Canadian Jewish Book Awards Present Diverse Honor Roll

A chronicle of Nazi persecution of gay people, a study of Jews and obscenity, and a haunting artistic collaboration are among the wide-ranging winners of this year’s Canadian Jewish Book Awards. After an announcement last week, the awards will be presented at a May 27 ceremony in Toronto.

With its other accolades for a Holocaust diary, a poetic history of Salonika’s Jews, and a novel about Jewish immigrants in South Africa, this year’s honor roll defies easy categorization. “It was an excellent year for Jewish books,” said Natalie Kertes, director of literary programs at Toronto’s Koffler Centre of the Arts, which runs the awards.

The common thread binding 2014’s far-flung winners? “Superb writing,” said Kertes, who also oversees this month’s Toronto Jewish Literary Festival. “It’s often easy to conflate a great story or theme or strong research with really strong writing. It’s really exciting to be able to say that all of the winners this year are exceptionally written, in addition to having strong content.”

What the prize-winners don’t all share, however, is Jewishness. And Ken Setterington, author of “Branded by the Pink Triangle” (Second Story Press), said the award has even more meaning for him as a result.

“I was certainly surprised to receive the honor but, to be quite honest, delighted,” Setterington told the Forward. “My book tells the story of the men who were persecuted in the Holocaust because of their sexuality, not their religion. My challenge was not to compare the numbers or the suffering of the men in comparison to the Jews, or any other persecuted group, but rather to make readers aware that homosexuals were persecuted. It is for that reason that I was thrilled to receive a Jewish prize.”

Also on the roster: The highly acclaimed “Correspondences” (McClelland & Stewart), which presented Anne Michaels’ verse and Bernice Eisenstein’s portraits in a beautiful “accordion” format; “feminist-Yiddishist” Frida Forman’s “The Exile Book of Yiddish Women Writers” (Exile Editions); and “Dear Canada: Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1948” (Scholastic) by young-adult novelist Carol Matas.

Chaired by veteran Toronto book editor Barbara Berson, this year’s jury included Ryerson University professor emeritus and Yiddish scholar Adam Fuerstenberg; Sara R. Horowitz, director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University; and former Toronto Star book review editor Judy Stoffman.

While the Koffler’s Kertes wouldn’t disclose the value of individual prizes, which vary each year, she told the Forward that the purse has disbursed more than $140,000 through the awards’ 26 years.

Here is the complete list of winners for the 2014 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards:

HOLOCAUST:

“Branded by the Pink Triangle,” Ken Setterington (Second Story Press)

FICTION

“The Lion Seeker,” Kenneth Bonert (Knopf Canada)

YIDDISH

“The Exile Book of Yiddish Women Writers,” Frieda Forman (Exile Editions)

JEWISH THOUGHT AND CULTURE

“Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture,” Josh Lambert (New York University Press)

POETRY

“Correspondences, Anne Michaels, Poetry, and Bernice Eisenstein, Portraits” (McClelland and Stewart)

SCHOLARSHIP

“The Long Life and Swift Death of the Jewish Reschitsa,” Albert Kaganovitch (The University of Wisconsin Press)

BIOGRAPHY/MEMOIR

“An Ode to Salonika: The Ladino Verses of Bouena Sarfatty,” Renée Levine Melammed (Indiana University Press)

YOUTH

“Dear Canada: Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1948,” Carol Matas (Scholastic)

HISTORY

“In the Shadow of the Shtetl,” Jeffrey Veidlinger (Indiana University Press)

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