We prompt­ed this year’s Sami Rohr Prize awardees to write about how they came to write their book.” Over the next sev­er­al weeks, we’ll share their respons­es. Today, Asaf Schurr dis­cuss­es how he came to write his nov­el Mot­ti.

So: there’s this sto­ry of that emper­or who want­ed a pic­ture of a roost­er, and of the mas­ter artist he hired to paint it. And of how that mas­ter just spent a whole year in the court, rejoic­ing and din­ing and tak­ing long walks and what­ev­er it is you do in courts (at least when you’re the emper­or’s guest and not part of the help). Eventu­ally the emper­or got sick and tired of it all, which is com­plete­ly under­stand­able, and walked straight up to the artist’s quar­ters (one might guess the whole court was ter­ri­fied by his fright­ful, angry stride), knocked on the door and demand­ed, Where’s my roost­er, damn it!”

At which the artist just nod­ded, grabbed a quilt and a piece of paper that lay near­by, and in one fell swoop drew the most won­der­ful roost­er any­one had ever seen (the most won­der­ful paint­ing of a roost­er, at least. For it was a king­dom known for its attrac­tive roost­ers). And the emper­or was under­stand­ably sur­prised, and he said, What the hell? This only took like three sec­onds! What were you doing here for a whole year?!”

The artist went over to the inner room’s door, and he opened it, and inside were hun­dreds and hun­dreds of paint­ings of hun­dreds and hun­dreds of roosters.

And that’s how I want­ed to write this book. Aim­ing at this one clean stroke. Or rather, aim­ing at becom­ing that spe­cif­ic per­son who could paint that spe­cif­ic roost­er. Writ­ing a book that you can love the same way you love a per­son (as my edi­tor, Oded Wolk­stein, said. What he meant was, lov­ing the defects just as much. Lov­ing it like one loves one’s child, espe­cial­ly in these moments when you catch a glimpse of these parts of your­self you’re ashamed of or impa­tient with, but seen in him or her are both unbear­able and endearing).

So I want­ed to paint a roost­er that’s beau­ti­ful and dam­aged, par­tial but all there. I want­ed to make an object. Com­plete and dis­tinct, almost spa­tial in nature, like a phys­i­cal work of art (and prob­a­bly just as pretentious).

But I can’t paint worth a damn. So I wrote me a roost­er feath­er by feath­er, and kept at it until it spread its wings. Nat­u­ral­ly, it can’t actu­al­ly fly. It can’t even lay an egg. All it does is wake you up at odd hours. But that’s lit­er­a­ture for you.

Asaf Schurr was born in Jerusalem in 1976 and has a BA in phi­los­o­phy and the­ater from the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty of Jerusalem. At present he is a trans­la­tor and writes lit­er­ary reviews for the Hebrew press. Schurr has received the Bern­stein Prize (2007), the Min­is­ter of Cul­ture Prize (2007) for Amram, and the Prime Min­is­ter’s Prize for Mot­ti (2008).