Winner of the 2006 Wingate Prize
Fatelessness, Imre Kertesz, (The Harvill Press)
At the age of 14 Georg Koves is plucked from his home in a Jewish section of Budapest and without any particular malice, placed on a train to Auschwitz. He does not understand the reason for his fate. He doesn’t particularly think of himself as Jewish. And his fellow prisoners, who decry his lack of Yiddish, keep telling him, “You are no Jew.” In the lowest circle of the Holocaust, Georg remains an outsider.
The genius of Imre Kertesz’s unblinking novel lies in its refusal to mitigate the strangeness of its events, not least of which is Georg’s dogmatic insistence on making sense of what he witnesses–or pretending that what he witnesses makes sense. Haunting, evocative, and all the more horrifying for its rigorous avoidance of sentiment, Fatelessness is a masterpiece in the traditions of Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Tadeusz Borowski.
“In his writing Imre Kertesz explores the possibility of continuing to live and think as an individual in an era in which the subjection of human beings to social forces has become increasingly complete. . . . Upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history.” —The Swedish Academy, The Nobel Prize in Literature 2002
Oona King (Chair) was born in1967 in Sheffield, and brought up in Camden, London. She was first elected as a Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green & Bow in May 1997. She has campaigned on issues including anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, housing, fair rents, pensioner rights, immigration, electoral reform, inner-city regeneration, comprehensive education, Europe, and a fairer international trade system. Oona writes for various newspapers and magazines, including the Guardian and the New Statesman. She lives in Mile End with her husband, Tiberio Santomarco.
Eliane Glaser is a historian, writer and producer at BBC Radio 4. She wrote a PhD on Judaism and Christianity in Renaissance England before joining the BBC, where she has worked on programmes such as Start the Week, In Our Time and Woman's Hour. Eliane has completed a book on Anglo-Jewish history, and she writes for the Times Literary Supplement, the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish Quarterly.
Julia Pascal is a playwright and Artistic Director of the Pascal Theatre Company. Her plays focus on Black, Jewish and Irish themes exploring cultural identity and exile. The company has performed in London, France, Poland, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. Her last play was Crossing Jerusalem at the Tricycle Theatre. Her works are published by Oberon Books. Julia is also a journalist and regularly contributes to the Guardian and Financial Times.
David Schneider is an actor, writer and comedian who began his career as a Yiddish academic. He has appeared in numerous TV shows and films including Mission Impossible, A Knight’s Tale and 28 Days Later. Before becoming an actor, David researched a PhD at Oxford in Yiddish drama and has since staged several amateur Yiddish theatre productions. He is working on a play about the Moscow Yiddish state theatre and was in the latest Woody Allen film.
The other shortlisted works were
Unity, Michael Arditti, (Maia Press)
Michael Arditti's novel examines the personalities and politics involved in the making of a film about the relationship between Unity Mitford and Hitler, set against the background of the Red Army Faction terror campaign in 1970s Germany.
Almost thirty years after the film had to be abandoned following its leading actress's participation in a terrorist attack, the narrator sets out to uncover her true motives by exploring her relationships with her aristocratic English family, the German wunderkind film director, a charismatic Palestinian activist and an Auschwitz survivor turned high-powered pornographer.
Unity paints a deeply disturbing picture of corruption and fanaticism in both Britain and Germany from the 1930s to the present day. Startlingly original in concept and treatment, this remarkable novel is a profound and provocative exploration of the nature of evil.
'A wonderful novel, written with exceptional knowledge and understanding of past and present Germany' - Gitta Sereny
Yiddish Civilisation: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation, Paul Kriwaczek (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
A portrait of a civilisation which flourished within living memory and left an indelible mark on history.
In the 13th century Yiddish language and culture began to spread from the Rhineland and Bavaria slowly east into Austria, Bohemia and Moravia, then to Poland and Lithuania and finally to western Russia and the Ukraine, becoming steadily less German and more Slav in the process. In its late-medieval heyday the culturally vibrant, economically successful, intellectually adventurous and largely self-ruling Yiddish society stretched from Riga on the Baltic down to Odessa on the Black Sea.
In the 1650s the Chmielnicki Massacres in the Ukraine by the Cossacks killed 100,000 Jews, forcing those that were left to spread out into the small towns (shtetls) and villages. The break-up of Poland-Lithuania - a safe haven for Jews in previous centuries - in the late 18th century further disrupted Yiddish society, as did the Russian anti-Jewish pogroms from the 1880s onwards, at the very time when Yiddish was producing a rich stream of plays, poems and novels.
Paul Kriwaczek describes the development, over the centuries, of Yiddish language, as well as religion, occupations and social life, art, music and literature. The book ends by describing how the Yiddish way of life became one of the foundation stones of modern American, and therefore of world, culture.
