Michel Laub, one of Granta’s Best of Young Brazilian Novelists, and Thomas Harding, a shortlisted author for the 2013 Costa Book Award, are the first joint winners of the 2015 JQ Wingate Prize.
The winners were announced yesterday evening (20th April) at the Jewish Community Centre London JW3 where both authors received £2,000. Laub won for Diary of the Fall (Harvill Secker) and Harding for Hanns and Rudolf (Windmill Books).
The prize is awarded annually to the best book to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader. Founded in 1977, there were originally separate fiction and non-fiction prizes, until the two categories were amalgamated in 2006. This is the first year that the judges have split the prize.
Judge Eva Hoffman said: “Our decision to award two prizes this year reflects not only the difficulty of judging fiction against non-fiction, but our wish to mark the very high quality of the books on our shortlist, in both categories. We were conscious that several of them would have been well deserving of the prize; but in the end, we felt that the two winning books – chosen after intense and absorbing discussions – stood out in the scope and completeness of their achievement. In their different genres, each is formally inventive, beautifully written and highly readable.”
She added: “Perhaps it is not sheer coincidence that, through a fictional and non-fictional lens, they both reach back to a formative event in Jewish and world history – the Holocaust – addressing it from the vantage point of the present moment, and reflecting on it through layers of generations, memory and history.”
Laub’s novel, Diary of the Fall (Harvill Secker) is the story of three generations: a man examining the mistakes of his past, and his struggle for forgiveness; a father with Alzheimer's, for whom recording every memory has become an obsession; and a grandfather who survived Auschwitz, filling notebooks with the false memories of someone desperate to forget.
Harding’s non-fiction work, Hanns and Rudolf (Windmill Books), tells the story of the German Jew who tracked down the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss.
Both books draws upon the writers’ own family histories. Laub’s story was inspired by the experiences of his grandfather and Harding’s inspiration came from the story of his great-uncle, the Hanns Alexander of the book’s title, who hunted down the infamous German war criminal.
On the shortlist with the winners were Antony Polonsky, Dror Burstein, Zeruya Shalev, Gary Shteyngart and Hanna Krall.