Poet and translator-turned-novelist Idra Novey has been awarded the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize by the Jewish Book Council for her debut novel, Ways to Disappear. The prize comes with a $100,000 award.
At a ceremony held at the Jewish Museum in New York, Novey was honored, along with the four runners-up: Daniel Torday (The Last Flight of Poxl West), Paul Goldberg (The Yid), Adam Ehrlich Sachs (Inherited Disorders), and Rebecca Schiff (The Bed Moved). Torday received the Choice Award ($18,000), while the other “fellows” received $5,000 each. (Eighteen represents chai, or life, in Judaism, and multiples of 18 are commonly given as gifts and prizes.)
The Sami Rohr Prize alternates between fiction and nonfiction, so this year’s finalists were four novels and one short story collection published in 2015 and 2016.
Ways to Disappear is set in modern Brazil and concerns the disappearance of a legendary female novelist Beatriz Yagoda. A search ensues, involving her two children, her publisher, a ruthless loan shark, and the protagonist — her American translator from Pittsburgh.
Novey’s debut won the 2016 Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize for Fiction. It was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, an NPR Best Book of 2016, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and a 2016 Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection.
In my review last July, I called it “an absorbing exploration of the dichotomy between the perception and reality of a writer’s life . . . Interspersed throughout the narrative are transcripts of reports from Radio Globo, desperate emails from Emma’s fiance back in Pittsburgh, and witty dictionary entries of words and phrases that shed light on Emma’s adventures (including sample sentences referencing Emma’s fraught circumstances). These additional voices add perspective to the careening narrative, as Emma searches for Beatriz, copes with Raquel, falls for Marcus, and negotiates with both [loan shark] Flamenguinho and [publisher] Rocha . . . Ways to Disappear is as complex and enchanting as modern Brazil itself, alternately breezy with fish-out-of-water humor and manic plotting, and humid with portent and mystery.”
You can read the full review here.