A portrait of eccentric Jewish family life in Los Angeles has won one of the Jewish world’s foremost literary prizes after judges described it as “hilarious, uncomfortable and tender”.
The Mighty Franks by Michael Frank beat off competition for the JQ Wingate Prize from The Dark Circle by Linda Grant, The Unchosen by Mya Guarnieri Jaradat, Small Pieces by Joanne Limburg, Stranger in a Strange Land by George Prochnik and The Holocaust by Laurence Rees.
Chair of judges Toby Lichtig said: said Frank’s memoir was “dazzlingly vivid,” adding: “This is both a book about a very specific Jewish family and in some sense about all families. As such it should be read, reread and enjoyed by everyone.”
Frank’s unusual LA family includes Frank’s paternal aunt and maternal uncle, who were married, plus his grandmothers, who shared a flat, in a “claustrophobic” set-up whereby the whole clan lives within minutes of one another.
Presiding over it is the domineering presence of the author’s aunt, a successful and vivacious Hollywood screenwriter who demands total devotion and availability from those on whom she showered her affections.
“The book is beautifully written, perfectly paced, uncomfortable, tender and surprising,” said Lichtig.
“Although it wears its Jewishness lightly, the background culture pulses unmistakably throughout: in the pull of the old world of Mitteleuropa, in the growing pains of American assimilation, in the vexed and complex domestic dynamics at its heart.”
The prize is given to the best book, fiction or non-fiction, to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader, and Frank said he was “especially honoured that it has been chosen from a group of such distinguished books”.
He said: “The fact that the memoir has been read for its implicit, rather than explicit, depiction of Jewish identity seems to affirm my own feeling that there are as many ways to convey Jewishness as there are Jews.”
Frank said he set out to portray his family “with as much candour and clarity as I could command,” adding: “Jewishness was everywhere and nowhere at the same time, both in the lived experience and the summoning of it from memory.”