The 2017 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize has generated a short-list of five powerful books which the judges believe all bring a fresh perspective to the ‘dominant, pressing issues of today’.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the prize short-list sees a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, with three of the five works translations from their original language.
The short-listed books are:
The Crime and the Silence by Anna Bikont, translated by Alissa Valles;
Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949 by David Cesarani;
Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, translated by Sondra Silverston;
All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski, translated by Anthea Bell; and
East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands.
Established in 1977, the annual prize, worth £4,000 and run in association with JW3, is awarded to the best book, fiction or non-fiction, to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader.
This year’s judging panel comprises award-winning playwright Amy Rosenthal; Granta Best of British Young Novelist Joanna Kavenna; Jewish Quarterly Literary Editor and translator Natasha Lehrer and Professor of Modern Literature Bryan Cheyette.
Chair of judges Prof Cheyette says: ‘We feel all five books are tremendously strong, any of which would make a worthy winner. While the majority are inspired by historical events, they are all focused on live issues which have a huge relevance to the world today and connect to the present-day reader – mass refugees, the horror of war and the denial of the humanity of others in the face of global indifference.’
The 2017 prize winner will be announced on February 23 at JW3 during an event, in association with Jewish Book Week, to mark 40 years of the JQ Wingate Prize. Past judges and winners will be joining journalist and Wingate trustee Emily Kasriel to discuss ‘What Makes a Book Jewish?’. A further anniversary event on April 2, at JW3, will see writer and broadcaster Tim Samuels launching a new book club, The Lit Café Book Club, to celebrate past prize winners. For more information about either event go to www.Jw3.org.uk
The Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize is the only UK literary prize of its kind and attracts nominations from all over the globe. Previous winners include Amos Oz, Zadie Smith, Oliver Sacks, Otto Dov Kulka and David Grossman.
The Short-Listed Books in the Judges’ Words
The Crime and the Silence by Anna Bikont, translated by Alissa Valles, published by Cornerstone, William Heinemann (Penguin Random House)
‘This non-fictional reportage, set in post-war Poland, challenges the taboo within the country which readily acknowledges the saving of individual Polish Jewish lives, but refuses to recognise that a number of Poles collaborated in the mass death of Jews during the war, such as the 1941 massacre of Polish Jews in Jedwabne. The present Polish government has threatened to jail its citizens from using such phrases as “Polish death camps”. It is a powerful work which puts the author at risk and which shows how the Second World War is still deeply troubling for contemporary Poles. The book shows the power of taboo history in the present-day’.
Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949 by David Cesarani, published by Pan (Macmillan)
‘David Cesarani’s book differs from other Holocaust works because it moves away from the conventional wisdom that the Holocaust was a clinical, industrialised form of killing – with the image of the Auschwitz crematoria and train lines at the heart of this. Cesarani has shown the raw and arbitrary side of this brutal genocide, revealing that a large percentage of the mass killings took place outside the death camps with many persecutors literally knee-deep in blood. The few remaining survivors of these vicious massacres are heard for the first time. In a unique combination, Cesarani has brought together military history and the history of genocide to show that war and the Holocaust went hand in hand. The intentions of the Nazi leadership to exterminate the Jews of Europe were clear, but these intentions were, more often than not, complicated and shaped by the vicissitudes of war ’.
Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, translated by Sondra Silverston, published by Pushkin Press
‘This powerful thriller focuses on African refugees in southern Israel and their treatment, with the contrast between the refugee narrative and an Israeli doctor and his loving family. These two sides of contemporary Israel become intertwined by a seismic event at the start of the novel. Waking Lions is an important piece of work in light of the present-day refugee crisis in Israel’.
All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski, translated by Anthea Bell, published by Granta
This major post-war German novel is inspired by the forgotten Genocide of ethnic Germans in East Prussia at the end of the Second World War. At the same time, the understated, lyrical and plangent novel addresses the denial of the Holocaust by ordinary German citizens as well as the fall-out when one of the main characters helps a Jewish refugee. The novel is reminiscent of the mature novels of Henry James and also evokes the post-war German novels of W. G. Sebald’.
East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands, published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson Ltd (Orion Books)
East West Street is a beautifully written hybrid work which engages with the implications of the Second World War in relation to our present-day understanding of genocide and crimes against humanity. East West Street mixes family genealogy, legal history, and the present day implications of twentieth-century genocide. Through the remarkable lives of Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, who were both prosecutors at Nuremberg, Sands’ hyper-memoir explores the origins of modern international human rights legislation and the invention of the term genocide. Part detective story, part family history, this book weaves together the personal, historical, legal and political in a new and compelling combination.’