The View from the Fence, The Arab-Israeli Conflict from the Present to Its Roots, Neill Lochery (Continuum)
Dr Neill Lochery has worked as an advisor to Middle Eastern politicians on both sides of the political divide as well as elsewhere in the Middle East and is a leading specialist in the politics and history of the area. As neither an Arab nor a Jew he is able to go beyond the traditional narratives employed by partisan writers who dominate much of the current literature on the Middle East. Lochery's ability to see all sides drives the argument in this book about the possibilities for peace in the future. The Arab-Israeli conflict has for too long been seen as a simple tale of right versus wrong, good versus evil or, since the 1967 War, the strong versus the weak. This original account from an author outside the fray shows that the conflict ranges beyond Jew versus Arab, and shatters a series of myths surrounding the conflict itself. These include assumptions about how the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, effected later events to the notion that the Palestinian Authority president, Yasir Arafat, alone rejected a peace agreement with Israel in 2000 that would have ended the conflict.
Viewing this intractable dilemma from only one perspective simply generates further propaganda for whichever side. This book provides a full grasp of the issues which drive the conflict, including the attempts by the United States to broker a settlement; The Road to the Second Intifada; A NewSet of realities: the future of Arab-Israeli conflict
Sobibor, Jean Molla, (Aurora Metro)
"I did it so they'd stop me," Emma said, when she was caught stealing biscuits from asupermarket.
But Emma is hiding behind her tough words and her waif-like body...
Emma is sixteen and anorexic. Why does she do it? Is it her parents' indifference, the long family silences, the lies they tell each other? Emma wants to know. She wants to understand. When she discovers an old notebook in her grandparents' house, disturbing secrets emerge that demand an answer.
Sobibor has been awarded numerous prizes including:: Prix Escapages nominated by 4000 children in the French department of Indre; Prix 12-17 (Brive) 2004; Prix Ado-lisant, 2005; Prix des collégiens de la ville de Vannes, 2005; Prix des Dévoreurs de livres d'Evreux, 2005; Prix Farniente, 2006; Prix Gayant Lecture, 2005; Prix J'ai lu, j'élis, 2005; Prix littéraire des lycéens et apprentis PACA, 2005; Prix littéraire jeunesse de Sevran, 2005; Prix Ruralivres en Pas de Calais, 2005; Prix Saint-Martin-de-Crau, 2005; Prix SNCF du livre de Jeunesse, 2004; Prix Sorcières, 2004
"Once you start one of Molla's books, you can't put it down. By the time you've finished, you'll have been moved to tears." Le Monde
Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives under the Nazis, Nicholas Stargardt, (Jonathan Cape)
Already hailed as “magnificent . . . some of the best historical writing about the aftermath of the war I have ever read . . . stunning” (The Guardian), Witnesses of War breaks new ground in its exploration of the lives and the fate of children of all nationalities under the Nazi regime.
Children were at the center of Nazi ideology; now we have their history of those years. Their stories open a world we have never seen before. War came home to children as a set of events without precedent, spectacular and terrifying by turns. As the Nazis overran Europe, children were saved or damned according to their race. Precious few remained unscathed during the war, and most suffered a moment that overturned their lives. For some, it was the evacuation to become junior colonists in the East; for others, it was the onset of heavy bombing, the separation of families or learning to keep their parents alive by smuggling food, creating black markets and devising their own escape networks. Some herded women waiting to be shot. Girls manned flak batteries; boys confronted Soviet tanks.
Drawing on an untouched wealth of original material – school assignments; juvenile diaries; letters from evacuation camps, reformatories and asylums; letters to fathers at the front lines; even accounts of children’s games — Nicholas Stargardt breaks stereotypes of victimhood and trauma to give us the gripping individual stories of the generation Hitler made.
Genizah at the House of Shepher, Tamar Yellin, (Toby Press)
Shulamit, a biblical scholar from England, returns to her grandparents' home in Jerusalem for a visit, after an absence of many years. Almost immediately she becomes embroiled in a family feud over possession of the so-called Shepher Codex, a mysterious and valuable manuscript which has been discovered in the attic. In tracing the origins of the Codex she uncovers the history of the Shepher family itself: of her great-grandfather, who traveled to Babylon in search of the ten lost tribes; of her grandfather, a dreamer whose Zionist ideals brought him into conflict with his religion; of her parents, and their tormented love affair; and of her own orphaned and unhappy past. At the same time, she struggles to find answers to pressing questions: what is the significance of the Codex and where does it come from? Who is the stranger, Gideon, who is desperate to enlist her help? Above all, whom does the Codex belong to and what part must Shulamit play in its destiny? Set against the backdrop of a changing Jerusalem over a hundred and thirty years, Tamar Yellin's first book is a large-canvas novel of exile and belonging, displacement, and the quest for both love and a true promised land.
For more information, contact Geraldine D’Amico at
Geraldine@jewishbookweek.com or 020 7446 8772