David Bezmozgis has won this year’s National Jewish Book Award for fiction for “The Betrayers” (Little, Brown), and the “Jewish Lives” series published by Yale University Press was named the winner of the Everett Family Foundation Award.
For Bezmozgis, who has won several literary awards in his native Canada, this is his first National Jewish Book Award. His novel is about a former ex-Soviet refusenik turned Israeli politician who escapes a scandal in Israel to encounter the man who betrayed him to the KGB years earlier.
The Yale series, edited by Anita Shapira and Steven Zipperstein with Ilene Smith as editorial director, matches subjects and writers for original essay-like biographies. Already published works include “David: The Divided Heart,” by David Wolpe, “Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution,” by Yehudah Mirsky and “Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt,” by Robert Gottlieb.
First given out in 1950, the National Jewish Book Awards are the longest-running award for books of Jewish interest in North America, said Carolyn Starman Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council, which sponsors and administers the awards.
Other winners include George Prochnik’s “The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World” for biography (Other Press); Kathryn Hellerstein’s “A Question of Tradition: Women Poets in Yiddish, 1586-1987” (Stanford University Press) for women’s studies; James A. Grymes’ “Violins of Hope: Violins of the Holocaust — Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour” (Harper Perennial) for the Holocaust category.
The award for outstanding debut fiction, presented in memory of JJ Greenberg, was given to Stuart Rojstaczer for “The Mathematician’s Shiva” (Penguin Books). In children’s and young adult literature, the award will be presented to Devra Lehmann for “Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker” (Namelos).
For history, the award went to “The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe,” by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern (Princeton University Press); in American Jewish studies to “The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire,” by Adam D. Mendelsohn (NYU Press); and in scholarship to “Outside the Bible, 3-Volume Set: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture,” edited by Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel and Lawrence H. Schiffman (Jewish Publication Society).
Awards are also presented in the categories of education and Jewish identity, modern Jewish thought and experience, Sephardic culture and illustrated children’s books. A full list of winners and finalists is available at the Jewish Book Council’s website (jewishbookcouncil.org).
When asked about what was distinctive about this year’s winners, Hessel, who is stepping down from her post later this year after more than two decades, noted that the winners and finalists come from a greater variety of publishers than in past years. The list includes 18 university presses, as well as books that are self-published and from Israeli publishers, along with commercial presses.
“This represents the honesty of the judges. They really picked the best books, with the best message, in each of the 16 categories. I give them credit for that.”
The National Jewish Book Awards will be presented at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th St., on March 11 at 8 p.m. The ceremony is open to the public.