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Culture

Fiction Writers Facing a Pot of Gold

The winners of the 2011 Sami Rohr prize, the largest monetary award for Jewish writing, have been announced. This year’s finalists — all novelists, in keeping with the Jewish Council’s tradition of considering fiction and non-fiction books in alternating years — will be honored at a ceremony in New York on May 31. Austin Ratner has won the $100,000 top prize for his debut novel “The Jump Artist,” the fictionalized story of Philippe Halsman, a Jewish photographer who was charged — by an anti-Semitic Austrian court — with the murder of his own father on a hike in the Alps. Read an excerpt from the book, a review, and blog posts by the author.

Joseph Skibell’s “A Curable Romantic,” a humorous exploration of evil that pairs an unsuspecting fictional Viennese ophthalmologist with historical figures like Sigmund Freud, is the 2011 runner-up and the recipient of a $25,000 prize. Read Laura Hodes’ review of the novel in the May 27 issue of the Forward.

Other 2011 finalists include:

Allison Amend, for “Stations West,” a multi-generational epic about the family Boggy Haurowitz, one of the first Jewish settlers of the American West. (Amend’s Haurowitz is based on the real-life Boggy Johnson, who settled in Oklahoma in 1859.) Often Jewish immigrant narratives are too centered on the East coast and this is a fluent response to the tendency. Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Lynna Williams called the novel “a precise rendering of lives lived on the emotional and physical margin in harshly unforgiving places and times. Its strengths are its use of language, and compelling stories of each successive generation in a family founded on necessity and sustained on cross-purposes.”

Nadia Kalman, for “The Cosmopolitans,” which is an account of a family from the Former Soviet Union as its members (most notably the three daughters) come to terms with living in Connecticut. While undoubtedly ambitious in scope and style, this was a deeply disappointing novel that failed to come close to achieving any of its apparent aims. Though deliberately disjointed, “The Cosmopolitans” tries too hard, for too little effect and is a rare misstep by the prize committee. After having chosen the excellent Sana Krasikov and Anya Ulinich in previous years it has picked an uncompelling account of Russian-Jewish Americans by an author literarily out of her depth.

Julie Orringer, for her debut novel “The Invisible Bridge,” a 600-page love story set against the backdrop of the Hungarian Shoah. Listen to a YidLit podcast with the author and a brief review that declares the novel a good beach read.

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