Koret Jewish Book Award winners include Isaac Babel

The author's writings, edited by Nathalie Babel, his daughter, will receive the fiction prize in the fourth annual Koret Jewish Book Awards.

"The Complete Works of Isaac Babel" contains his candid, often excruciatingly vivid diaries, plays, screenplays and stories, translated by Peter Constantine.

In addition, a special award for literature will honor the work of the late W. G. Sebald, a German novelist widely acclaimed for his lyric explorations of the Holocaust and the nature of memory.

Sebald, who died in England last year, wrote a series of dense, profound books laced with Jewish themes that were part memoir, part travelogue and part fiction.

"Of particular significance, 'Austerlitz' is an extraordinary evocation of the last century's greatest trauma," says Stanford Professor Steven J. Zipperstein, who chairs the Koret Jewish Book Awards' advisory board.

The awards are given by the San Francisco-based Koret Foundation in cooperation with the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in New York.

E. L. Doctorow, author of "The Book of Daniel," "Ragtime," "City of God" and many other highly celebrated books, will be the featured speaker at the April 15 award reception in New York.

"With New York City in the headlines since 9/11, 'New York Jews and The Decline of Urban Ethnicity, 1950-1970' takes a distinctly different look at our city," says Richard Siegel, executive director of the NFJC. Written by Eli Lederhendler, it is the winner in the history category.

Dorothy Gallagher's "How I Came Into My Inheritance and Other True Stories" will receive the biography, autobiography and literary studies prize. She recounts tales of her own eccentric Russian-immigrant Jewish family that lived on the edge of Harlem, as well as its socialist values.

Two books will share the award in the philosophy and thought category: "When A Jew Dies: The Ethnography of a Bereaved Son" by Samuel C. Heilman, and "Moses Hess and Modern Jewish Identity" by Ken Koltun-Fromm.

"The awards, and the great diversity of this year's winners highlight the complexity of defining 'Jewish' writing," says Zipperstein.

"For instance, Babel is a Russian writer, a revolutionary writer, a writer deeply ambivalent about the revolution, an Odessa writer, and also, a profoundly Jewish writer. To neglect any of the crucial aspects of his work would be a mistake.

"Sebald, on the other hand, is a writer acutely preoccupied with Jewish matters, especially the fate of Central European Jews in the last, most awful century. He looks from the outside in, aware of what he is doing as a writer. The difference in this respect between Babel and Sebald is comparable to that of, say, Franz Kafka and James Joyce."

Since 1979, the Koret Foundation has granted more than $200 million in both the Jewish and general communities in support of community enhancement projects, education, public policy, arts and culture, and economic development. Grants are made in the San Francisco Bay Area and Israel.