Gerald Jacobs

The woman who’s proving intelligent books can sell

By Gerald Jacobs, August 13, 2009

One of London’s leading literary agents recently suggested that, “intelligent, well-written fiction is in a state of crisis”. The big publishing conglomerates are not interested so much in the state of the culture as in what they perceive to be the state of the market. And what they perceive is that “pulp” sells and “literary fiction” — in which emotions and ideas are imaginatively conveyed in well-constructed sentences — does not.


Interview: Chloe Aridjis

By Gerald Jacobs, July 23, 2009

One day in 1986, Chloe Aridjis was wandering through the food section of the grand KaDeWe department store in Berlin when she was overcome by a wave of disgust. “There were huge fish and lobster tanks; all kinds of meats and animal parts dangling from the walls,” the writer now recalls. “The previous year in Seville my sister and I passed a restaurant with a suckling pig in the window, an apple in its mouth. My sister became a vegetarian that night. I’m ashamed to say it took me a year to follow.”


Ronnie Scott, jazz’s coolest Jew

By Gerald Jacobs, July 2, 2009

If memory is — as it is often described — a “storehouse”, then it is an exceptionally disordered one. Much of its most valuable material is covered in dust and darkness, while small, incidental items tumble out at the merest hint of a fragrance, the sight of a photograph or, especially, the sound of a bar or two of music.


The refugee’s philosopher

By Gerald Jacobs, June 4, 2009

After years of silence, suddenly, the Canadian writer Anne Michaels is everywhere. Garlanded with prizes and praise as a poet, she is positively revered as a novelist — on the strength of just one novel, Fugitive Pieces, published in the mid-1990s.

Now, following 12 years of meticulous preparation, her second, The Winter Vault, has been released in the UK more or less simultaneously with the film version of Fugitive Pieces. And she has already written a substantial chunk of her third novel.


Interview: Reina James

By Gerald Jacobs, April 29, 2009

As soon as Reina James had received the Society of Authors’ McKitterick Prize at a ceremony in London in 2007 — for that year’s best first novel by a writer over 40 — she strode over to where Harold Pinter was sitting with his wife, Antonia Fraser, and eagerly shook his hand.

“I think about it now and cringe with embarrassment,” the 62-year-old, Sussex-based author recalls. “He just stared at me as if I was a madwoman.”


Interview: Amos Oz

By Gerald Jacobs, February 26, 2009

Israel’s most famous writer gazes reflectively at the majestic sight of the Thames at Limehouse, from which he is separated by a panoramic window. “I was angry with my mother for killing herself,” Amos Oz recalls. “It was as if she had run off with a lover without leaving us a letter.” He is explaining the genesis of A Tale of Love and Death, about his childhood, which appeared in English in 2004 and cemented his reputation as an outstanding literary talent.


Lobbied into the net

By Gerald Jacobs, February 10, 2009

Are you a member of ‘the Jewish lobby’? No? Are you sure? I didn’t think I was but I am not so sure now. I wonder how you apply for membership. Do you apply, in fact, or are you co-opted, possibly without your knowledge?


He survived Auschwitz, now he judges mass murderers

By Gerald Jacobs, January 22, 2009

One day in 1943, the Nazis liquidated the Kielce labour camp in the heart of Poland. The inhabitants were made to stand in two columns while the German commandant led his soldiers between them to take the children away from their parents. When those parents tried to hold on to their children, literally for dear life, they were brutally beaten.

Amid this infernal drama, the father of one nine-year-old boy marched his son up to the commandant, to whom the boy declared: “Herr Hauptmann, ich kann arbeiten (Captain, I can work).”


Book Week 2009 unveils an illustrious guest-list

By Gerald Jacobs, December 18, 2008

Jewish Book Week 2009 will begin and end with generous helpings of the cream of Israeli literature, in the shape of Amos Oz, who will open the festival on February 21, and AB Yehoshua, who will close it on March 1.

Oz will be interviewed by Guardian and JC columnist Jonathan Freedland; Yehoshua by BBC foreign correspondent Lyse Doucet. In between, JBW’s most lavish feast yet is expected to attract record numbers.

