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The plural of Oz

The plural of Oz

It might be an omen, but then again it might not . . . Amos Oz, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize (less than two weeks to go – 14 June) with Judas, has just been awarded the Abraham Geiger Prize in Potsdam, Germany. The prize is worth €10,000 euros and recognises personalities who promote pluralism ‘and are committed to openness, courage, tolerance and freedom of thought’ – Angela Merkel is a previous recipient. Among his other attributes, Oz was cited for his criticism of ‘the dehumanisation of language’ in the Israel-Palestine dispute.  The Man Booker International, of course, is about literature rather than liberalism but nevertheless believes the two often go together.


A fellow writer who symbolises the pluralistic mind-set is Philippe Sands, the current holder of the Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction, the Man Booker’s sister prize. His winning book, East West Street, about the Nuremberg Trials, also picked up the Non-fiction Book of the Year gong at the British Book Awards. It has just been announced that Sands is writing a new book that picks up on a character who features in East West Street, Otto von Wächter, a Nazi who was indicted in 1946 for ‘mass murder’. Sands’s book, A Death in the Vatican, focuses on Von Wächter’s life in the years that followed and the story reads like fiction. Von Wächter was in charge of a territory in which hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles were killed, and at the end of the war, hunted by the Soviets, the Americans, the British, as well as groups of Poles and Jews, he went on the run. He spent three years hiding in the Alps before heading to Rome and finding sanctuary in the Vatican. He died unexpectedly in 1949 after lunching with an ‘old comrade’. Sands’s book, to be published in 2019-20, will be no thriller, however, but a factual account of Von Wächter’s life.


The Man Booker’s libertarian heart is also on display in the names of some of the 100 authors who recently signed a Greenpeace pledge for free speech and forest protection. Among the signatories were previous winners such as Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes. Free speech and forests may not seem obviously linked but the pledge came about courtesy of two multi-million dollar lawsuits brought against Greenpeace to silence its criticism of controversial logging in the Canadian forests. One wonders though whether the number of trees cut down for paper for the assorted authors’ prize-winning books might also have been on their minds.


Not to overstretch the point but Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – which wasn’t her Man Booker-winning book – that was The Blind Assassin in 2000 – has just hit the top of the UK bestseller lists on the back of the hugely-successful television adaptation starring Elizabeth Moss. Atwood’s publisher at Vintage said the novel had previously spiked with the advent of the Trump presidency which ushered in a taste for dystopian fiction. Emma “Hermione” Watson has also recently picked it for her book club, Our Shared Self. It is the 10-part series on Channel 4 though that means Atwood can now afford a handmaiden of her own to bring her regular glasses of champagne.