24 March 2009 - 28 AdarI 5769 - כ"ח אדר ה' אלפים תשס"ט

Japanese author, Haruki Murakami, despite protests and a call for a boycott of his books, appeared in Israel to accept the prestigious Jerusalem Prize. The Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society was presented by President Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

The award ceremony, for this coveted literary achievement, is the pinnacle of the Jerusalem International Book Fair, now in its 24th year. The five day festival, held from 15 February through 20 February 2009 at the International Convention Center of Binyanei Ha’uma in Jerusalem, hosts authors, the public and leaders in the international publishing community in an engaging and stimulating environment.

This year’s festival drew participation from approximately 1,200 publishers from more than 40 countries displaying some 100,000 books.

The Jerusalem Prize, one of the best known international literary prizes, was selected by a panel of judges appointed by the Mayor, whose members were Mr. Dov Alfon, Chairman, Editor-in-Chief, Haaretz Newspaper, Prof. Dwora Gilula, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the author Etgar Keret. It is traditionally awarded at the festival’s opening ceremony by the mayor of Jerusalem.

Past winners have included Arthur Miller (2003), Susan Sontag (2001), Don DeLillo (1999), J.M. Coetzee (1987), Milan Kundera (1985), V.S. Naipaul (1983), Octavio Paz (1977), Simone de Beauvoir (1975), Jorge Luis Borges (1971) and Bertrand Russell (1963). Past recipients, Bertrand Russell, Octavio Paz, V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee all also went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Haruki Murakami, notably, is the first writer in a non-European language to be selected as the winner of this prize. He has written 20 books which have been translated into forty languages. Norwegian Wood (1987), Wild Sheep Chase (1982), Dance Dance Dance (1988), Kafka on the Shore (2005), and the Wind- Up Bird Chronicle (1995), all of which have been translated into Hebrew, reached Israel’s bestsellerlist.

His novel Kafka on the Shore was awarded the Franz Kafka prize in 2006. In 2007, the English translation of his recent novel, After Dark, was chosen by The New York Times as “Notable Book of the Year.” He is perhaps the best known Japanese author in the West.

Prior to his trip to Jerusalem, in an open letter from the Palestine Forum Japan, Murakami was urged not to go to Jerusalem. The letter, entitled Don’t Legitimize Apartheid, cited a number of alleged abuses by Israel.

He was urged to cancel his plans to accept the prize in Jerusalem and they indicated that a failure to do so could exacerbate the Palestinians ‘plight’. Despite angry calls to boycott his books, Murakami did not change his plans. Reports indicate that his office refused to respond to these pleas.

In his address upon acceptance of the award, Murakami directly addressed the protests surrounding his acceptance of the award. He openly discussed the UN’s criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza but responded, “Novelists are a special breed.

They cannot genuinely trust anything they have not seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands. And that is why I am here. I chose to come here rather than stay away. I chose to see for myself rather than not to see.”

As the Jerusalem Prize, above all, stands for humanity and the freedom of the individual, he concluded by stating, “We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, and we are all fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System…If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls and from our believing in the warmth we gain by joining souls together.”

(Issue March 2009)

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