Al Pacino’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice

Howard Jacobson

A clutch of authors are now a step closer to being £4,000 better off after being short-listed for a prize awarded for “translating Jewishness to the general reader”.

Heavyweights such as Howard Jacobson and Zachary Leader made the cut for the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize this week, with two works of fiction, two histories, two biographies and a memoir making up the seven-strong list.

Among the literary offerings are thought-provoking narratives on the Jewish and Palestinian diasporas, as well as a nightmarish vision of anti-Semitism in a future Britain.

After reading the long-list of 12 books, judges finally settled on Ishmael’s Oranges by Claire Hajaj, J by Howard Jacobson, The Life of Saul Bellow by Zachary Leader, Between Gods by Alison Pick, The Impossible Exile by George Prochnik, The Liberation of the Camps by Dan Stone and KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann.

The seven, who were announced at JW3 on Sunday, will now be hoping to join a line of past winners such as Amos Oz, Zadie Smith and Oliver Sacks, but they are at the mercy of the judges, including columnist Hugo Rifkind, Granta Top 20 Young Novelist Tahmima Anam and Senior Masorti Judaism Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg.

Chair of judges Samantha Ellis said: “We have been moved, amused, gripped, provoked, absorbed and awestruck. These seven books illustrate the richness and diversity of Jewish themes.”

She added: “All seven authors have taken risks to tell stories that matter, with curiosity, candour and courage. If anything unites these books, it is a concern with what connects us and what keeps us apart, and with the struggle to understand the past and to make a better future.”

Short-listed author Claire Hajaj said: “As a woman raised in the Middle East who still bears a Palestinian name, I was moved to tears to see my name on the shortlist. What a beautiful acknowledgement that Jewish identity is not fixed, but rich and evolving – and that our story extends beyond Jewish losses to encompass the sorrows and dreams of others.”