Image cred­it: Adri­an Elton Creative

In advance of the 68th Annu­al Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards cer­e­mo­ny on March 5th, 2019 (which you can buy tick­ets for here), Jew­ish Book Coun­cil is shar­ing short inter­views with the win­ners in each category.

Bram Presser’s The Book of Dirt is the win­ner of the 2018 Gold­berg Prize for Debut Fic­tion. The Debut Fic­tion pan­el judges write: The Book of Dirt is the mys­tery of Jakub Rand, the chron­i­cler of Jew­ish books for the Nazis’ planned Muse­um of the Extinct Race. It is the sto­ry of Fran­tiska Roubick­o­va, who watch­es her mis­chlinge (mixed) daugh­ters tak­en away by the Nazis, and who per­se­vered in pro­vid­ing for them under impos­si­ble con­di­tions. And it is the sto­ry of two coura­geous sis­ters who embraced life in the face of intol­er­a­ble chal­lenges … Press­er suc­ceeds in giv­ing us a first nov­el that goes well beyond what is expect­ed from a debut. The Book of Dirt firm­ly estab­lish­es Press­er as an author to watch.”

Which three Jew­ish writ­ers, dead or alive, would you most like to have din­ner with?

Bruno Schulz, Oliv­er Sacks, Aharon Appelfeld. Though I’d pre­fer they were alive at dinner.

What’s your favorite book that no one else has heard of?

Mr. Theodore Mund­stock by Ladislav Fuks. A dark, sur­re­al delight. Can I also put in a nod to The Maimed by Her­mann Ungar? Kafka’s con­tem­po­rary, woe­ful­ly underappreciated.

Which Jew­ish writ­ers work­ing today do you admire most?

Shalom Aus­lan­der, Cyn­thia Ozick, Arnold Zable, Ben Mar­cus, Nicole Krauss, Michael Chabon, David Gross­man, Rutu Modan, Orly Cas­tel-Bloom. I could go on forever.

What are you read­ing right now?

God­send by John Wray, My Sister:The Ser­i­al Killer by Oyinkan Braith­waite, and The Emi­grants by WG Sebald.

What are your great­est cre­ative influ­ences (oth­er than books)?

Chance encoun­ters. Night­mares. Caf­feine. And punk rock.

What do you hope read­ers will take away from your book?

I hope that through my family’s sto­ry, read­ers of The Book of Dirt go away think­ing dif­fer­ent­ly about how we might car­ry the torch of Holo­caust remem­brance, the sort of sto­ries we can tell and the way in which we tell them. More­over, I hope it chal­lenges read­ers to ask how well they real­ly know the peo­ple they love and then to go and talk with them, ques­tion them, tru­ly engage before it’s too late.