Friday, May 22, 2009

Literary conflict in Israel

If you think you've heard of all the literary prizes, here's an interesting one for you: the head of Tel Aviv University's literature department criticized the Sapir Prize, Israel's "equivalent" of the Man Booker Prize. In Haaretz:
"The list this year, on the whole, is good but in previous years I had many reservations about them," Gluzman said. "This prize tries to follow in the footsteps of the Booker Prize. Look at which books won the Booker and which the Sapir. Since its inception, the Sapir Prize has been a prize for lists of best sellers. There is no way that a literary prize should be given to writers of best sellers. That is contemptuous of literature."
The article goes on to describe the methods of boycotting the prize:
The editor of the The New Library publishing house, Prof. Menachem Perry, has been boycotting the prize since 2004 and does not submit his writers for the competition. He explained that the prize engages in the futile promotion of books without any literary value and misses out on books of real value. As a result of the boycott, David Grossman's book, "Isha Borahat Mabesora" (English title: "Until the End of the Land") whose publication was one of the most important cultural events of the year, is not on the list. Another problem with the prize is that some of the country's most important writers refuse to submit their candidacy for it, including Meir Shalev, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz.
Several of the most famous Israeli authors don't apply for this prize. That's really a shame because I think Grossman and Yehoshua are excellent writers ("Someone to Run With" and "Friendly Fire" respectively). The head of the judging committee, a prolific Israeli politician and writer, Yossi Sarid, defends the choices, pointing out that "quite a few of the books this year weren't best sellers" and that they "try to choose a book that was not a bestseller to help it get publicity". Facing critique, as he is not a literary professor or professional, Sarid adds to say that many of the fellow committee members are indeed colleagues of Professor Gluzman.

That a prize ultimately ignores many of the major Israeli writers is a situation that could never come to be in the English speaking world. Some books originally written in Hebrew are translated into English (Three Percent's translation spreadsheet for 2008 displayed 12 titles), often by established authors and a few that make it on their own. Perhaps Sarid and the Sapir prize believe it should focus on those other books, those that would otherwise not receive international recognition. So even if some great authors are missing out and the literati are getting riled up, there's some logic to the Sapir Prize's choices and methods.

1 comment:

  1. i vaguely remember reading on yossi sarid's blog something about the sapir prize but i can't seem to find the post now. i think he was justifying it for some purpose, but of course, i can't remember what it was. oh well...

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