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.