After last year’s novel-heavy list, this year’s longlist for the 2020 Wingate Literary Prize is a model of balance.
Of the 12 books on the list, picked from more than 70 eligible contenders, seven are fiction and five non-fiction. Chair of judges Clive Lawton says: “We are confident that this longlist will have something for everyone, a good balance of fiction and non-fiction, women’s voices and men’s, from the UK and abroad, opening up subjects hardly much considered, like the plight of French Jewry in the war and Holocaust to the quotidian-reality of ever-increasing elderly age for so many of us, as well as books that revisit often addressed themes and topics, such as family and identity, but in utterly engaging new ways.”
He’s joined on the panel by novelist and lecturer Dr Roopa Farooki, past Wingate Prize winner Philippe Sands QC and award-winning novelist Kim Sherwood.
Now in its 43rd year, the 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. The shortlist will be announced in February and the winner in March.
Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander
A non religious son’s attempts to off load the mourner’s duty to say Kaddish onto an online is the starting point for this novel — “quite brilliant” said our reviewer. The author told the JC it was his most Jewish book “by infinity”.
A Stranger City by Linda Grant
“One of the most bitingly contemporary publications of the year — a shifting, polyphonic narrative that seamlessly braids terrorism, climate change, racism, social media and, of course, Brexit", said the Mail on Sunday.
Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
An Israeli teenager wrongly accuses a celebrity of sexual assault after he insults her, and starts a scandal which grows and grows. “Enormously enjoyable,” said our reviewer, “this book rings true in every line.”
Live a Little by Howard Jacobson
The former Book Prize winner tackles old age. “As the narrative develops, the plot twists more and more, the dialogue gets faster and cleverer, and the past is harder to shake off.” said David Herman in the JC.
Survival of the Jews in France, 1940-1944 by Jacques Semelin
Trans. by Natasha Lehrer & Cynthia Schoch, Hurst & Co
Seventy-five per cent of France’s Jews survived the Holocaust, this book examines how and why. “An altogether remarkable and indispensable book for all those with an interest in France and the Shoah,” said Serge Klarsfeld.
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
A daughter’s memoir of finding that her Orthodox Jewish father was not her biological parent, and then tracking down her sperm donor dad, a non-Jewish doctor, is a meditation on identity and family. “Beautifully written and deeply moving” said the New York Times.
Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart
A Jewish version of the great American road novel, about Barry Cohen, a hedge fund manager who faces disgrace and ruin so takes to a Greyhound bus. “Shteyngart’s forte is to unite the absurd with the abysmal, and to undercut each moment of pathos with fly humour,” said the Guardian ‘s reviewer.
Katalin Street by Magda Szabo
Trans. by Len Rix, Maclehose Press
A novel by the late Hungarian writer, this family saga is “deeply mysterious” according to our reviewer. At its centre is the murder of a young Jewish woman in occupied Budapest, with the story tracing three families, one Jewish in wartime Budapest and Germany.
The Photographer at Sixteen by George Szirtes
The photographer is poet Szirtes’s mother Magda, a Holocaust survivor who denied her Jewishness. This is the first time he has written a prose account of her life leading up to her suicide at 51, four decades ago. It is a “testament to a son’s devotion” said our reviewer.
The Order of the Day by Eric Vuillard
Trans. by Mark Polizzotti, Picador
A book that defies descriptions (a novel, says its UK publishers, although others make a case for non-fiction) and a prize winner in its native France, it presents a series of historical tableaux in the run up to World War Two. “Gripping and mesmerising” said the Guardian.
Where to Find Me by Alba Arikha
An ambitious and complex novel, about a woman unravelling the secrets of her former neighbour, set in London, Paris and British Mandate Palestine: “a book of many secrets and clandestine activities,” said our reviewer.
Kafka’s Last Trial: The Case of a Literacy Legacy by Benjamin Balint
A fascinating account of the bitter posthumous battle between Germany and Israel over Kafka’s papers. Our reviewer praised its “forensic insight”.