2011 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards: Citations
FICTION Alison Pick, Far to Go Published by House of Anansi Press Inc.
The magic of good storytelling brings into sharp relief the steady deterioration of Jewish daily life in Czechoslovakia under the influence Nazism just before the onset of World War II in Allison Pick’s novel Far to Go. Woven into the historical setting of the Czech Jewish experience is an exploration of the relationship of a contemporary historian of the Holocaust to her subject, upon the discovery of a set of letters that bring the past to life. The Jury was impressed with the crisp and elegant writing, and the novel’s subtle probing of the inner life of both Jews and non-Jews as Nazi racial ideology takes hold. The double narrative – past and present – examines the ways that the stories we uncover and tell shape our lives, our values, our sense of meaningfulness and possibilities.
POLITICS & HISTORY Tarek Fatah, The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism Published by McClelland & Stewart
It took courage for Tarek Fatah to write The Jew is Not My Enemy. It also takes courage for its Jewish and non-Jewish readers to follow the history of Muslim hate towards the Jews as the political activist and broadcaster depicts it, and the harsh but hopeful conclusion that there is no black and white resolution. The Jury noted the diligent scholarly and journalistic research examining the historical, political and theological ideas. In the end the book is a personal history of a journey towards tolerance and reconciliation.
HOLOCAUST LITERATURE Robert Eli Rubinstein, An Italian Renaissance: Choosing Life In Canada Published by Urim Publications
The author, a businessman and community leader in Toronto has written a remarkable memoir of the physical and spiritual rejuvenation of his parents, Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust, after the unspeakable horrors they had experienced. With most of their immediate families murdered and the Russians imposing a new tyranny in Hungary, they decided to leave. Early in 1946, they and a few of their surviving relatives escaped to Italy. There, in a Displaced Persons camp located on the grounds of a former psychiatric hospital near Turin, birthplace of the author, they found the healing conditions to revive their hope in the future and their commitment to their faith.
By a fortunate, almost accidental chance, that future led them to Toronto, where the Rubinsteins and their cousins became leading real estate developers and benefactors of the community. This work, however, is not just the record of a remarkable family’s survival in the Holocaust and re-establishment in Canada; it is above all a sensitive tribute by a loving son of the debt he feels to his parents for the character and values they have imbued in him by their actions and example. Beautifully expressed, this memoir is a wonderful contribution to the hitherto largely ignored area of Holocaust survivors’ re-establishment of their shattered lives.
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR Charles Foran, Mordecai: The Life and Times Published by Random House Canada
A decade after his death at 71, Mordecai Richler has found the biographer he deserves. The jury declared that Charles Foran has written the definitive biography – generous, thoroughly researched, psychologically nuanced, highly readable. They lauded him for uncovering the demons that drove Richler to create. Foran shows how the novelist’s gritty early life in working-class Jewish Montreal and his experience as a child born of a poisoned marriage shaped his prickly personality, which remained unchanged throughout his life. Foran skillfully contrasts Richler, the tender father and husband, with the hard-drinking Richler who made people angry and uncomfortable. He reveals Richler as deeply moral, using his sharp wit to expose snobbery, hypocrisy, inauthenticity, lies, anti-Semitism, and cant of all kinds.
SCHOLARSHIP Harold Troper, The Defining Decade: Identity, Politics, and the Canadian Jewish Community in the 1960s Published by University of Toronto Press
While Jews were present in Canada almost from the birth of the country, their community always remained at the edge and separate from mainstream society. They were kept apart by internal and external contingencies. In the dramatic years after the Second World War, a new conscience emerged as the place Jews should occupy as individuals and as a community. In the 1960s, the blooming of the Jewish community reaches its maturity when it confronted and accepted inside dissident voices and fully engaged in the national community at all levels. Several events but mainly the Six Day war became moments of conscience when all members of the community took stand, realizing their place and role as Jews and as Canadian.
With great insight, Harold Troper offers us in The Defining Decade, a sensible analysis of the crucial years of transformation of the community, which parallels the one of the country. With great expertise and detailed documentation, he clearly exposes the many and deep changes and the dynamic of the process.
YOUTH LITERATURE Judie Oron, Cry of the Giraffe Published by Annick Press
Cry of the Giraffe is a powerful novel that skillfully achieves what characterizes the best of historical fiction: a seamless blending of the personal story of the main characters with the forces that alter the course of their lives. The story of young Wuditu is set against the ugly backdrop of government persecution of the Jews of Ethiopia, where they are demonized as a despised minority. The book provides an inside view of the daily lives of Ethiopia’s Jews, even offering a peek at their Passover customs and their schooling. Oron masterfully captures the drama of the Ethiopian story, tracing the difficult trek to the refugee camp in Sudan and the perilous situation of women left alone in a male-dominated world. The reader’s interest is gripped by the heroine’s courageous struggle, against unimaginable odds, to find her sister, protect herself, and flee to the Promised Land, “Yerusalem.” Cry of the Giraffe is a fitting celebration of the rescue of one family as we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Operation Solomon, the airlift of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in May, 1991.