Israeli novelist David Grossman has won the 2011 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize, the UK's foremost Jewish literature award. Early this week, a packed audience in the Stern Pissarro Gallery, off Pall Mall, heard writer Lisa Appignanesi, this year's chair of the JQ-Wingate judges, announce the result of the most eagerly awaited contest for many years.
The short list contained Eli Amir's novel,The Dove Flier, and the charming, elegantly constructed Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, but was dominated by the other four titles, any of which in a normal year would have taken the prize in a canter.
Along with Mr Grossman's To The End Of The Land, the quartet comprised the 2010 Man Booker winner, The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson; Anthony Julius's determinedly argued Trials of the Diaspora, a massively researched chronicle of English antisemitism, ranging over centuries and ending with a condemnatory flourish at the contemporary conflation of antisemitism with anti-Zionism; and the surprise success of recent years, The Hare With Amber Eyes, Edmund De Waal's already garlanded, exquisitely traced history of his illustrious forebears, the Ephrussis.
David Grossman's huge novel, about a woman's desperate concern for the life of her soldier son caught up in the epicentre of Arab-Israeli warfare, is weighted with poignant irony: the writer's own son was killed in conflict during the writing of the book.
Accepting the award, the author revealed that he returned to writing it at the end of the shivah -- "At first, I thought: 'What am I doing?'" -- but then explained how important it was to tell the story, "how important literature is".