Writer Yoram Kaniuk
Writer Yoram Kaniuk after being awarded the Sapir Prize for his book “1948,” or “Tashah” in Hebrew letters. Photo by By Maya Sela
Text size

Yoram Kaniuk is the winner of the Sapir Literary Prize for 2011 for his book "1948," [Tashah in the Hebrew letters], published by Yediot Books. Kaniuk was awarded the NIS 150,000 prize at a ceremony in the Tel Aviv Port yesterday.

"Kaniuk's '1948' is a story with autobiographical elements and collective, national significance," the panel that selected the winner wrote in its decision.

"The book wanders in the narrator's memories from the time he took part in the War of Independence as a youth, as though sleepwalking. The coming-of-age story blurs the boundaries between courage and futility, historic injustice and justice, manly camaraderie and childish naivete. The uninhibited movement in the memory space is bold and direct, undermines conventions and fluctuates between dramatic power and lyric finesse," the panel wrote.

The panel, headed by Professor Zeev Zachor, consisted of Bilha Ben Eliyahu, Professor Tamar Elor, Professor Nitza Ben-Dov, Dr. Omri Herzog, journalist Emanuel Halperin and Zohar Avitan of Sapir College.

Zachor said of the five authors who had been shortlisted for the prize that "there is no harmony here and no need for it. We've matured.... Two questions arise from the books. The first is what now? The second is about identity - what am I? The committee firmly dismissed any thought of [the] politically correct. There was no consideration but the book's quality. The literary crop we've read is fascinating, and the book we chose is marvelous."

In "1948" Kaniuk writes about the War of Independence, from the UN's recognition of the state of Israel and the ensuing war, in which he took part.

Kaniuk said he was extremely surprised to win the prize. "Age triumphed over beauty. I did not believe I'd win so I only brought two people with me, my wife and my friend, who is a cardiologist, so that if, heaven forbid, I have a heart attack, he'd help me. I was sure I'd leave shamefaced. Even my daughters aren't here," he said.

Kaniuk joked about his poverty as a writer. "As one who has two cancers and a difficult blood disease, I thought about being able to receive medical marijuana, and to sit in a cafe and sell it. Then the police would come and arrest me, a Jew of 81. In the end I didn't do it," he said.

Kaniuk said the 1948 war was terrible. "The leaders of that generation thought we would defeat the Germans and all the goyim. They expected us to be heroes, to be born from the sea - what we ultimately became was Jews. The Palmach war was a Jewish war par excellence. Few against many. We paid a terrible price."

The other four finalists for the prize were Nir Baram ("Good People" from Am Oved ), Leah Aini ("Rose of Lebanon" from Zmora Bitan ), Assaf Inbari ("Home" from Yediot Books ) and Sayed Kashua ("Second Person Singular" from Keter ).