Announcing the programme, JBW director Geraldine D’Amico drew attention to the eclectic nature of the 2009 event.


Literary giants headline at February book festival

By Gerald Jacobs, December 16, 2008

Jewish Book Week 2009 will begin and end with generous helpings of the cream of Israeli literature, in the shape of Amos Oz, who will open the festival on February 21, and AB Yehoshua, who will close it on March 1.

Oz will be interviewed by Guardian and JC columnist Jonathan Freedland; Yehoshua by BBC foreign correspondent Lyse Doucet. In between, JBW's most lavish feast yet is expected to attract record numbers.


How France discovered its own Anne Frank

By Gerald Jacobs, November 13, 2008

At the wedding of François Job to Denise Berr in Paris on August 12 1943, the guests walked in procession from the town hall, along the elegant streets of the seventh arrondissement to the bride's parents' apartment. It was a remarkable sight, not least because every member of the party was wearing a yellow star - the badge of shame imposed upon Jews by the city's Nazi occupiers.


Squalor, liquor and love: my life with the satire elite

By Gerald Jacobs, October 23, 2008

The Savoy Grill, London, 1963 - a 21-year-old former debutante sits nervously opposite an imposing businessman. It is a significant occasion, her first meeting with the man about to become her father-in-law.

"Tell me, my dear," he asks, "did you have much trouble at school, being Jewish?"

The man is Jock Luard. The young woman is Elisabeth Longmore, daughter of Wing Commander Richard Longmore, who was killed in action when his daughter was a child.


Interview: Denis Norden

By Gerald Jacobs, October 3, 2008

Denis Norden is best known as the host of a TV out-takes show. But he made his name as one of the best scriptwriters of his generation.

Shortly after the Second World War, Denis Norden was employed by the Hyman Zahl Variety Agency. In his new book, Clips from a Life, Norden recalls the legendary wartime exploits of one of Zahl's artists, a comedian called Harry, who gave many performances in dangerous circumstances at Dover when it was under attack from German guns and aircraft.


Interview: Howard Jacobson

By Gerald Jacobs, September 4, 2008

Howard Jacobson explains the issues he has with rabbis, Philip Roth and Woody Allen - and why that makes him feel more haimishe than ever.

Howard Jacobson quite reasonably describes himself as "entirely and completely Jewish". Put him in a room together with a rabbi, and you will get Jewish electricity - an especially intense connection.


Spa-studded and stately

By Gerald Jacobs, August 28, 2008

Budapest is dazzling, but there's more to Hungary than just its capital

Just a block or so from the Astoria Hotel, you can see the city has real character. Along the main avenues, groups of people exchange animated gestures and conversation. Down the side-streets, old men sit on doorsteps, their creased, lugubrious faces veiled by cigarette-smoke. Presiding over all this sits the grand, historic synagogue, one of the most magnificent temples of Jewish worship anywhere on earth.


Julie Burchill: Brash, outspoken and wishing she was Jewish

By Gerald Jacobs, August 7, 2008

‘Beautiful and exceptionally intelligent': Julie's views on Jews. Meet Israel's staunchest supporter in the UK media - a working-class former punk from Bristol who's responsible for some of the most entertaining journalism of the past 30 years.

Almost the first words Julie Burchill utters as she opens the door of her Brighton flat are: "Did you go on the rally?" She is referring to the Salute-to-Israel rally at the end of June and which she says was the occasion for her first trip up to London in two years.


Shalom Auslander: 'How Foreskin’s Lament helped me stay sane'

By Gerald Jacobs, March 7, 2008

Shalom Auslander's novel about his terrorised Orthodox upbringing has provoked both adoration and revultion. Writing keeps him from insanity

Monsey, New York, is one of the most Jewish places on the planet. It is also, according to Shalom Auslander, who was born there in 1970, one of the most bizarre and emotionally crippling environments in which to experience childhood. Having now left Monsey — and his childhood — far behind, Auslander views his hometown in the manner of an Orthodox Jewish version of film director David Lynch.