This year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist featured two authors who write about groups not often represented in British literature. Howard Jacobson, author of “The Finkler Question,” has made a career crafting a literary image of the English Jew, while Andrea Levy, shortlisted for “The Long Song,” has documented the black British experience in her five novels, most recently focusing on colonial slaves in nineteenth-century Jamaica. While Jacobson ultimately took the prize, “The Long Song” thrust its author back into the spotlight — in October, Levy was a guest at the Vancouver International Writers Festival and Toronto’s International Festival of Authors.
Michael Wex is best known for his acerbic, authoritative books on Yiddish language and culture, but in this fall’s “The Frumkiss Family Business,” he has turned his attention to fiction. The sprawling novel is a farcical family saga, following three generations of a Jewish clan in Toronto’s Bathurst Manor neighborhood and questioning, in Wex’s characteristically hilarious way, the role of Jewish culture in a secular society. Recently, Wex took some time prior to his October 30 appearance at Toronto’s International Festival of Authors to speak to The Arty Semite about his new novel, the Canadian Jewish experience, and being compared to other Jewish writers.
In her light, lilting accent, Flory Jagoda is happy to tell the story of her life, with one caveat: although she did live through it, hers is not a tale of the Holocaust. “This one is an accordion story,” she laughed. “We have so many Holocaust stories.”
Canada is home to less than three percent of the world’s Jewish population, but every other year, Jewish artists from around the world congregate in Toronto for the Ashkenaz Festival, which returns this year from August 31 to September 6 at the city’s Harbourfront Centre.
Thirty years ago, Montreal-based documentary maker Garry Beitel produced his first film, the exquisitely titled “You Might Think You’re Superior, But I Think We’re Equal,” a profile of racism in Montreal high schools. Since then, the Gemini Award-winner has directed a number of acclaimed films, from a real-life love story set in World War II-era Montreal and Warsaw to a harrowing exploration of Canada’s refugee determination process. His projects, though varied in tone, subject and form, are always marked with equal measures of sensitivity and scrutiny.