Winners of Canadian Jewish Literary Awards announced

The Art of Leaving: A Memoir by Ayelet Tsubari (HarperCollins)

A book about Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown and a biography of Soviet wartime journalist Vasily Grossman are among the winners of the fifth annual Canadian Jewish Literary Awards.

The awards ceremony will be held on Oct. 27, at 2:00pm in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building, York University 4700 Keele St. E., Toronto. Authors will  speak about their books. A dessert reception will follow where the award-winning books will be available for purchase and author signing.

Fiction: The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson (HarperCollins). A historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the 20th century – Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown and the embroiderers who made it. Told through the eyes of three women, one of them a Holocaust survivor, The Gown is a story of rebuilding friendship and family after the devastation of the Holocaust.

Memoir: The Art of Leaving by Ayelet Tsabari. (HarperCollins). In this collection of essays, the Israeli Canadian writer documents her travels around the world as she searches for her identity. As a woman of Yemeni descent in a country sometimes seen as devaluing her cultural traditions, Tsabari searches for a sense of belonging as she drifts from Thailand to India to Vancouver and Toronto before she rediscovers her heritage and embraces her family history.

Biography: Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century by Alexandra Popoff (Yale University Press). This well-researched book introduces, or reintroduces, readers to a significant writer whose stand against totalitarian ideology has taken on new relevance and urgency. Grossman’s epic novel, Life and Fate, was the first Soviet work to equate Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, pairing Stalinist anti-Semitism with Hitler’s campaign to annihilate the Jews.

History: With Spies of No Country: Behind Enemy Lines at the Birth of the Israeli Secret Service by Matti Friedman. (Signal/McClelland & Stewart).  The Canadian Israeli journalist introduces readers to four unknown, young Mizrahi Jews who became the nucleus of Israel’s nascent intelligence service. The tiny, amateur unit known as the “Arab Section” consisted of Jews from Arab countries who worked undercover to gather intelligence and carry out sabotage and assassinations.

Children and Youth Jewish history: In A Cage Without Bars by Anne Dublin (Second Story Press). This book tells the story of Joseph and his younger sister Gracia who, along with hundreds of Jewish children, are abducted and sold into slavery in 1493 after the expulsion from Spain. They are shipped to the island of São Tomé, off the west coast of Africa, where they are forced to work on a sugar plantation under brutal conditions.

This coming-of-age tale, filled with adventure, captures a little-known moment in Jewish history and fills a gap in historical fiction for young adults.

Yiddish: Confessions of a Yiddish Writer and Other Essays by Chava Rosenfarb (McGill-Queen’s University Press). Rosenfarb is one of the most celebrated Yiddish novelists who survived the Holocaust and settled in Montreal. Newly translated by her daughter, Goldie Morgentaler, these 13 essays offer personal accounts of a childhood imbued with Yiddish. They chronicle her experiences before and during the Holocaust as she strives to preserve the Yiddish literary canon from destruction by the Nazis. This collection marks the first time that Rosenfarb’s non-fiction essays have been presented together in English.

Scholarship: Culture in Nazi Germany by Michael Kater (Yale University Press). This book by a distinguished research emeritus of history at York University in Toronto examines the fate of the arts under Nazi rule. For the Nazis, the arts were only useful as political propaganda. They attacked the artistic movements that they felt were dominated by the Jews and leftist groups. Kater’s book examines how cultural life, including architecture, journalism, film, music, opera, theatre, and the visual arts became the means to control the minds of the people, and the fate of the Jewish artists caught up in the social madness.

Holocaust: Choices Under Duress of the Holocaust: Benjamin Murmelstein and the Fate of Viennese Jewry Volume I: Vienna (Texas Tech University Press). A culmination of more than three decades of research by Leonard and Edith Ehrlich, and edited by their son, Carl S. Ehrlich, director of the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, it chronicles the harrowing decisions Jewish communal leaders in Austria were forced to make while under Nazi occupation and investigates the actions of the controversial Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein, who was leader of the Jewish community of Vienna between 1938 and 1942 and later Judenältester (chief Jewish elder) of Theresienstadt concentration camp-ghetto.


“Choosing just eight award winners was a challenge this year,” says jury chair, Edward Trapunski. “The depth and breadth and quality of the submissions show the vibrancy of the culture and the appeal of Jewish themes for fiction and non-fiction writers.”

The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards is hosted and sponsored by the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University.