Author Shimon Adaf won Israel’s Sapir Prize last night. The prize, modelled after the British Booker Prize, is worth £30,000 and is considered Israel’s premier literary award. The winning novel, Mox Nox, tells the parallel stories of a boy coming of age in difficult upbringing, and of the man he had become, a young author, and his affair with an older woman. While seen predominantly as a realist novel, Mox Nox is filled with the fantastic – including flashes of alternate history, conspiracy theory, and the classical ghost story.
It is preceded by Adaf’s previous novel, Kfor, an overtly science fictional novel about a Tel Aviv 500 years in the future, and is followed on by Adaf’s latest, Undercities, which completes an enormously ambitious literary trilogy that mixes together many genres.
The son of Moroccan Jewish immigrants, Adaf grew up in the town of Sderot, some five kilometres from Gaza, but now lives in Tel Aviv.
As part of the prize, Adaf’s novel is set to be translated into Arabic and English.
Adaf’s earlier novel Sunburnt Faces is set to be published in English by PS Publishing in the UK.
Adaf, accepting the prize. “”It’s a little surprising, I didn’t prepare a speech but I did iron a shirt.”
From PS Publishing:
As if it wasn’t enough that he’s graced us with a couple of mightily fine short stories, two of the best novellas we’ve ever done (in Cloud Permutations and Gorel and the Pot-bellied God) and, with the forthcoming Osama, a gobsmackingly superb novel, Lavie Tidhar dropped us a line out of the blue to draw our attention to Sunburnt Faces, a novel by Shimon Adaf, one of the most highly regarded Israeli novelists and poets today. As Lavie was keen to point out, Shimon is a unique writer (and, on the strength of this outing, he’ll get no arguments on that score from either Nick or myself) — “one of the few people in Israel engaged with speculative fiction, with ‘weird’ fiction, to create real literature,” Lavie says anthusiastically. “His 2010 novel, Kfor, is to my mind the first true Hebrew SF masterpiece.” The book went to Nick Gevers in the first instance, who had this to say: “I found the novel compulsive reading, for its vivid description of life in Israel as well as for its subtle, incisive treatment of the fantastic as a phenomenon and as a literary genre.” Nick was not overstating the case.
Sunburnt Faces is one of those in-between novels, mainstream in tone and pace even as it discusses the fantastic. It strides the rickety and oft-times perilous fence between the real and the fanciful, falling into line alongside such gems as John Crowley’s Little, Big, Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany, and Mary Wesley’s Haphazard House.
Hitting the wire at a shave under 150,000 words, Sunburnt Faces is at once a literary novel and a book about Wonderland . . . on the one hand a coming-of-age tale and, on the other, a what-happens-after story. It features as its principal character a girl, Flora, growing up of Jewish Moroccan parents in a small town who, one day, sees God appear to her in a television screen. The first part of the novel sees her trying to come to terms with the fantastical event and move towards adulthood, while the second part sees her, in her thirties, as a mother and a successful writer of children’s fantasy novels.
We’re all agreed here — and you must forgive us for being a bit excited (heck, if we didn’t get excited then there just wouldn’t be any point in doing anything, would there) — we’re agreed that this is a truly wonderful read. Mr. Adaf deserves to be experienced by the wider world. The simple and sad truth is we just don’t have enough writers like him, in any language.
The novel was translated from the Hebrew Panim Tzruvei Chama by Margalit Rodgers and Anthony Berris. Publication is tentatively scheduled for late 2012. This will be Adaf’s first novel to be published in English, though his poetry is widely available in translation. He is the author of four published novels and three poetry collections. His latest novel will be published in July in Israel.