Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I was pleasantly surprised to see the name Avner Mandelman on this year's Giller Prize longlist for his debut novel The Debba. Mandelman is one of those super-talented cyborg-like hybrid beings who has somehow achieved the rare combination of success in a variety of seemingly divergent fields including business and the arts. A native of Israel who lives in Toronto, Mandelman has served in the Israeli air force, founded a successful financial firm, written a newspaper column as well as a book on investment, and published award-winning short fiction. I loved his first two collections of stories called "Cuckoo" and "Talking to the Enemy" (my description of one of his stories as "Sholem Aleichem writes Peyton Place on speed" from my Gazette review was quoted on the back cover of the US edition.) He flew under the radar of the Canadian literary cogniscenti for many years, while quietly winning prizes in the Jewish literary world (Montreal's J.I. Segal Prize among them) and in the US (a Pushcart). At a talk he gave at the Jewish Public Library, I memorably heard Mandelman advise young writers to think about everything you know (the old adage about writing) and then write the complete opposite. I bumped into Avner at the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Award ceremony cocktail the year my novel was shortlisted in 2006, immediately recognizing him and giddily introducing myself. I told him how much I admired his short fiction. Others must have been wondering who this mysterious giant of a man was (he's six foot six). As I expected at the time, one day everyone will know.