democracy.

Occasionally, I receive a letter or email from a reader who objects to a story we’ve printed. The story may not correspond to their opinions or overall world view. I welcome these letters. It means that our content is thought-provoking, that our readers are paying attention, and that they are engaged.

I always explain to these readers that we strive to be as objective as possible in our reporting but there is always room for discussion. This discussion leads to better mutual understanding and provides a path forward for finding solutions. And because we can offer relevant news from Norway today, there are even more viewpoints to explore. We don’t always have to agree, but it certainly is beneficial to have a lively discussion. Let’s not limit our perspectives and horizons; rather, let’s expand them.

As most of you know by now, I am a very strong proponent of cross-cultural exchange. It’s one of the reasons why I enjoy serving as editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American. I am learning new things on a daily basis, and it’s an honor and a pleasure to share them with you. With each issue, I continue to learn more about Norway, our Norwegian-American community here at home, and the rest of the world. My work enriches my life, and I hope that you, too, as readers, feel that way.

As I have often said, each issue of The Norwegian American is special for me, but I have to say that this issue stands out in many ways. It’s not every day that you get to report on your colleagues’ official delegation to Norway or the U.S. visit of a former Norwegian prime minister and leader of the World Health Organization. These stories may get less coverage in the mainstream press, but they are of paramount interest to our community. Our ability to provide coverage of them is what makes our newspaper so unique.

An adventure in wonderland

With this issue, we have the opportunity to explore a part of the world that I believe is somewhat unknown and mysterious to many, the country of Georgia. “Why Georgia?” you may ask. As you read on, you will learn why we are following in the footsteps of the great Norwegian author Knut Hamsun, who documented his journey there over 100 years ago in his travelogue novel I Eventryland—In Wonderland.

As a student of Nordic literature I was taken under the spell of Hamsun, and over the years, I’ve reread his works in an effort to deepen my knowledge of cultural history and strengthen my abilities in the Norwegian language. In Wonderland was one of those books. It got me thinking about a country I had never visited and knew little about.

This interest was further sparked when I happened to see the documentary film The Return by Bergen filmmaker Ingrid Berven and Georgian National Television. I interviewed Berven with great interest, yet somehow that interview got put in ice and wasn’t published at the time. But when I recently learned that a friend and colleague would be traveling to Georgia, it rekindled my interest in the project again, and I decided to revive it. I also feel that it could not be more timely, with a war in Europe and the danger it presents to countries surrounding Ukraine. Even after the inception of this issue, new political events with massive protests have unfolded in Georgia, showing how real the Russian threat there is.

An then there is a another brief chapter in the Norway-Georgia story that grabbed my attention, the mysterious story of Dagny Juel. When I was studying at the University of California, Los Angeles, one of my professors at the Scandinavian Section, Mary Kay Norseng, was working on her groundbreaking study of Juel’s life and authorship, Dagny: Dagny Juel Przybyszewska, the Woman and the Myth, published by the University of Washington Press in 1991.

It is not difficult to be fascinated by the story of the woman behind Edvard Munch’s famous portraits, a cult figure who traveled to Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, where she was shot and killed after only a few days. But for me, it was not just the murder-mystery that was intriguing. With Dagny Juel, I discovered the literary works of a woman author forgotten by many, and I learned that there are many more Scandinavian women authors who have been overlooked. These writers are worth exploring, and if you are interested in starting with Dagny Juel, Norseng’s book is still available at uwapress.uw.edu and other booksellers, and it’s a great read.

Because of my special interest in this project, I have done a lot of writing for this issue—and I’ve done it gladly. But I also have to thank others who have made it possible: Ingrid Berven, who originally inspired me, my team, the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Georgia, and friends and colleagues in Tbilisi, who have helped me track down information. Despite a language barrier, including a different alphabet, I was able to confirm the whereabouts of the Gedevanishvili family featured in the lead story, and I even had the thrill of getting to talk to them on the phone.

Finally, this issue is all about you. I hope you will enjoy exploring these cultural crossroads with us, and I wish you many hours of happy reading!

This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.