Jew­ish Book Coun­cil is proud to intro­duce read­ers to the five emerg­ing fic­tion authors named as final­ists for the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture. Today, we invite you to learn more about Idra Novey and her book, Ways to Dis­ap­pear, a nov­el about a Brazil­ian nov­el­ist who goes miss­ing and her daugh­ter, son, and trans­la­tor’s hunt to find her.

A warm con­grat­u­la­tions to Idra and the oth­er four final­ists: Paul Gold­berg, Adam Ehrlich Sachs, Rebec­ca Schiff, and Daniel Tor­day. Join Jew­ish Book Coun­cil on May 3, 2017 at The Jew­ish Muse­um for a dis­cus­sion with the authors and announce­ment of the recip­i­ent of the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture! Reg­is­ter for free tick­ets here »

What are some of the most chal­leng­ing things about writ­ing fiction?

Like chil­dren, works of fic­tion are con­stant­ly evolv­ing. What a draft urgent­ly needs in the morn­ing is like­ly not what it will urgent­ly need in the after­noon and the chal­lenge it presents the fol­low­ing week will be some­thing else entire­ly. I find once I address an aspect of a draft that feels chal­leng­ing, anoth­er chal­lenge imme­di­ate­ly presents itself that feels even more insur­mount­able, but that is also the allure of writ­ing fic­tion, the con­tin­u­al sur­pris­es each sto­ry presents.

What or who has been your inspi­ra­tion for writ­ing fiction?

I came to fic­tion from trans­la­tion and the writ­ers I’ve trans­lat­ed have been my teach­ers. It was while trans­lat­ing the mes­mer­iz­ing sen­tences of the Brazil­ian writer Clarice Lispec­tor that I began to draft the first sen­tences of a nov­el of my own.

Who is your intend­ed audience?

Read­ers who are open to sur­prise, who enjoy the adven­ture of start­ing a nov­el for one rea­son and then, ulti­mate­ly, lov­ing the book for anoth­er rea­son entirely.

Are you work­ing on any­thing new right now?

Yes, I’m at work on a sec­ond novel.

What are you read­ing now?

Char­lotte, by David Foenk­i­nos, about the young artist Char­lotte Sala­m­on who was killed in Auschwitz at the age of 26. The nov­el was an inter­na­tion­al best­seller but has­n’t had a robust recep­tion in the Unit­ed States, as so often hap­pens with fic­tion in trans­la­tion here. But it’s extra­or­di­nary nov­el. I already want to read it again.

Top 5 favorite books

I find it hard to rank books like race hors­es. The best books I read this week are:

Char­lotte, men­tioned above, by David Foenkinos

Francine Pros­e’s mas­ter­ful and mis­chie­vous Mis­ter Monkey

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I grew up in a back­ward, dying Rust Belt town where most peo­ple were as wary of Jews and oth­er out­siders as they were of art and literature.

In high school, I wrote the first — and I think only — stu­dent-writ­ten play ever per­formed at my foot­ball-obsessed pub­lic school. No one but the oth­er the­ater club kids in the play and their fam­i­lies attend­ed, but the inti­ma­cy of the event felt sub­ver­sive. There is a free­ing joy in pro­ceed­ing with a work of art regard­less of the size of one’s audience.

It was in that emp­ty the­ater in rur­al Penn­syl­va­nia, at 16, that I first had a strong sense that this is what I want­ed to do with my life, that I would go on find­ing joy in writ­ing and shar­ing that writ­ing regard­less of how many peo­ple liv­ing around me cared about lit­er­a­ture or not.

What is the moun­tain­top for you — how do you define success?

I try, every day, to stay with the def­i­n­i­tion of suc­cess I felt at the school audi­to­ri­um described above: to con­tin­ue being capa­ble of sit­ting down and tak­ing new risks as a writer, and enjoy­ing it.

How do you write — what is your pri­vate modus operan­di? What tal­is­mans, rit­u­als, props do you use to assist you?

A good cup of tea is essen­tial. And a window.

What do you want read­ers to get out of your book?

Some­thing they did­n’t expect to get out of a nov­el about a miss­ing wom­an’s adult chil­dren and her trans­la­tor dis­agree­ing about who exact­ly it is they are look­ing for. And some­thing I did­n’t expect them to get out of such a nov­el either.

Idra Novey is the author of the nov­el Ways to Dis­ap­pear and Exit, Civil­ian, select­ed for the 2011 Nation­al Poet­ry Series. Born in west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, she has since lived in Chile, Brazil and New York. Her fic­tion and poet­ry have been trans­lat­ed into sev­en lan­guages and fea­tured on NPR’s All Things Con­sid­ered and in Slate, The Paris Review, Sto­ryQuar­ter­ly, and Guer­ni­ca. She teach­es in the Cre­ative Writ­ing Pro­gram at Prince­ton University.