Francesca Segal has won the triple crown of Jewish book awards for her first novel, “The Innocents”. She now adds Hadassah Magazine’s prestigious Harold U. Ribalow Prize to the 2013 Sami Rohr prize for Jewish Literature and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction.
Hadassah’s prize is awarded annually to an author who has “created an outstanding work of fiction on a Jewish theme.” Over its 30 year history, the prize has been given to Chaim Grade (the first winner, in 1983),Francine Prose, Max Apple, Louis Begley, Dara Horn, Nathan Englander, Jonathan Safran Foer and, special recognition was given to Henry Roth in 1995 for a new novel, “Mercy of a Rude Stream,” after 60 years of literary silence. In fact, Harold Ribalow is credited with helping Roth to have his first novel, “Call It Sleep,” written in 1934, get republished in 1960 after it was largely unnoticed and out of print — the new edition went on to become a blockbuster.
Segal, who grew up in London, is the daughter of another best-selling author, Erich Segal (“Love Story”) and granddaughter and great-granddaughter of rabbis. She sets “The Innocents” in the close-knit upper class Jewish community in North London, offering a modern take on Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel, “The Age of Innocence.”
My colleague Adam Dickter reports that at the Ribalow Award ceremony in New York, Alan Tigay, longtime editor of Hadassah Magazine said that the selection committee favors writers who “fill us with unexpected wisdom.” He said it was unusual for someone to win who has won so many other prizes, especially for a first novel.
Now at work on a new novel, Segal told the audience, “I am frightened by the intensity of my own urge to do it better.”