Acclaimed Norwegian author Dag Solstad seemed nearly a reluctant jubilant as a two-day-long celebration of his 70th birthday on Saturday took place in his hometown of Sandefjord. Solstad was called “a living legend” in some papers over the weekend, and arguably ranks as the country’s most highly prized writer, but initially hadn’t looked forward to his big party.
The main event Saturday night attracted a who’s who of Norway’s literary elite, many of whom were gathered in the breakfast room of Sandefjord’s Park Hotel the morning after. Authors like Per Petterson, the man behind the international best-seller Out Stealing Horses, were among those conversing over coffee, while poet Jan Erik Vold and biographer Edvard Hoem were spotted later when the public was allowed to tag along on a walking tour of the old whaling capital of Sandefjord, to point out places that made an impression on Solstad while he was growing up there in the 1940s and ’50s, and later figured into his novels.
A festive evening the night before at Midtåsen, the former home of Sandefjord shipowner and civic booster Anders Jahre, went on to culminate, after the walking tour, in the formal dedication of a plaza in Sandefjord as “Dag Solstads Plass.”
The dedication wasn’t without political opposition. Many Sandefjord residents are clearly proud of their native son who went on to become a Norwegian literary giant, with 17 novels, a host of essays and scripts and five football books to his credit. Solstad has won a long string of literary prizes and this year was granted a life-long honorary salary from the state in recognition of his literary contribution.
But some don’t like his record of political enthusiasm for Norway’s communist movement AKP in the 1960s and his novels in the 1970s that fulfilled the movement’s demand that literature should serve the interests of the workers. While the mayor of Sandefjord supported honoring Solstad with a plaza in his name, the local chapter of Norway’s most conservative party, the Progress Party, voted against it. A large crowd turned out in pouring rain to see the dedication finally take place on Sunday. It was said to symbolize Solstad’s personal reconciliation with his old hometown, which he once harshly criticized.
Solstad himself has said he dreaded his 70th birthday on July 16, the celebration of which began months ago with the announcement of the state honorary prize, the opening of an exhibit on his life and works at the National Library in Oslo and several seminars. “I have been a bit nervous,” he told newspaper Dagsavisen. “At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t exactly pleased that I would turn 70 this year, but my friends and colleagues have done all they can to relieve the worst pain.”
Solstad worked years ago as a journalist at the local newspaper in Sandefjord, then left town and embarked on his literary career. He’s played an active role in cultural debate in Norway over the years but also divides his time between his home in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district and Berlin.
A long list of authors and the government minister for culture, Anniken Huitfeldt, hailed Solstad in local newspapers over the weekend. Huitfeldt, from the Labour Party, praised the way he has described Norwegian society over the years, and how his novels surpass historians’ versions of Norway’s post-war history. She also called him one of the social welfare state’s sharpest critics, and a keen social commentator.
Others like playwright Jon Fosse called Solstad “our most important author.” Solstad is married to Therese Bjørneboe, the daughter of another important Norwegian author, Jens Bjørneboe, and has three children from two earlier marriages. He won the Nordic Council’s literature prize for his novel Roman in 1987 and has won the Norwegian critics’ prize three times.
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