Yoram Kaniuk is the winner of the 2010 Sapir Prize for Literature for his book
1948, a memoir of his experiences as a young soldier during the War of
The Sapir Prize is one of nine major literary prizes that
are awarded in Israel.
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Named in memory of Pinchas Sapir – who was among
the pioneers in the early years of the state, and who served in numerous
capacities including finance minister and industry, trade and labor minister –
the prize is awarded by the state lottery and is the most lucrative in the
country financially and, in terms of prestige, is second only to the Israel
At an awards ceremony at the Tel Aviv Port on Wednesday evening,
Kaniuk was presented with a check for NIS 150,000.
Widely acknowledged as
one of Israel’s leading writers, the multi-faceted 80-year-old, Tel Aviv-born
Kaniuk, who is also a painter, journalist and theater critic, has been the
recipient of several literary prizes including the Ze’ev Prize for Children’s
Literature, the President’s Prize, the Bialik Prize, Prix de Droits del’Homme
(Paris), and Prix Mediterranee Etranger, among others.
His books have
been translated into 25 languages. Kaniuk will be honored again in May of this
year when he receives an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University at the
annual meeting of its Board of Governors.
In January of this year, the
state lottery published a list of 12 authors whose books had been nominated for
the prize from among the scores of submissions.
In February, the list was
cut down to five. The four who trailed behind Kaniuk and received NIS 25,000
each are Nir Bar-Am for Good People, Leah Aini for Rose of Lebanon, Assaf Inbari
for Home and Sayad Kashua for his book Second Person Singular.
its good intentions, the Sapir Prize has been mired in controversy, most notably
with regard to the 2009 prize that was awarded to Alon Hilu for his book The
House of Rajani by a jury headed by Yossi Sarid who happened to be indirectly
related to the editor of Hilu’s book.
The powers-that-be at the state
lottery decided that this constituted a conflict of interests, and in a dramatic
decision that provoked extensive media coverage, deprived Hilu of his glory and
cancelled the prize for that year. Ariel Hirschfeld sat on the same panel as
Sarid but, unlike Sarid, had signed a disclosure form in which he acknowledged a
vague connection with another contender Ronit Matalon whose book Sound of our
Steps carries a dedication to him.
Both Sarid and Hirschfeld said that it
was unfair and unfortunate that the writers were made to suffer for something
for which they themselves were not responsible.
Curiously, the Sapir
Prize was established in Israel in 2000 and another Sapir Prize was established
in America in 2001 by the Society for Linguistic Anthropology.
have no relationship.
The American award honors the memory of Edward
Sapir, a German-Jewish linguistic anthropologist who migrated to the United
States in 1888 and prompted American academics to realize the influence of
language on the way in which people think. The prize named for him is given
every two years to a book that makes the most significant contribution to the
understanding of language in society or to the ways in which language mediates
historical or contemporary socio-cultural processes.