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Author David Bezmozgis Wins Greenberg Center’s 2014 Wallant Award for His Novel, "The Betrayers"


Posted 12/18/2014
Posted by David Isgur


The University of Hartford’s Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies has named author David Bezmozgis the 2014 Edward Lewis Wallant Award winner for his outstanding novel, The Betrayers (Little, Brown and Company, September 2014). The presentation ceremony will be held on Monday, March 2, 2015 at 7 p.m. at the Mandell Jewish Community Center of Greater Hartford as part of the book launch event for The New Diaspora: The Changing Landscape of American Jewish Fiction, an anthology of selections by past Wallant Award winners and finalists.

Wallant Award winner David BezmozgisBezmozgis will join past honorees Joshua Henkin (the 2012 Wallant Award for The World Without You) and Eileen Pollack (the 2008 Wallant Award for In the Mouth) for a panel discussion that will be moderated by Avinoam Patt of the Greenberg Center. Reservations and tickets are required. Please call 860.236.6316 to purchase tickets for the event, which will be held in Wilde Auditorium in the Gilman Theater at the Mandell JCC, 335 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford.

As a Wallant Award winner, Bezmozgis joins a distinguished list of past award recipients, including Cynthia Ozick, Curt Leviant, Chaim Potok, Myla Goldberg, Dara Horn, Nicole Krauss, and Julie Orringer, as well as last year’s award winner, Kenneth Bonert.  Established 51 years ago, in 1963, by Dr. and Mrs. Irving Waltman of West Hartford to honor the memory of the late Edward Lewis Wallant, author of The Pawnbroker and other works of fiction, the Wallant Award is today one of the oldest and most prestigious Jewish literary awards in the United States. It is presented to a Jewish writer, preferably unrecognized, whose published work of fiction is deemed to have significance for the American Jew.

Bezmozgis, who was born in Riga, Latvia, but currently lives in Toronto, is an award-winning writer and filmmaker. His stories have appeared in numerous publications including The New Yorker, Harpers, Zoetrope All-Story, and The Walrus. His first book, Natasha and Other Stories, was published in 2004 in the US and Canada and was subsequently translated into 15 languages. In the summer of 2010, Bezmozgis was included in The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 issue, celebrating the 20 most promising fiction writers under the age of forty. Bezmozgis has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a MacDowell Fellow, a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library, and a Radcliffe Fellow.

The Free World, Bezmozgis’ first novel, was published in 2011 in the U.S. Canada, the UK, Holland, Germany, Italy, France, Israel and Spain. It was a New York Times Notable Book for 2011 and a Globe and Mail Best Books Title for 2011. It was also shortlisted for the Scotiabank/Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award, The Trillium Prize, and won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award.

2014 Wallant Award-winning novel, The Betrayers, his second novel, presents one momentous day in the life of Baruch Kotler, a Soviet Jewish dissident who now finds himself a disgraced Israeli politician. When he refuses to back down from a contrary but principled stand regarding the settlements in the West Bank, his political opponents expose his affair with a mistress decades his junior, and the besieged couple escapes to Yalta, the faded Crimean resort of Kotler’s youth. There, shockingly, Kotler comes face-to-face with the former friend whose denunciation sent him to the Gulag almost 40 years earlier. In a whirling 24 hours, Kotler must face the ultimate reckoning, both with those who have betrayed him and with those whom he has betrayed, including a teenage daughter, a son facing his own moral dilemma in the Israeli army, and the wife who once campaigned to secure his freedom and stood by him through so much.

Reviewers have unanimously praised the novel:

  • “Now that Philip Roth has finished his life’s work, let us turn our attention to David Bezmozgis. His bravery and style are off the charts, and The Betrayers is his finest, slyest, most robust work yet.” —Gary Shteyngart
  • “Mr. Bezmozgis accomplishes the higher task of understanding and humanizing his character’s creeds. A reminder that good fiction aspires not only to be timely but timeless, The Betrayers illuminates old, stubborn arguments that usually inspire only heat and noise.” —The Wall Street Journal
  • “Bezmozgis has given us a complex moral thriller with weighty political implications.” —The New Republic
  •  “This unforgettable novel squanders no words in its brilliant, deft depictions of love, of memory, of compassion—and, ultimately, despite its title, of loyalty.” —Edith Pearlman
  • The Betrayers suggests that Bezmozgis may potentially be one of the most important writers of his generation.” —The Independent
  •  “The Betrayers is the rare book that makes being Jewish feel not just like a fate or a burden, but a great opportunity.” —Tablet Magazine

            This year, the Greenberg Center has also named three finalists for the 2014 Wallant Award: Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans; Boris Fishman, author of A Replacement Life; and David Shrayer-Petrov (ed. Maxim Shrayer), Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories. In naming three additional finalists for the award this year, the Greenberg Center is acknowledging the considerable vitality of contemporary Jewish literature in North America, and the significant impact of Jewish writers from the former Soviet Union.

Antopol, a lecturer at Stanford University, has been recognized as a recipient of the “5 Under 35” award by the National Book Foundation. The UnAmericans, also nominated for a National Book Award, is her debut story collection, taking readers from America to Israel to the Soviet Union in critical moments of the last century.

Fishman was born in Minsk in 1979, and emigrated to the United States in 1988. His debut novel, A Replacement Life, chronicles the efforts of a failed journalist asked to do the unthinkable: forge Holocaust-restitution claims for old Russian Jews in Brooklyn, New York.

Shrayer-Petrov, a well-known contemporary Russian American writer and medical scientist, was born in Leningrad in 1936 and immigrated to the United States in 1987. Dinner with Stalin is a collection of 14 short stories set in the former Soviet Union that feature Soviet Jews grappling with issues of identity, acculturation, assimilation, and persecution.

On March 2, 2015, the Greenberg Center will celebrate the publication of a Wallant Award anthology of past winners and finalists, titled The New Diaspora: The Changing Landscape of American Jewish Fiction, edited by Victoria Aarons (Trinity University), Mark Shechner (University at Buffalo) and Avinoam Patt (University of Hartford).  The New Diaspora, published by Wayne State University Press, brings together under one cover a representative group of those writers whose work has either won or been considered for the award. In recognition of the trajectory and development of American Jewish writing in the 50 years since the award was established, the volume reflects the breadth and ongoing vitality of the fiction written by and about Jews in America.

For more information, contact Susan Gottlieb at the Greenberg Center, at 860.768.4964 or mgcjs@hartford.edu. For more information on the Edward Lewis Wallant Award, please see www.hartford.edu/greenberg/wallant.asp.