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Jewish ghetto tale scoops 2009 August Prize

David Landes · 24 Nov 2009, 11:51

Published: 24 Nov 2009 11:51 GMT+01:00

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The book, De fattiga i Łódź (‘The poor of Łódź’), received widespread critical acclaim when it was published by Albert Bonniers Förlag in mid-September.

And just over two months later, novelist and literary critic Sem-Sandberg found himself accepting the 2009 August Prize (Augustpriset) for fiction.

“I’m absolutely overwhelmed,” Sem-Sandberg said as he accepted the 100,000 kronor ($14,400) prize at a ceremony in Stockholm on Monday.

The prize, named after Swedish author and playwright August Strindberg and awarded by the Swedish Publishers’ Association (Svenska Förläggareföreningen), is considered the highest literary honour in Sweden.

Sem-Sandberg’s weighty novel was chosen from among six finalists taken from an original field of 128 entries.

Rights to the book have already been sold in 18 different countries, according to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

Despite the book’s early success, Sem-Sandberg was surprised at being named the 2009 August Prize winner.

“So much of the literature, and especially films, about the Holocaust always focus in some way on those who survived so that we as readers can breathe out and say, ‘Yes, it turned out well in the end,” he explained to SvD.

“I have not written such a book, and that’s why I thought it would be hard to swallow in the context of the August Prize.”

Although he has no direct connection to the Holocaust or any Jewish heritage of his own, Sem-Sandberg said he never had any doubts about writing the book once the stories started coming to him, despite concerns about his ability to identify with certain characters.

“But if there are any obstacles to being able to empathize, those are obstacles which an author is required to overcome. And that’s what I’ve tried to do to the best of my ability,” he told the newspaper.

In addition to Sem-Sandberg’s novel, three other books received August Prizes in different categories.

Brutus Östling and Susanne Åkesson won the 2009 August Prize for nonfiction with Att överleva dagen (‘To survive the day’), a collection of stunning photographs of birds in the wild.

Story continues below…

The August Prize for children’s literature went to Ylva Karlsson, Katarina Kuick, Sara Lundberg and Lilian Bäckman for Skriv om och om igen (‘Write it over and over again’).

Also recognized at Monday’s ceremony was Isabella Nilsson, who won the Little August Prize for her book Verklighetsprojektet (‘Reality Project’).

The Little August Prize, given to high school aged authors, includes a prize of 15,000 kronor.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

12:18 November 24, 2009 by sweco1
Why don't they tell the other side of the story the one they started in WW1.
13:15 November 24, 2009 by uunbeliever
@sweco maybe we should tell rape victims that they desrved it too, moron.
13:41 November 24, 2009 by peropaco
Congrats to Sem-Sandberg for his achievement.

@uunbeliever, at times you just have to throw up your hands and take a breather. It is like cockroaches in an abandoned building, they are all over the frigging place and they keep coming out ;-))
23:04 November 24, 2009 by determined
@everyone.. good shot by Sem-Sandberg. Now a days anyone doing/writing anything in favour of Jews will get the PRIZE.
23:11 November 24, 2009 by determined
hmmmm ´Sem-Sandberg was surprised at being named the 2009 August Prize winner ' ... I think Sem-Sanderb was not knowing this.
03:15 November 25, 2009 by gerillataktik
"Swedish author awarded 2009 August Prize for Jewish ghetto tale"

The August Prize is awarded to the best Swedish book of fiction of the year. So obviously its gonna be a Swedish writer that wins it.

Does The Local not trust its readers enough to name the writer in the headline?
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