Based on a true story, the satirical novel “The Netanyahus” by American-Jewish author Joshua Cohen has won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The winners of seven art categories were unveiled Monday afternoon at Columbia University, which administers the honors.
The book’s full title “The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family,” is a scathing story of the former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a young boy in New York in the winter of late 50s early 60s as his father, Benzion, is seeking an academic job in Corbin College, in a fictional, sleepy town in upstate New York.
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Joshua Cohen, 41, the writer of some leading publications, and the author of six books. He was named one of the Best Young American Novelists by Granta in 2017.
According to Cohen, the late literary critic Harold Bloom told him about the Netanyahus’ first visit to campus. Benzion Netanyahu was a professor of Judaic studies from 1971 until 1975.
Watch: The Netanyahus interview with Joshua Cohen
A conversation between Joshua Cohen and Daniel Medin at the American Library in Paris. Medin is a professor of comparative literature at the American University of Paris. (Filmed on 19/01/2022 )
The award jury described the work as “a mordant, linguistically sophisticated historical fiction about the uncertainties of the Jewish-American experience, offering ideas and arguments as explosive as its tightly wound story.”
In an interview with JTA Cohen explains: “I also wanted to explore what it meant to be left out of history, in a strange way. With Benzion Netanyahu, there was this seething resentment of a person who had “deserved more” and thought that he should have had a role in the early state and he was a man born to lead. But, during the most important decade in modern Jewish history, when the state of Israel is being founded and Jews are being slaughtered in Europe, he’s in America.
“There is a certain kind of return of the repressed when the father who is kept out of history raises the son who must return and destroy. A lot of these were the questions that were stirred up under Trump, and the idea of writing about these things directly was somewhere between boring and too difficult. So I felt like this “minor negligible event” had all of these possibilities.”
The New York Times‘ Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in his review: “It is an infuriating, frustrating, pretentious piece of work — and also absorbing, delightful, hilarious, breathtaking and the best and most relevant novel I’ve read in what feels like forever.”
The Guardian describes it as “a humorous historical fantasia – a dizzying spectrum of bookish understanding and worldly know-how is given rich, inventive expression.”
The Netanyahus is a New York Times notable book of 2021; A Wall Street Journal best book of 2021, and a Kirkus best fiction book of 2021.
Although the novel was awarded the Jewish Book Council’s literature prize for 2021, “Jewish currents” claimed the novel reminiscent of both Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, while the Jewish Review of Books stated it had “a condensed history of Zionism that is so apparent a falsification of that I just gave up.”
One of the candidates for the fiction prize was Francisco Goldman’s “Monkey Boy,” which was inspired in part by Goldman’s own upbringing as the son of a Jewish father and a Guatemalan Catholic mother.