It’s that time of year again, the week when the Olympians in Stockholm announce which among us mortals are privileged enough to join them in the deathless pantheon of Nobel Prize winners. Earlier today, a Jewish scientist, Brandeis’s Michael Rosbash, won the prize in medicine for his research on circadian rhythms, which is laudable but incomprehensible to most of us. The main event we plebes crave is the prize in literature, to be announced this Thursday. And while you never know who’s going to win (see under: Dylan, Bob), the oddmakers’ top 20 list is stacked with Jewish heavyweights, including Amos Oz, Philip Roth, David Grossman, and A.B. Yehoshua.
All of whom, sadly, are undeserving. I’ve said my piece about the singular embarrassment that is Mr. Roth, and Yehoshua and Grossman are largely mediocrities elevated to greatness by inertia—like Chauncey Gardiner, they were lauded largely by being there. Oz is more interesting, especially in the past two decades, but there are far more daring and insightful Jewish writers out there. Here are seven, none of whom would likely win on Thursday but all of whom are richly deserving of laurels:
Aharon Appelfeld: Writing about Appelfeld, a Holocaust survivor and Israel’s greatest living writer, in 2011, Leslie Epstein praised the novelist’s mastery of that most fleeing and precious of all human emotions, wonder. “What Appelfeld means by wonder is the capacity to re-experience and, through art, recreate the emotions associated with such enchanted moments, moments when one feels connected, or reconnected, to all of creation,” Epstein wrote. “This oceanic feeling is ultimately a gift from God, and it is not given to all: only to those who—always, always in a mother’s arms—possess the certainty of having been loved.”
Orly Castel-Bloom: Inventive, insightful, and irreverent, Castel-Bloom is a singular talent. Instead of flattening contemporary Israeli life into cheap political metaphors, or avoiding it altogether for twee cosmopolitan miniatures like many of her Tel Aviv-based contemporaries, she weaves together lust and terror and anxiety and hope and bathos and despair and joy, a gorgeous quilt of human life that is both extremely specific and truly universal.
Ruby Namdar: True, the Jerusalem-born, New York-based writer has had only one book translated into English, but what a book it is: In The Ruined House, Namdar tells the story of an NYU professor who spirals into madness, a story he laces with Talmudic-like pages that underscore his hero’s grim theological awakenings. It’s easily one of the greatest novels ever written in Hebrew, and one of the most profound meditations on the religious imagination and its place in modernity ever achieved.
Vivian Gornick: The Jewish Marxist revolutionary Emma Goldman once observed that a revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having. It’s a fitting motto for Goldman’s biographer, too: As one of our most prominent critics and essayists, Gornick has the rare ability to dive to the depths of ideas and moments without drowning in abstraction, always noticing and hearing the moments and the voices that make us so wonderfully flawed and interesting.
Daniel Pinkwater: Two words: Irving and Muktuk. If you don’t know who they are, your life is not nearly as joyful and magical as it ought to be.
Judy Blume: Because isn’t literature supposed to really grab you by the throat and make you feel and think and dream? And if that’s the case, shouldn’t we value Blubber above yet another modernist minimalist mitteleuropean semi-abstraction?
Harold Bloom: Obviously.
And may the best person win.