"The Netanyahus," "A Play for the End of the World," "People Love Dead Jews" and Dvora Hacohen’s biography of Hadassah founder Henriette Szold are among the winners of the 2021 National Jewish Book Awards.
"The Netanyahus," "A Play for the End of the World," "People Love Dead Jews" and Dvora Hacohen’s biography of Hadassah founder Henriette Szold are among the winners of the 2021 National Jewish Book Awards.

Local writers Helene Wecker and Nathaniel Deutsch win 2021 National Jewish Book Awards

Pleasanton author Helene Wecker won a National Jewish Book Award for her novel “The Hidden Palace,” which is this year’s One Bay One Book selection. A sequel to 2013’s “The Golem and the Jinni,” “The Hidden Palace” explores the theme of assimilation through the story of a Polish golem and Syrian jinni living among humans in early 20th century New York City. It received the Book Club Award.

Other local authors recognized by the Jewish Book Council include UC Santa Cruz professor Nathaniel Deutsch, who won in the American Jewish Studies category for “A Fortress in Brook­lyn: Race, Real Estate, and the Mak­ing of Hasidic Williamsburg,” which he co-authored with Mark Caspar, and Rachel B. Gross, a professor at San Francisco State University, who was a finalist in the same category for “Beyond the Syn­a­gogue: Jew­ish Nos­tal­gia as Reli­gious Practice.”

Dvora Hacohen’s biography of Hadassah founder Henriette Szold won Jewish Book of the Year. “To Repair a Broken World: The Life of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah,” which includes a forward by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also was named best biography. The 2021 National Jewish Book Awards were announced Jan. 20 by the JBC.

“Hacohen portrays the relentless passion of Szold, who devoted her life to creating opportunities both for Jewish women and the disadvantaged, as she sought to not only empower women, but also to foster a spirit of social cohesion and equality,” the council said in a news release.

Other prominent winners included Joshua Cohen, Dara Horn, Jai Chakrabarti, Judy Batalion and Esther David.

Cohen’s “The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family,” a satirical chronicle of the future Israeli prime minister’s family’s time in America, won the council’s fiction award. Cohen told Alma last year that he “wanted to explore what it meant to be left out of history, in a strange way.”

Chakrabarti won the council’s debut fiction prize for his novel “A Play for the End of the World,” a fictionalized exploration of real-life Warsaw Ghetto educator and humanitarian Janusz Korczak and the children at the orphanage he ran.

Horn’s essay collection “People Love Dead Jews: Reports From a Haunted Present,” an exploration of antisemitism and vanished Jewish communities, won in the “Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice” category, while David’s cookbook “Bene Appétit: The Cuisine of Indian Jews” won the council’s award for food writing. A member of the tiny Bene Indian Jewish community, David uses her book to explore the culinary practices of India’s 5,000-member Jewish population.

The council’s top children’s book of 2021 was “Dear Mr. Dickens,” an historical account of a young Jewish girl who confronts Charles Dickens over antisemitic stereotypes in his books, by Nancy Chumin and illustrator Bethany Stancliffe. Its top book for young adults was “Rebel Daughter,” a novel by Lori Banov Kaufmann set during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

The top book of poetry was “The Book of Anna” by Joy Ladin, a professor at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women who is the school’s first openly transgender professor.

Several history books also took home prizes. Batalion won a “Women’s Studies” prize for “The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos,” which has been optioned for a film adaptation by Steven Spielberg. James McAuley, the Paris correspondent for the Washington Post, won the council’s history prize for “The House of Fragile Things: Jewish Art Collectors and the Fall of France,” a history of French Jewish art collectors between 1870 and the end of World War II that also doubles as a history of French antisemitism.

The council will honor its award winners during a virtual ceremony on April 6.


Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.