Literary festival has plenty of Jewish content

Etgar Keret

MONTREAL — A strong Jewish and Israeli presence has returned to the annual Blue Metropolis international literary festival this month.

Thanks to sponsorship from the Israeli Consulate General, Israel’s celebrated short-story writer and graphic novelist Etgar Keret, whose star has continued to rise since he was last at Blue Met in 2008, is among the scheduled speakers.

Fellow Israeli Janna Gur, a food writer and cookbook author, is also in the lineup, which includes writers and other literary personalities from 15 countries.

The 15th edition of Blue Met takes place from April 22 to 28 at Hotel 10 (formerly the Opus Hotel), which was its new venue last year.

This is the third edition under the direction of William St. Hilaire, who succeeded Blue Met founder Linda Leith.

Keret will have two off-site appearances on April 21: at the Jewish Public Library (JPL), a Blue Met partner, and at the downtown Chapters/Indigo bookstore. His latest book in English translation is Suddenly a Knock on the Door.

Keret, 46, the son of child survivors of the Holocaust, is known for his iconoclastic humour that sometimes veers into the surreal.

Gur will lead a two-hour cooking show on Israeli cuisine at the Appetite for Books store in Westmount on April 25. She’ll also give a workshop on food writing for magazines on April 27 at the festival’s main site.

Several other events are of particular Jewish interest. 

Dutch author Arnon Grunberg, whose mother was a survivor of Auschwitz, will talk about his controversial work, including the novels The Jewish Messiah and Tirza, in an onstage interview with Paul Kennedy, host of CBC Radio’s Ideas program, on April 27.

Grunberg will also take part in a panel discussion on writing fiction about women who abandon their families, with Montreal’s own Nancy Richler (The Imposter Bride) and renowned Irish novelist Colm Toibin, this year’s winner of Blue Met’s $10,000 grand prize, earlier that day.

Elsewhere, Richler will introduce a dramatic staging of The Imposter Bride, which was nominated for a 2012 Giller Prize, also on April 27. Adapted by Alexandria Haber, the stars are actors Ellen David and Stefanie Buxton.

The novel is about a mysterious young woman who, after World War II, escapes to Montreal for an arranged marriage, only to disappear a year later leaving behind a note and a baby.

On April 28, a roundtable discussion/reading titled “Almost Lost: Montreal’s Yiddish Women Writers” will feature Frieda Forman, Claire Holden Rothman, David Homel and Rivka Augenfeld, with moderator Elaine Kalman Naves.

Toronto’s Exile Editions is publishing an anthology of excerpts of the works of 13 female Yiddish writers, eight of whom lived in this city.

Guernica Editions, one of the leading independent publishers of Canadian writers, will launch on April 28 a new collection of the Yiddish writer Chava Rosenfarb’s Holocaust poetry in English translation, entitled Exile at Last.

Rosenfarb, who lived for many years in Montreal, died in 2011. Her daughter, Goldie Morgentaler, a literature professor at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, will be on hand.

Also that day, New York-based Miriam Katin will discuss her new graphic memoir Letting It Go. Born in Hungary during the war, she emigrated to Israel in 1957, before settling in New York. The book is described as a “haunting” yet “wry” tale of “the myriad ways trauma inflects daily existence, both for survivors and for their families.”

On April 28, Lia Levi, the Italian author, will discuss her novel The Jewish Husband, which raises the issue of the compromises made to survive as a Jew in 1930s fascist Rome. She is interviewed by Vivianne Silver, Montreal author of a memoir of her Egyptian Jewish childhood, 42 Keys to the Second Exodus.

A new monthly online Jewish arts magazine, published by Blue Metropolis Foundation with support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal, will be officially launched during the festival.

Debuting last fall, (an almemar is the reading desk in a synagogue) focuses on Jewish culture in Montreal and is aimed at a younger audience.  Edited by Ingrid Bejerman, the current issue highlights the Segal Centre for Performing Arts.

Canadian Centre for Architecture founder, philanthropist and heritage activist Phyllis Lambert will be honoured at the April 28 closing event. Yale University Press has just published Building Seagram, Lambert’s behind-the-scenes memoir of her experience as a young woman in the 1950s when she took charge of the planning of the monumental Seagram Building in New York, at the request of her father Samuel Bronfman.

CBC Radio’s Eleanor Wachtel of Writers and Company will host.

Tribute will also be paid to translator Sheila Fischman, nominated 14 times for a Governor General’s Award (winning once), for her extraordinary contribution to bridging the two solitudes.

The Saskatchewan-born Fischman has translated nearly 150 novels by francophone Quebecers into English, including those by such luminaries as Michel Tremblay and Marie-Claire Blais.

Blue Met organizers asked a number of well-known Quebecers what they were reading at age 15. Israeli Consul General Joel Lion, an ordained Orthodox rabbi, responded that Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) remains a permanent fixture on his bookshelf.

“Blue Metropolis’ promotion of literature and social programs truly embodies the values of this masterpiece and of the Jewish people.”

JPL executive director Michael Crelinsten, one of 15 Blue Met “ambassadors” explains why one of his favourite books of late is Ken Dryden’s hockey memoir The Game. He can be seen and heard in a video on the Blue Met website.

For full details on the programming, visit