The Jewish Book Council announced the winners and runners up for the 2014 National Jewish Book Awards today. Instead of awarding the prestigious Jewish Book of the Year prize to a single volume, the Jewish Book Council has given the title to Yale University Press’ Jewish Lives series. The biographies explore the lives of important Jewish figures from King Solomon to Sarah Berhnardt, Leonard Bernstein to Leon Trotsky. (You can read Tablet excerpts of several of the books here.)
The new wave of diverse literary offerings from Jewish Soviet emigrés is reflected in this year’s selections. The fiction prize went to The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis, a political and emotional drama about a Sharansky-esque refusenik past his prime, examining loyalty and the inner strength of a man on the brink. Tablet columnist Adam Kirsch wrote that the novel is “the rare book that makes being Jewish feel not just like a fate or a burden, but a great opportunity.”
A finalist for the fiction prize went to A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman, who spoke with Vox Tablet’s Sara Ivry in June about his debut novel, a Soviet emigré family dramedy. Gary Shteyngart’s high-profile memoir Little Failure also made an appearance on the list as a runner-up in the Biography, Autobiography, Memoir category. Sasha Senderovich called the book a “touching meditation on the origins, nature—and, surprisingly, the limits—of this humor.”
Another fiction finalist, Joshua Ferris, spoke with Ivry in May about To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, his novel about a lonely dentist.
A Guide to the Complex: Contemporary Halakhic Debates by Shlomo M. Brody won in the category of Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice, exploring everything from stem-cell research to women rabbis in current discourse. Brody has weighed in for Tablet on current issues like repentance in politics and whether Jewish law allows torture.
A finalist for the American Jewish Studies Award, Libby Garland, appeared on Vox Tablet in May to discuss her nominated book, After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States 1921-1965.
One of the finalists for Modern Jewish Thought and Experience, Daniel Sperber’s On the Relationship of Mitzvot Between Man and His Neighbor and Man and His Maker, was one of Rabbi David Wolpe’s picks for notable Jewish scholarship last year, citing the book’s “richness and intricacy of the sources.”
You can read the full list of winners and finalists here.