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Thousands set to browse the ‘global bookshelf’ at Jewish Book Week

    Columnist Julie Burchill
    Columnist Julie Burchill

    Ian McEwan, Julie Burchill and Simon Schama are among the 150 internationally-renowned writers and artists taking part in next month’s Jewish Book Week.

    The annual festival, which celebrates Jewish writing, film and art, attracted a total of over 10,000 people in 2013 — and organisers are hoping to beat that figure with this year’s programme, details of which were revealed this week.

    Starting on February 22, some 64 events will take place over nine days at King’s Place in central London.

    A roll call of eminent literary speakers will include Israeli writer David Grossman interviewed by Mr McEwan, Holocaust historian Otto Dov Kulka, novelist Robert Harris and columnist Julie Burchill.

    “We really want Book Week to be inclusive,” festival director Hester Abrams said.

    novelist Ian McEwan
    novelist Ian McEwan

    “Some people think it can be exclusive and highbrow, but it isn’t. It is so entertaining, and you often get to witness to conversations that wouldn’t take place anywhere else.

    “We have huge fun putting it together, because you can’t really define what is Jewish. There are so many things that fall under the umbrella — I call it a glimpse of the global bookshelf.”

    Events will range from “punk professor” Vivienne Goldman’s examination of the role of Jewish musicians in the early punk scene, to a preview performance of composer Jocelyn Pook’s classical song cycle Drawing Life, inspired by poems written by children imprisoned in Terezin.

    There will also be a special celebration of the enduring classic, Fiddler on the Roof, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the show’s opening run on Broadway, and 100 years since Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories were originally published.

    Meanwhile, the 2014 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary prize will be awarded on February 26 — last year’s winner was American novelist Shalom Auslander.

    According to Ms Abrams, it is the festival’s “august pedigree” that has made it a feature of London’s literary scene for the last 62 years.

    She said: “When it began in 1952, it was very scholarly. Post-war rationing made people desperate to get their hands on books. “But through the 1980s and 1990s, it radically changed to become a festival, with books that appeal to people who are well-read, or want to keep up with trends, and or really enjoy going to sit at the feet of their guru.”

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