On March 1, 2023, we had the honor of celebrating the 72nd National Jewish Book Award winners at Bohemian National Hall. Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing the remarks of the winners who spoke at this celebratory dinner. Michael Frank is the winner of the Holocaust Memoir Award and the Sephardic Culture Mimi S. Frank Award in Memory of Becky Levy for his book One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World.
Stella Levi’s generosity of spirit animates every page of One Hundred Saturdays. Over a span of more than six years Stella opened up to me, challenged me, provoked me, corrected me, encouraged me, and — by the end — changed me. My experience with Stella developed me as a listener; it helped me learn patience; it taught me several things about myself.
It also showed me that a book can take many forms. What I had with Stella — and what I sought to have in turn with the reader — was an encounter: an encounter with the past, an encounter with a fascinating lost world, an encounter with a modern-day Scheherazade.
In trying to understand what this encounter meant, I was helped by Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Storyteller,” where he observes that “telling stories is the art of retelling those we have heard.” Telling as retelling: after my six years with Stella, this resonated with me, and profoundly. “In this way,” Benjamin goes on to say, “the web is woven in which the gift of storytelling is embedded.”
Weaving that web, offering and receiving the gift of storytelling, is not limited to one book, or a single corner of the web. Benjamin refers at one point to the “fundamental role” that storytelling has played in “humanity’s household” — what a beautiful phrase! All of the books being recognized this evening have contributed, each in its own way, to humanity’s household, and One Hundred Saturdays is fortunate to be among them.
Michael Frank is the author of What Is Missing, a novel, and The Mighty Franks, a memoir, which was awarded the 2018 JQ Wingate Prize and was named one of the best books of the year by The Telegraph and The New Statesman. His essays, articles, and short stories have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Slate, The Yale Review, Salmagundi, The TLS, Tablet, and other publications. The recipient of a 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship, he lives with his family in New York City and Camogli, Italy.