“We have been moved, amused, gripped, provoked, absorbed and awestruck” said chair of judges, Samantha Ellis, on the task of selecting a shortlist for the 2016 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize. “All seven authors have taken risks to tell stories that matter, with curiosity, candour and courage. If anything unites these books, it is a concern with what connects us and what keeps us apart, and with the struggle to understand the past and to make a better future.”
The shortlist consists of two works of fiction, two histories, two biographies, and a memoir, and was announced during a discussion event chaired by Jewish Quarterly editor Nicola Christie last night.
The short-listed books are: Ishmael’s Oranges by Claire Hajaj; J by Howard Jacobson; The Life of Saul Bellow by Zachary Leader; Between Gods by Alison Pick; The Impossible Exile by George Prochnik; The Liberation of the Camps by Dan Stone and KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann.
This year’s judging panel, comprised of writer Samantha Ellis, columnist Hugo Rifkind, Granta Top 20 Young Novelist Tahmima Anam and Senior Masorti Judaism Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg.
Asked to weigh in on her shortlist spot, novelist Claire Hajaj said, “as a woman raised in the Middle East who still bears a Palestinian name, I was frankly moved to tears to see my name on the JQ Wingate shortlist. What a beautiful acknowledgement that Jewish identity is not fixed, but rich and evolving – and that our story extends beyond Jewish losses to encompass the sorrows and dreams of others.’
And from Allison Pick, the shortlist’s sole author of a memoir: “growing up as a Christian with one Jewish parent in hiding, my journey to reclaiming my Judaism has been long and complex. Because of that, I am especially delighted to be included on this list of books that bring Judaism alive on the page.”
George Prochnik, who contributed one of two memoirs, his about Stefan Zweig, spoke about the importance of his book’s subject. “Stefan Zweig sought in Jewish history the context that might help him make sense of the catastrophe he was living through. In our own time—when the refugee crisis has reached a magnitude not seen since the Second World War—tragic narratives such as Zweig’s exile story can deepen our empathy for these cruel displacements, and sharpen the imperative to respond. I’m honoured to learn that The Impossible Exile has been shortlisted for the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize, with its tradition of recognizing literature’s capacity to transmit a sense of cultural responsibility.”
Established in 1977, the annual prize worth £4000 is awarded to the best book – fiction or non fiction – to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader.
The Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize, run in association with JW3, 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, David Grossman, Thomas Harding, W.G. Sebald and Linda Grant.
The winner of the 2016 prize will be announced on March 14.