Critic Slams Head of Sapir Panel

This year, as every other year, there has been criticism of the selections for the Sapir Prize - the Israeli equivalent of the prestigious Man Booker Prize in England. The most significant critic this year is Prof. Michael Gluzman, head of the Literature Department at Tel Aviv University. The five candidates for the 2009 prize are Ronit Matalon for her book "Kol Tza'adeinu" (The Sound of our Steps), Nurit Gertz for "Al Da'at Atzmo" (On His Own Volition), Amnon Dankner for "Yomav Ve'leylotav Shel Hadoda Eva" (Aunt Eva, His Nights and Days), Iris Leal for "Esh Babayit" (Home Fires Blazing) and Alon Hilu for his book "Ahuzat Dajani" (The House of Dajani).

"The list this year, on the whole, is good but in previous years I had many reservations about them," Gluzman said. "This prize tries to follow in the footsteps of the Booker Prize. Look at which books won the Booker and which the Sapir. Since its inception, the Sapir Prize has been a prize for lists of best sellers. There is no way that a literary prize should be given to writers of best sellers. That is contemptuous of literature."

The editor of the The New Library publishing house, Prof. Menachem Perry, has been boycotting the prize since 2004 and does not submit his writers for the competition. He explained that the prize engages in the futile promotion of books without any literary value and misses out on books of real value. As a result of the boycott, David Grossman's book, "Isha Borahat Mabesora" (English title: "Until the End of the Land") whose publication was one of the most important cultural events of the year, is not on the list.

Another problem with the prize is that some of the country's most important writers refuse to submit their candidacy for it, including Meir Shalev, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz.

Gluzman is also critical of the fact that the prize committee was headed by Yossi Sarid. "I like Yossi Sarid very much," he said. "I admire him greatly as a politician, I enjoy reading his columns in Haaretz, and I think he is a person with a great many things to his credit and the best Hebrew in Israel, but I am not sure that he should head a panel of judges, and I have said the same thing about other people who in the past headed the committee. The panel should be headed by a leading author or poet, or an academic figure from the literary field."

Sarid admits that the Booker Prize is more prestigious than the Sapir Prize. "Oxford and Cambridge Universities are also more prestigious than the Tel Aviv or Jerusalem universities," he said. "If the books short-listed this year are worthy in his eyes, and his only problem is with the chairman of the panel, then firstly, the problem will be solved because next year I won't be the chairman. As for the fact that the prize goes to best sellers - that is simply nonsense. Quite a few of the books this year weren't best sellers. An example? Ronit Matalon's 'Kol Tza'adeinu' and Irit Leal's 'Esh Babayit.' We try to choose a book that was not a bestseller to help it get publicity. But what can be done if it sometimes happens that even a book that is worthy of being named turns into a bestseller?" Sarid added that, "I can say that what the chairman lacks, the members of the panel make up for. Some of them are colleagues of professor Gluzman and some of them are even more senior than he is and are well regarded. [The names of the panel members are not publicized.] I appreciate Gluzman like he appreciates me. When I am no longer chairman, it is possible he will be a member of the panel of judges and he will hear the complaints and responses and will react to them."