Western Canada Jewish Book Awards
May 26th, 2023
The following winners of the 2023 Western Canada Jewish Book Awards were announced on June 24:
For Fiction (Nancy Richler Memorial Prize):
SIMON CHOA-JOHNSTON: House of Daughters
Based on the author’s own family, House of Daughters is a stand-alone sequel to the Globe and Mail bestseller, The House of Wives. This multi-generational family saga opens when Emanuel Belilios, a wealthy Jewish opium oligarch, suddenly leaves Hong Kong, and his junior-wife, Pearl blames Semah, the senior-wife. Pearl kicks Semah out of the mansion where the polyamorous trio had lived, and shuns everyone including her daughter. With unforgettable characters and high drama, this is a masterful story of passions and regrets, wealth and survival, set in Eurasian Hong Kong’s high society.
Simon Choa-Johnston (pictured above right) was born in Hong Kong and educated in Canada. He studied theatre in New York, and worked in Canada for over thirty years as an artistic director, director and playwright.
For Non-Fiction (Pinsky Givon Family Prize):
ALAN TWIGG (ed.) – Gidal: The Unusual Friendship of Yosef Wosk and Tim Gidal
An intimate selection of letters between Tim Gidal, a pioneering force in photojournalism, and Vancouver scholar and art collector Yosef Wosk.
NACHUM TIM GIDAL, Jewish pioneer of modern photojournalism, began taking photographs in the late 1920s, at a time when technological advances made equipment more compact and affordable than ever before. With his handheld Leica, Gidal was able to travel in interwar Europe, capturing rare images of Polish Jews prior to the annihilation of the Holocaust.
YOSEF WOSK is a rabbi, philanthropist, educator, author, scholar, community leader and prominent figure in the BC arts scene. Wosk first encountered Gidal’s work in the photo Night of the Kabbalist in a magazine in 1991 and, captivated, was determined to meet the photographer on an upcoming sabbatical in Israel. He eventually managed to meet the person who he would later consider his close friend, teacher, and confidant. On one level, the letters—selected by Twigg from the hundreds the friends exchanged over two decades— memorialize Gidal as an artist, scholar, historian of photography and “hero among the Jewish people.” However, they also capture the essence of Gidal and Wosk’s friendship.
ALAN TWIGG was the founder and editor of BC BookWorld, Canada’s largest-circulating publication about books. He is the author of 20 books to date, including Out of Hiding: Holocaust Literature of British Columbia and a recipient of the Order of Canada.
For Memoir/Biography (Cindy Roadburg Memorial Prize):
MARSHA LEDERMAN – Kiss the Red Stairs: The Holocaust, Once Removed
Kiss the Red Stairs is a compelling, fascinating memoir of Holocaust survival, intergenerational trauma, divorce and discovery that will guide readers through several lifetimes of monumental change. Award-winning journalist Marsha Lederman delves into her parents’ Holocaust stories in the wake of her own divorce, investigating how trauma migrates through generations with empathy, humour, and resilience.
Marsha was five when a simple question led to a horrifying answer. Sitting in her kitchen, she asked her mother why she didn’t have any grandparents. Her mother told her the truth: the Holocaust.
Decades later, her parents dead and herself a mother to a young son, Marsha begins to wonder how much history has shaped her own life. Gripped by a need to understand the trauma they suffered, she begins her own journey into the past to tell her family’s stories of loss and resilience.
MARSHA LEDERMAN is a columnist with The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. An award-winning journalist, she was previously The Globe’s Western Arts Correspondent and prior to that, she worked for CBC Radio, mostly in Toronto.
For Children & Youth (Diamond Foundation Prize):
(with SUSAN McCLELLAND) – Boy from Buchenwald
It was 1945 and Romek Wajsman had just been liberated from Buchenwald, a brutal concentration camp where more than 60,000 people were killed. He was starving, tortured, and had no idea where his family was―let alone if they were alive. Along with 472 other boys, including future Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, these teens were dubbed “The Buchenwald Boys.” They were angry at the world for their abuse, and turned to violence: stealing, fighting, and struggling for power. Few thought they would ever be able to lead functional lives again. But everything changed for Romek and the other boys when Albert Einstein and Rabbi Herschel Schacter brought them to a home for rehabilitation.
Romek Wajsman, now ROBBIE WAISMAN, humanitarian and Governor General award recipient, shares his remarkable story of transforming pain into resiliency and overcoming incredible loss to find incredible joy. He is a successful businessman, father, grandfather and beloved international speaker on the topics of the Holocaust, healing, reconciliation and forgiveness.
For Poetry (Betty Averbach Foundation Prize):
TOM WAYMAN – Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems for a Dark Time
Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back explores the question of how to live in a natural landscape that offers beauty while being consumed by industry, and in an economy that offers material benefits while denying dignity, meaning and a voice to many in order to satisfy the outsized appetites of the few. A cri de coeur from a poet who has long celebrated the voices of working people, the collection also grapples with why “anyone, in this era so profoundly lacking in grace, might want to make poems—or any kind of art.” The poet brings the perspective of age to our current troubled existence, with the reminder that as a society and as individuals we’ve faced perilous times before, and that our shared mortality links us more than circumstances and politics divide us.
TOM WAYMAN was named a Vancouver, BC Literary Landmark in 2015. He has published nearly two dozen books of poems, four collections of critical essays and four books of prose fiction. He was the recipient of the Western Canada Jewish Book Award for Fiction in the 2016 inaugural edition.
For Holocaust (Kahn Family Foundation Prize):
CHARLOTTE SCHALLIÉ (ed.) with Miriam Libicki, Barbara Yelin, Gilad Seliktar (ill.) – But I Live: Three Stories of Child Survivors of the Holocaust
Touted as “the most powerful collection of non-fiction graphic novellas of the Holocaust since Art Spiegelman’s Maus” – But I Live is an intimate co-creation of three graphic novelists and four Holocaust survivors.
David Schaffer and his family survived in Romania due to their refusal to obey Nazi collaborators. In the Netherlands, brothers Nico and Rolf Kamp were hidden by the Dutch resistance in 13 different places. Through the story of Emmie Arbel, a child survivor of the Ravensbrück and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, we see the lifelong trauma inflicted by the Holocaust. To complement these hauntingly beautiful visual depictions, the book includes historical essays, a postscript from the artists, and words of the survivors.
CHARLOTTE SCHALLIÉ (editor) is a professor and chair in the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria.
MIRIAM LIBICKI (Vancouver) holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is an award-winning graphic novelist. She is the author of Towards a Hot Jew (2017 Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature) and many nonfiction comics.
BARBARA YELIN (Munich) studied illustration and has worked as a comics artist for newspapers and international anthologies. She published the award-winning graphic novel Irmina.
GILAD SELIKTAR (Israel) is an acclaimed graphic novelist and children’s book illustrator whose works are published in Israel and throughout the world.
The Western Canada Jewish Book Awards are part of the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival in Vancouver. This initiative is designed to celebrate excellence in writing on Jewish themes / subjects and showcase the achievements of authors who reside West of the Ontario/Manitoba border, including the Northern regions. For the 2023 awards, books published in 2020, 2021 and 2022 were accepted.
Submissions were invited in the categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Memoir/Biography, Poetry, Children/Youth, Holocaust.
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