Over the last decade or so Israeli authors have been growing in popularity around the world. At present, there are two names that stand out from the crowd, David Grossman and Amos Oz.
The two really came to the fore in 2017 when they were both amongst thirteen nominees on the longlist for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize. The prize is intended to honour international literature that has been translated into English.
Amos Os, who is probably Israel’s most famous living author, was nominated for his book Judas while David Grossman was nominated for A Horse Walks into a Bar. Impressively it was Grossman’s book that went on to be selected for the prize, making him the first Israeli recipient of the prestigious award.
His book is about the act of a fictional comedian performing in an Israeli comedy club. During the act, the performer’s set begins to fall apart as he reveals a terrible decision he once made.
This is far from the first book of Grossman’s to be translated into English. He shared this prize with his translator Jessica Cohen with who he has previously worked on the book To the End of the Land. Grossman was born in Jerusalem and continues to live there to his day and he has won a number of other prizes over the years including the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Germany’s Buxtehuder Bulle, Rome’s Premio per la pace e l’azione umanitaria, the Frankfurt peace prize, and Israel’s Emet prize.
Grossman’s books are truly enjoyable and provide fascinating insights into parts of Israeli society that many outside of the country may be unware of. At the same time, there is a universality to his books that make them accessible to audiences from all over the globe.
While Grossman is the latest Jerusalem-based Israeli author to enjoy international success, he is far from the first. Perhaps the most famous was Shai (or Shmuel) Agnon, who won the Nobel Prize for literature back in 1966.
Agnon was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire before immigrating to Israel when it was still under the British Mandate and remained in Jerusalem until the end of his life in 1970. He was awarded the Nobel Prize four years before his death “for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people”.
When accepting the prize he spoke in Hebrew saying, “As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem.”
So great was Agnon’s fame in Israel that when he once complained to the city council that noises from traffic were disturbing his work, the city closed the street to vehicles and put up a sign saying “No entry to all vehicles, writer at work!”.
Since the State of Israel was founded it has produced many great authors and works of literature, some known internationally and others just nationally. Hopefully, during your time in Israel you will have the opportunity to familiarise yourself with some of these authors and their works, and this way deepen your understanding of the county.