Forget Sapir. Give Her the Bernstein

Writer Ronit Matalon and literary critic Shira Stav won the 2009 Bernstein Prize.

Matalon won the prize for best original Hebrew novel, for her book "Kol Tsa'adenu" (The Sound of our Steps"). The prize is worth NIS 50,000.

This is Matalon's third novel and it was published by Am Oved.

It was short-listed for the Sapir Prize, which was awarded and then revoked about two weeks ago.

Alon Hilu's book "Ahuzat Dajani" ("The House of Dajani") had won the Sapir, garnering one point more than Matalon's novel, but prize sponsor Mifal Hapayis revoked the award, alleging a conflict of interest between a judge and the book's editor.

"'Kol Tsa'adenu' is a truly important novel," wrote the Bernstein judges, Prof. Michael Gluzman (chairman), Prof. Hanan Hever and Dr. Oreet Meital. "Matalon's loyalty to literature is total. In an era when literary taste is influenced by bestseller lists, she does not glance for a moment at popularity. Her great linguistic sensitivity, her inclination to the poetic, her formative originality, her ability to create a space for memory in literature, and her courage in touching politics in a new way have all made her an excellent candidate for the Bernstein Prize."

"I am delighted," Matalon said on receiving the news. "'Kol Tsa'adenu' has won the prize more than I have. The book is the point. It is true that the book can't go to Dizengoff Center alone, but the book has its own [value] and that is very pleasing. I am very grateful for this prize for 'Kol Tsa'adenu.'"

Shira Stav won the prize for literary criticism, for her book reviews in Haaretz.

This prize is awarded once every two years, and is worth NIS 15,000.

"Shira's Stav's critical writing is clear, to the point, interesting and not condescending. Her negative criticism is well-reasoned, presented in a respectful way that does not hurt the feelings of the writer, and is not arrogant and brash as one often finds in criticism," wrote the judges, Daniel Bloch, Talila Ben-Zakkai and Eliezer Dar-Dresner. "When she cuts someone down, she explains why, and when she likes something, her compliments are explained. She creates the sense of having a great deal of knowledge, but seems aware that this is journalistic rather than academic criticism, and she does not try to patronize her audience. Her criticism challenges the reader to read the books she likes."

The Bernstein Fund, which awards the literary prizes, is managed by the Book Publishers' Association of Israel.

It awards the second largest prize purses in literature, after the Sapir Prize.

Past recipients include Amos Oz, David Grossman, Meir Shalev, Haim Be'er and Alona Kimchi